The Varatojo House is located east of Torres Vedras, Portugal on a hill overlooking the city. Designed by Atelier Data, the Varatojo House exposes a private facade that makes the most of the sites north/south exposure while at the same time protecting the interior volumes from the harsh northern winds. While the home appears closed off to the surrounding landscape, in actual fact, a large south exposed courtyard surrounded by a fence offers a direct connection to the land and its vegetation as does a 2nd storey terrace garden. While the home presents a simple shape, the materials chosen for the construction where anything but. Traditional materials used are plaster and timber and then layered in is the surprise elements of cork and railway sleepers. Even the home’s profile incorporates a traditional gable silhouette on its end punctured by a surprise void lined with trees within the 3rd storey terrace. Access to the hilltop home is via a long winding ramp that follows the fence line before connecting with the doorway.
While the access ramp leads straight to the main entrance, for those new to the home it actually appears to end abruptly at a continuation of the fence along the face of the home. There is a secondary entrance on the lower floor through sliding glass doors, but the land below the ramp drops off leaving no way to get to this entrance.
Appearances can be deceiving and the vertical boards that continue the line of the fence along the face of the home hides a secret which just happens to be the entrance way
The fence is made with a series of railway sleepers that expose their history through the various markings that have been left as a testament to their previous life.
By continuing the railway sleepers across the face of the home, the garden feels completely fenced in and even though the garden is contained, it still presents a natural aesthetic of the surrounding hillside due to the plantings of native trees and shrubs that have been selected for their pre-climatization to the soil and climate.
The natural landscaping – including the irregular surface elevations – creates an ecological system perfectly integrated into the landscape of the surrounding region.
While the main level of the home is accessed by the secret door at the end of the ramp, a second connection to the courtyard is made through a pair of sliding doors that open to a round concrete patio and the patio appears to be just big enough to reach over and support itself on the sloped yard where the elevations match.
The patio does not actually need the support of the land as it is actually the roof of a wine cellar on the lower level.
the wine cellar is located next to the indoor pool which glows with a blue aura into the sloped garden. The pool has a glass front for views of the garden and the end glazings can be slid open on hot summer days to complete the connection with the garden.
The pool room also has windows on the opposite side, overlooking the hillside for panoramic views of the city below.
From inside the pool room, the infinity edge of the waterline creates the impression the windows aren’t even there.
The blue glow of the pool room creates an ethereal image within the naturally landscaped garden and the choice of blue up lighting every 6th railway sleeper along the fence line plays up the mystical blue aura.
In the evening the blue lights glow peacefully in combination with the dusky blue shades of the night sky.
The patio leads to the stairwell that connects the main volume with the other two levels and next to it, also overlooking the garden (as well as the hillside views) is the kitchen.
The kitchen counters are U shaped with a wall of floor to ceiling cabinets sharing the stairwell wall. Not large, visual interest is created by the two toned cabinets (dark on the bottom and light on the top), the super sized pendant over the bar and the beautiful mosaic tile backsplash that incorporates all three elements within its random pattern. Additionally the smooth faced cabinets are in direct contrast to the rough concrete ceiling and reflective metal pendant.
Next to the kitchen is the dining room and while it does not have views to the garden, it does have expansive views of the valley below. Although the kitchen and stairwell are exposed to the garden, the rest of the social zone is kept sheltered from the strong northern winds through closed exterior walls and while not exposed to the garden, there are peaks of the indoor plants in void to the library above the dining table.
Next to the dining area is the living room and this space is all about the view. Even when watching TV, the views wrap the TV creating a situation where no one will miss any extraordinary activity outside the windows while watching sports or movies.
Even the suspended fireplace is positioned in front of the views and in the winter a real fire can glow from the fireplace while a secondary fire can crackle from the TV – simply mesmerizing.
The walls in the living area are clad in cork for sound absorption and behind the wall a hallway leads to a stairwell on the left that goes to a downstairs gym and on the right past the main stairwell to a private zone, which includes 3 bedrooms and one bathroom as well as a hallway office area.
The stairs that lead to the gym are created by a series of cantilevered portions of railway sleepers. The thickness of the slabs creates a solid and strong tread while the checking and markings within the wood creates a warm and organic patina.
The top level of the home is where the Master Suite is located. At the very far end of the floor is the ensuite and just outside the ensuite is a landscaped terrace creating the treed void within the façade.
From inside the ensuite the view of the foliage creates the perfect Zen atmosphere as does the choice to keep the room in a modernist aesthetic.
The ensuite is not the only outdoor moment within the Master Suite, in fact the bedroom has its own private deck overlooking the valley below.
Aside from the Master Suite, the top floor also has a quiet library located on the far side of the stairwell.
The main level is much larger then the top floor, which ends in line with the dining table and exposes itself to the high ceilinged social zone below through a mezzanine cut out.
Downstairs the pool is the main focus but there is also a gym, movie theatre, wine cellar, laundry, service room, powder room and garage.
Photography by Richard John Seymour