There was only one material used to build the waterfront cabins: wood. The floor, walls, and ceiling are fashioned with recycled timber wood. In conversation with João Rodrigues, owner of Silent Living
The inception of Cabanas No Rio
«When you arrive at the cabins close to the river, you realize they are quite ‘normal’. They don’t have anything special, so you don’t lose time in looking at them, because they’ve always been there», says João Rodrigues, founder of Silent Living. The story of Cabanas no Rio began one day when Rodrigues was unwinding in his cabins, by the river Sado. Nestled amidst the silent landscape, the cabins were used as a hideaway by his family, located an hour’s drive from Lisbon. «I would go there with my kids to swim in the river or kayak. We had painted them in white with a few chairs inside and a collection of books. We would spend just our afternoons there in the absence of beds». However, things changed one afternoon, when Rodrigues’s son asked; «why can’t we spend the night here?»
It was at that moment Rodrigues decided to ameliorate the fisherman shacks into a consciously curated sanctuary. Rodrigues had acquired the cabins from a fisherman, who utilized them as a shelter to safeguard nets, and other fishing paraphernalia. They both had met when Rodrigues was building Casas Na Areia, in Comporta. «He would knock at my window at 4 a.m. and say, “João, do you want to come fishing with me?” So we would go». One day the fisherman, suffering from an ailment, asked Jao to buy his cabins. «He told me that I was the only person he trusted with his cabins. I ended up buying the cabins as well as the boat», adds Rodrigues.
Perched on the banks of Rio Sado in the south-central region of Alentejo in Portugal, Cabanas No Rio is nestled in Careshcera, a fishermen’s village. The inhabitants of the village live in a deep relationship with the river. The cabanas overlook the natural reserve of the Sado estuary and are located close to the seaside resort of Comporta. Its neighborhood is home to a variety of wildlife such as flamingos, storks, and dolphins. It is also considered to be one of the sought-after places for bird watching in Portugal.
Minimalism depicted at Cabanas No Rio encourages the guests to reconnect with the planet and what it has to offer. «We have made Cabanas No Rio free from all superfluous objects, thus strengthening the feeling of being part of something larger than the challenges of everyday life», says Rodrigues.
Reincarnation of the fisherman shacks
The award-winning Lisbon-based architects Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus are behind the facelift of the fisherman shacks. All Silent Living homes are designed and envisioned by them. Rodrigues met the architects in 2006, and has since then shared a strong alliance with them. The Aires Mateus brothers founded their studio in 1988. It has been shortlisted for the ‘European Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award’ several times.
Cabanas No Rio was launched in 2012. It took three months to build the property. «The two cabins were constructed in a workshop and brought to the site through a lorry. Each was then hoisted into place, framing a small wooden deck that leads out onto a jetty».
There was only one material used to build the waterfront cabins: wood. The floor, walls, and ceiling are fashioned with recycled timber wood. «We procured left-over wood from a big woodcutting workshop in the neighborhood. It was drying for several years and nobody wanted to buy it. I bought it for an economical price and we built the cabanas with them», says Rodrigues. Due to the rawness of the wood used, the cabanas tend to change color with the change of season. Sun-burnt and rain-drenched wood emit shades of grey.
The huts are rented as one. Framed by a wooden pier, each of them is contained within a twelve square meters space. One hut functions as a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and shower (which can be used inside or alfresco). The other hut facilitates a sitting area with a compact kitchen. For food, you can find eateries at the nearby resort of Comporta, or pick fresh catch from the neighborhood fish market to cook in the cabana. Bare interiors characterize the two huts that face the vastness of river Sado. Allowing the outside landscape to seep through its doors, the low-impact structure of the cabanas blends seamlessly with nature. The identity of a place and its architectural language relies on a specific set of materials and application techniques. «To ensure the connection between the house and its surroundings, and to keep the story of each house alive, we keep our buildings faithful to the local language, by searching for materials and shapes capable of connecting the building to the place where it belongs». The guests are invited to indulge in a mindful experience by letting go and connecting with themselves. Integrating with the surroundings and disconnecting from the material world. «Almost like the feeling of being naked. Having these unfolding moments when, suddenly, you understand that it doesn’t matter if I have a wardrobe or not. I just need the clothes that I’m using. There’s no one here to look at me, it’s just me and my loved one, or me and the world, me and the planet».
Silent Living: the story and homes
Silent Living operates a total of four distinct properties all across Portugal. Casas Na Areia, Cabanas No Rio, Casa No Tempo, Santa Clara 1728, and Casa Na Terra. Each with overtones of simplicity. Most of them started as family homes, later redesigned and restored. «Our first property, Casas Na Areia was originally our family’s holiday home, but soon became a place to welcome our friends and family». Casas Na Areia was chosen to represent Portugal at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2008. It also made it to the covers of ten international lifestyle and architectural magazines.
The evolution of the Silent Living brand is depicted through storytelling and the unfolding of memories. It manifests the aura of its core concept through all its homes. The recipe that creates the Silent Living story consists of eight chosen ingredients. Home, memory, local, simplicity, family, nature, material, and atmosphere. «It was after we launched our fourth house, Santa Clara, I decided to create a brand that would represent our story and ethos. After nine years we finally understood what we were doing – it wasn’t just about the nice architecture or the location – it is a melange of several things that make the silent living story».
The name, Silent Living, emerged through a collaborative exercise. The idea was to integrate the customer journey and create a sense of familiarity. «During eight months we collected words from our guests – their first expressions when they entered the homes. The keywords included; family, simplicity, materiality, rituals». The team then, after a brainstorming session, finalized the name. «We called it Silent Living because that’s how people interpreted their experience. It’s not about how we want to be perceived; rather, how people perceive us».
Silent Living propagates hospitality over-tourism, while Rodrigues refers to his properties as homes, not hotels. «People forget that hospitality comes from the word “hospital.” You welcome people in need, you look after them, and whenever they are better they will follow their way. In tourism, they offer a room with a view or a room that does not have a view, or something else — but this is not what we do».
Food and the Future
Silent Living also runs an extensive food program with a restaurant, a catering venture, and their newly-launched delivery kitchen. Exhibiting a farm ecosystem, they grow food through regenerative agriculture practices. The farm includes an assortment of sustainably grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, as well as herds of animals such as sheep, cows, and goats. «The thought was to bring back the idea of eating food from your farm. What we grow is for our customers who are our family». The produce from the farm is transported to their professional kitchen in Santa Clara, Lisbon. After the food is prepared it is sent for deliveries to the homes of the patrons. «The food home delivery program was started recently during the duration of the pandemic. Soon, the home delivery will also be available for the cabanas», added Rodrigues.
Their in-house restaurant Ceia, with its six-meter-long table, evokes the feeling of communal dining. The single table at the restaurant accommodates twelve people for a convivial meal. The eatery currently remains shut due to the pandemic restrictions. Apart from the restaurant, Covid-19 had a considerable impact on their overall business. «The occupancy in all our houses has been lower in the past year. But the pandemic gave us time to rethink and restructure ourselves. Training our team, launching the new home delivery project, etc». For the future, he mentioned, «we are developing an interactive and farm project. It will be positioned for immersive workshops around bread, cheese, meat, harvesting, etc. This will take us a year and a half», concludes Rodrigues.
Cabanas No Rio
Unnamed Road, Comporta, Portugal
Located in Careshcera, a fisherman village, one hour south of Lisbon. The region is well known for its white sandy beaches, wines, seafood, and rice paddies.