Anatomy of a Home

Sleek Lines and Thoughtfully Collected Furniture Distinguish This Portuguese Home by Oitoemponto

Ask the Porto, Portugal-based design duo Jacques Bec and Artur Miranda for their architectural heroes, and they immediately name one person: the mid-century Italian modernist Piero Portaluppi, who is best known today for his rationalist Milanese masterpiece, the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in Milan.

“He had wonderful classical references and an incredible eye for proportions,” says Bec. Adds Miranda, “When we do architectural work, it’s neither decorative nor delicate. It’s always quite solid and serious, and we love working with large volumes.”

So, one could hardly imagine a more fitting commission than this family home: Sitting on 50 acres in a town to the north of Porto, and hidden from the road behind a rather inconspicuous wall, it measure more than 14,300 square feet.

Portrait of designers Jacques Bec and Artur Miranda, of the Porto-based firm OITOEMPONTO
Designers Jacques Bec (right) and Artur Miranda, of the Porto-based firm OITOEMPONTO, recently completed the architecture and interiors of a 14,300-square-foot villa 35 minutes north of Porto for a couple with three young sons (portrait by Victor Hugo). Top: The home’s living room includes Eero Saarinen Womb chairs and ottomans, a Finn Juhl for Baker Furniture cocktail table, a 1970s BD Lumica table lamp and an Aldo Tura games table surrounded by Axel Larsson chairs. In the background is a a vintage de Sede leather sofa and Shinique Smith’s And The World Don’t Stop, 2009.

The owners — a couple with three young boys — originally envisioned it as even bigger.

Before approaching Miranda and Bec’s architecture and design firm, Oitoemponto, they drew a sketch of how they pictured the structure. “It was totally out of proportion,” recalls Miranda. “I put it on a Xerox machine and reduced it by a third. Even now, the corridors are so long the owners could get around on Segways.” 

Built largely of local white granite, the exterior is structured and rhythmic, with rigorous lines and aligned openings. “We wanted something timeless,” says Bec, “and right from the start, our aim was to create a sense of transparency.”

The exterior of the house designed by Oitoemponto
For the structured, rhythmic exterior of the house — which sits on 50 acres — the designers chose local white granite. “We wanted something timeless,” says Bec.

Inside, Miranda and Bec employed a limited number of materials: bronze Armani marble, polished Venetian plaster, lacquer, wood veneer. And they furnished the rooms with objects their clients had acquired over the years — the sitting room’s 1970s BD LUMICA TABLE LAMP, for instance, and pair of Paco Rabanne leather-clad armchairs the couple spotted in Oitoemponto’s booth at the 2015 AD Intérieurs showhouse event in Paris.

Before construction began on the house, the clients chose another two artworks from Bec and Miranda’s Porto showroom: a large-scale abstract by Shinique Smith and a blurred-looking painting of a tiger by German artist Stephan Kaluza. 

Exterior of the house designed by Oitoemponto. The architecture nods to the work of Italian mid-century modernist PIERO PORTALUPPI, famed for Milan's rationalist VILLA NECCHI CAMPIGLIO.
The architecture nods to the work of Italian mid-century modernist PIERO PORTALUPPI, famed for Milan’s rationalist VILLA NECCHI CAMPIGLIO.

Ask the designers their tricks for furnishing such large volumes, and they cite the need for overscale pieces — but not too many.

“The true luxury in this kind of home is to leave empty space,” explains Bec. And although the monumentality of the house may suggest a certain ostentation, its laid-back owners actually lead a discreet life.

“For them, it’s not a house for show,” says Bec. “It’s simply a family home, a place where they bring together their loved ones.”

Here, he and Miranda take us on a tour.


THE ENTRY HALL

Image of the entry hall

“The first thing you see when you enter the house is the garden,” says Bec. “We really wanted to create that connection between indoors and out.” The other thing you can’t fail to notice is the soaring ceilings, which shoot up 23 feet.

The decor by the front door is “quintessential Oitoemponto,” says Miranda, who, with Bec, designed the Brazilian-rosewood and lacquer Shanghai chest, the Copacabana mirror above it and the white Tiete table lamp.

The Mano sculpture, a resin hand filled with wheat, is by Pierre Giraudon, who helped the French artist César create his legendary crushed-metal sculptures known as Compressions.

“As light enters the house from all sides, it affords the transparency the work warrants,” says Bec. 

At the other end of the entry hall, the look is more mid-century Italian. The designers juxtaposed a circular table by Osvaldo Borsani with a pair of amber-colored glass Gio Ponti sconces that are nearly three feet tall. “They’re enormous, but in this house, they’re the perfect size,” says Miranda.

Underneath each stands a Louis XIV chair. “In all our projects, we like to mix styles and periods to give the impression that the furnishings have been accumulated over time,” notes Bec. “It’s as if our clients inherited these from one of their grandmothers.”


THE STAIRCASE

Image of the marble staircase

The quasi-minimalist design of the stairs is offset by a dramatic double-height partition made of anodized aluminum interspersed with rectangles of lacquered wood in a syncopated design. The pattern echoes that of the adjacent wall-hung light sculpture, created by Brazilian architect Italo Della Manna for an apartment in São Paulo in 1959.

Their similarity, however, owes more to serendipity than intent. “We hadn’t necessarily envisioned they’d go together so well,” admits Bec. “Sometimes, it’s as if our subconscious guides us.”

One thing they did anticipate was the necessity to sand the bronze Armani marble on the staircase wall to give it a matte finish. “If it had been shiny like in the rest of the house, you’d have been able to see the reflection of the sculpture’s light bulbs,” explains Bec.


THE LIVING ROOM

Image of the living room that includes pops of red and orange furniture

This room is dominated by an expansive chimney breast clad in what at first glance looks like orange ceramic tiles but in fact are squares of copper. “They’re deceptive,” says Miranda. “It’s only when you get up close that you realize what they are.”

Their orange tones are reiterated in the upholstery of EERO SAARINEN WOMB CHAIRS AND OTTOMANS. These are among a number of iconic 20th-century designs scattered throughout the house, which also include the DE SEDE LEATHER SOFA. “It’s good to have items that are more familiar,” says Miranda. “They prevent things from becoming too eclectic.” 

More originality is displayed by other vintage finds: the 1970s Lumica table lamp and pair of chaise longues by the fireplace, created by fashion designer Paco Rabanne for his own apartment; the ALDO TURA parchment and lacquer games table surrounded by a set of chairs by Axel Larsson; and the walnut cocktail table created for BAKER FURNITURE by FINN JUHL.

The hand-tufted rug is custom, its pattern based on a Tibetan motif. “It’s a large, stylized cloud, which helps to bring calm and snugness to the space” says Bec.


THE DINING ROOM

Image of the dining room

A constant in Oitoemponto’s work is the confronting of elements that are diametrically opposed. A perfect case in point: the juxtaposition of a raw silk paper from Phillip Jeffries and rough-hewn stone on the walls. “When something is sophisticated, it’s good to counterbalance it with an element that jars a little,” says Miranda. 

The 1962 lacquer-topped dining table from Maison Leleu is one of the designers’ favorite finds for the house. “It looks like nothing else,” Bec says. “In a way, it’s very classical in inspiration, but at the same time, its structure almost foreshadows the nineteen seventies.”

Here, it sits in conversation with a pair of Philippe Parent raw-oak table lamps, a set of custom dining chairs based on an American model from the fifties and a David Weeks chandelier selected for its substantial dimensions.

The mirrored wall, meanwhile, attests to Bec and Miranda’s enduring love of reflections. “They bring a touch of magic to every room,” the former explains.


THE FAMILY ROOM

Image of the family room

With its ebonized-oak walls, the family room was conceived more or less as a black box — but one that is far from claustrophobic. “We installed mirrors, as well as a sliding panel that opens onto the indoor pool,” Bec says. “Otherwise, it could have been a little anxiety-inducing.”

As is the case throughout the house, the furnishings are a savvy mix of custom and vintage pieces.

The sofas, cocktail table and black marble lamps were all designed by Oitoemponto. So was the rug, whose motif was suggested by the brushstrokes of French painter Pierre Soulages. “Everything was so symmetrical that we needed some freer forms to loosen things up,” says Miranda.

Detail shot of the family room

The vintage pieces in the room include the armchairs and ottomans by mid-century Finnish designer Carl-Gustav Hiort af Ornäs and a pair of 1970s unsigned occasional bronze and glass tables.

In a way, the ebonized-oak and walnut bar is itself a mix of old and new. Imagined by Bec and Miranda, it has handles inspired by a Ponti chest. 


THE OFFICE

Photo of the office

In the office, a custom rug once again provides a bracing jolt of pattern, here in the form of an enlarged zebra print. Several pieces are by legendary 20th-century Italian designers: a rosewood and polished-aluminum desk created by Osvaldo Borsani for Tecna, a Gae Aulenti Pipistrello lamp and a Joe Colombo Elda armchair upholstered in a David Hicks–like fabric with a hexagonal pattern.

The 1980s floor lamp in front of the walnut and lacquer storage unit has a telescoping base. “You can lower it so much it almost becomes like a table lamp,” says Miranda.


THE LANDING

The landing of the house, featuring a colorful rug

The focal point of the second-floor landing is a brightly hued Frank Stella rug. It was commissioned by the New York dealer Charles Slatkin for the 1968 exhibition “American Tapestries, which featured designs by some 20 contemporary artists, including Robert Motherwell, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. “It’s great to have a Stella, even on the floor,” quips Miranda.

In the background, a black lacquer and white Lucite Oitoemponto lamp and a vintage Danish ceramic vase stand on top of a custom console table made from zebrano and lacquer. Its design is illustrative of the way Bec and Miranda play with intersecting volumes, in both their furniture and their architecture. “It’s something you find throughout the house,” notes Bec.


THE MAIN BEDROOM

Photo of the main bedroom of the house

Bec and Miranda are certainly not the first designers to aim for a “cocoon-like” bedroom, but the one they have created here is particularly stylish.

The raw-linen wallpaper, which has both textural and acoustic qualities, is a key element. Another is the extremely plush wall-to-wall hand-knotted Portuguese carpet.

A certain softness is imparted by the rounded forms of much of the furniture, like the pair of Charles Ramos armchairs, the Kerstin Hörlin-Holmquist Paradiset sofa and the semicircular rosewood cocktail table by Johannes Andersen. A notable exception is the Épines occasional table by Hervé Van der Straeten, with its prickly, thorn-bedecked legs.

Beside the door hangs an artwork by James Brown. The other painting in the room is by James Lavelle and used to be in Bec and Miranda’s personal collection.


THE MAIN BATHROOM

Image of the main bathroom, which features marble flooring

In many ways, the bathroom could hardly be more conventional. It is swathed in expanses of Calacatta marble and presents almost perfect symmetry. An original twist, however, is provided by the two gilded sconces, from French manufacturer Delisle’s Fifties collection.

“They’re completely in contrast with the cold, almost antiseptic ambience of the rest,” says Miranda. “They’re more like something you’d find in a ballroom.”

The floor-to-ceiling windows have an ingenious feature: When they’re open, a guardrail slides out from a pocket in the wall to prevent accidental falls.


THE DRESSING ROOM

Photo of the dressing room of the house

Functionality is very much at the heart of the design of the adjacent dressing room. The leather and walnut benches, inspired by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, for instance, are not just elegantly decorative. “The husband travels constantly for work. So, it was important to have somewhere he could pack a suitcase in five minutes,” explains Bec.

He and Miranda designed the closets’ large doorknobs to double as hangers from which the husband could suspend items he wants to take with him. And if that were not practical enough, there is also a chute with a trapdoor inside one of the closets that is connected directly to the laundry room below. 


THE INDOOR POOL

Entrance to the indoor pool

The entry to the indoor pool is indisputably dramatic. Visitors are greeted by a mold — formerly belonging to the Louvre Museum — of a sculpture of the Egyptian goddess of healing, Sekhmet, standing atop a solid oak bench.”

Photo of the indoor pool

In designing the pool, Bec and Miranda’s main goal was to open it up as much as possible to the surrounding garden. Beside the pool is a lounge area, facing out to the landscape, where the family gathers on weekends. The chaises are by Philippe Starck for Sutherland, and the pair of oversized ceiling lights above are from Louis Poulsen. The finishing touch is a pair of planted trees, chosen for their adaptability to the indoor pool environment. “They’re able to withstand the high humidity and heat,” says Bec.


THE OUTDOOR POOL

Photo of the outdoor pool

Initially, Bec and Miranda intended to line the outdoor pool with an exuberant mosaic leaf pattern. “We thought it would be good to have something in contrast to the more serious spirit of the architecture,” says Miranda. But they worried their clients would quickly tire of such an audacious gesture.

Instead, they took a rigorous, graphically linear approach, using tiles from Bisazza to create an awning stripe. “The husband loves swimming, so we decided to give him lanes, but in a decorative fashion,” says Bec.

As for the furniture, they wanted it to be as low-key as possible. To that end, they chose black parasols from Royal Botania to go with Kettal loungers.

“If they’d been white, they would have been like large splotches,” says Miranda. “The black fades much better into the decor.”

Jacques Bec and Artur Miranda’s Quick Picks

Hermès Birkin, new, offered by THREE OVER SIX
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Hermès Birkin, new, offered by THREE OVER SIX

“The normal delay for an Haut à Courroies bag from Hermès is maybe one or two years. This is a great opportunity to buy one without having to wait. Designed at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was the house’s first bag for men and was initially used for transporting saddles and riding boots. To have one that’s personalized with a patchwork of leather is extremely rare, and with this design, it’s the perfect bag for hitting the road.”

Luigi Caccia Dominioni Pallone sconces, mid-20th century, offered by Watteeu
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Luigi Caccia Dominioni Pallone sconces, mid-20th century, offered by Watteeu

“It’s a model that’s no longer made by Azucena, so it’s quite difficult to find. We really like Caccia Dominioni’s aesthetic, which has an industrial touch but which is also very sophisticated.”

Steve Chase illuminated sectional sofa, 1980, offered by Modern Drama
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Steve Chase illuminated sectional sofa, 1980, offered by Modern Drama

“We’re big fans of Steve Chase, especially Artur. He’s a guru of the style of the seventies and eighties. All of these types of sofas were illuminated from below, which we adore, and the format is great. It’s enormous — true American proportions.”

Tommi Parzinger chaise longue, ca. 1950, offered by Dual
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Tommi Parzinger chaise longue, ca. 1950, offered by Dual

“This is an absolutely magnificent design. It could hardly be more chic. It’s a little Art Deco in spirit but revisited by an American eye. We love American design because of its glamour, but it’s not that easy to find in Europe. It’s great to have access to it via 1stDibs.”

Ward Bennett club chair, 1950s–60s, offered by Vangard21 Art & Design
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Ward Bennett club chair, 1950s–60s, offered by Vangard21 Art & Design

“Ward Bennett is another American designer we adore. He has an incredible sense of style. Everything he did was quite bold. What we like about this chair is that it’s like an office chair but very low. We love the way its proportions have been reworked.”

Cocktail tables, 1954, offered by Gustavo Olivieri 20th Century
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Cocktail tables, 1954, offered by Gustavo Olivieri 20th Century

“These are done in the style of Cesare Lacca, an Italian designer who is lesser known. His work is quite eclectic and a little off-the-wall and more unusual. We love the overlapping free forms and the way these tables can be placed one on top of the other.”

Pietro Chiesa for Fontana Arte table lamp, 1940s offered by soyun k.
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Pietro Chiesa for Fontana Arte table lamp, 1940s offered by soyun k.

“Pietro Chiesa is another designer who created things that are out of the ordinary. We admire the way he worked with glass, especially with this blue color. The base of this lamp is made with just two sheets, with a metallic strip whose sole function is to hide the wires. We love how he makes something functional become decorative.”

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