July 29, 2015

The Art of Storage: Domingos Lopes’ Porto House by UrbaStudios

Storage, a necessity for most of us, becomes even more important when what you’re safeguarding is your life’s work. So shelving systems were the starting point for UrbaStudios principal Nuno Alves de Carvalho when he was commissioned by an 84-year-old Portuguese artist, Domingos Lopes, to renovate his century-old Porto house to include a studio and an archive. “There were over 2,000 paintings, plus many more drawings,” Alves de Carvalho says. And only 1,600 square feet.

He responded with two vertical systems that take advantage of the high ceilings, particularly in the studio-archive on the lowest level. One wall down here anchors racks for paintings. But the main attraction is the freestanding 10-foot-wide OSB structure that begins as a grid of cubbies and rises, in different forms, through every level. Access to upper sections of both the racks and the cubbies is easy, no ladders required, thanks to the house’s central staircase, which runs alongside.

On the main level, the OSB form contains the kitchen’s upper and lower cabinets, including a sink and cooktop—in a sense, the kitchen is largely “stored” as well. Pearly gray plastic laminate fronts the cabinets. Opposite this compact setup stands an island wrapped in a glossy white quartz composite, and the nearby wall that houses the oven, microwave, and refrigerator is painted an equally bright white. To bring a warmer touch to a palette dominated by cool colors, he laid a swath of typically Portuguese green-and-white tile on the kitchen floor, a major departure from the gray-tinted concrete elsewhere.

He calls the living spaces, which culiminate with a mezzanine above the kitchen, “a vertical loft” with almost no doors. There are, however, doors on the two full bathrooms he managed to shoehorn in. The one on the mezzanine is windowless and tiny, at 30 square feet, but impressively feels neither claustrophobic nor cramped. “It takes a lot of persistence to design for small spaces like these,” he says. Not to mention artistry, as Lopes can certainly appreciate.

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