Project: Casa Amor - all foto's Copyright © Casa Amor
Adress: Rua dr. Miguel Bombarda
Architect: SENA Architects - all foto's Copyright © Sena Architects
About the project:
CASA AMOR a love story...
THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER OF AN INTRODUCTION TO A COUPLE WHO ARE MOVING FROM THE HEADY WORLD OF CORPORATE AFFAIRS, TO REALISE A DREAM – BUILDING A NEW LIFE FOR BOTH THEMSELVES, AND AN ANCIENT BUILDING IN OLHÃO ( see for more chapters: https://algarveplusmagazine.com)
Walter Dellazoppa and Jacques (aka Jack) Chaniol, worked and lived in Paris; one ran the campus of a top European business school, and the other headed finance and publisher relations for France’s second largest publishing group. But after several decades at the top of their respective professions, there came a period of questioning the status quo, weighing up, and re-evaluating, with a recurring message... “what if we changed our lives?”. Changing your life? That’s a complex mix between changing city, changing country, changing profession, changing activity, changing status, a desire to go and see what awaits outside the proverbial box, and also to get out of your comfort zone, to put yourself in danger (a little) and to become your own boss (a lot). Jack and Walter, passionate about good food and beautiful hotels, led a blog of food critics for five years, and were members of the jury for the Chef’s book prize by Champagne Collet for three seasons. It was a great opportunity for them to meet hundreds of chefs around
the world, to discover hundreds of options – three Michelin-starred tables in Asia, Europe and the USA, and also street food, as well as very simple restaurants working with local produce from a sustainable agricultural source.
But after more than 700 reviews, the desire to act rather than comment was overpowering. Walter starts a training programme in one of the best patisseries in Paris. From finance to choux à la crème - proof that everything is possible, if the passion is there and the commitment ready to be fulfilled.
I n f l u e n c e s
Why Portugal and why Olhão? Perhaps because Portugal was Jack’s first travel destination abroad, when in 1982 he took on an internship at the Coimbra tourist office, but also because they had learned over the years to discover and love this country, to appreciate its history, its culture, its gastronomy – of course – its landscapes, its beaches, its mountains, its cities and villages, and also, its inhabitants.
Jack and Walter first considered settling in Comporta, on the coast, west of Alcácer do Sal, but a few trips in November and February pushed them to look to the Algarve, and the Eastern Algarve in particular. They fell in love with Tavira, but once again cooking guided their steps, and they discovered Olhão, thanks to its Festival do Marisco, music and seafood, and its incredible markets... an Aladdin’s cave for food lovers. “Olhão’s local producers and fishermen are the best allies of the cooks,” says Jack.
“Olhão doesn’t disclose its personality to newcomers at first sight. You have to get lost in its alleyways and narrow streets. You must move off the beaten track, take the ferry to Armona, take your time. In summer or winter there is life here, it is a real city all year round. And when you go up to the terraces of the cubic houses to look into the distance at the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the charm overwhelms you, and you do not want to leave. For us it was Olhão and not elsewhere.”
Finding that treasure
The duo decided to look for a 500m2 building in the historic centre, among the fishermen’s cottages. Jack spent a week criss-crossing the city, taking pictures of houses that seemed big enough, free, abandoned or in ruins, and showed them to local real estate agents.
A few weeks later, Patrícia Lima from Besthome unlocked the doors of a huge house. It was a faded building, built around 1870, that the inhabitants of Olhão knew as Pensão Helena. It had originally been the house of Dr Pádua, in the street that bears his name.
In 1934, the Pensão opened on the first floor, above workshops and stores that included the famous tobacco merchant, Balazar, where you could exchange money sent by expatriates for escudos.
At 1,000m2, this property was double the size Jack and Walter had envisaged. “It was scary at first,” says Jack. “We asked ourselves what could we do with all this space. But then, walking down the wide corridors, pushing doors open, going up to the vast roof terrace from where we could see the Ria Formosa in the distance, we knew we had found our next chapter.”
And the vision was clear. That the guest house that had remained empty and left to ruin 30 years earlier, would be reborn as a boutique hotel with a swimming pool on the rooftop, a restaurant, a coffee shop and an art gallery. Casa Amor, where fragments of the past become the promise of the future.
Getting plans in place
Finding the talents, the creative brains who would understand that vision, came next. Jack and Walter decided to collaborate with architect, Tatiana Bento who runs Sena Architects, impressed not only by her achievements, but also because she was born in Olhão, regards it as ‘her’ city, and is dedicated to preserving its incredible architectural heritage.
Plans for the immense renovation project have now been approved by the Câmara Municipal de Olhão and will allow the crumbling building to be returned to its former glory with respect for its origins and detailing.
The new owners salute the help and efficiency of the services of the city, and will meet the confidence placed in their vision with the promise of the finest-quality workmanship. Damage of the years will be redressed, wooden windows will replicate the originals, balconies will reappear, a patio will replace the 1960’s garage.
There will be Portuguese stonework, white lime, hand- crafted doors that the carpenter will faithfully reproduce. The dream will slowly but surely unfold, and it will awaken the senses.
Once the builder has been selected, work will start in November, with the Casa Amor opening scheduled for summer 2023. Even if Jack and Walter now advocate slow life... there is not a day to lose.
Every month now, and until the opening in 2023, we will be running a diary of the progress of Casa Amor, step by step, brick by brick, discovery after discovery, following in Jack and Walter’s footsteps throughout the renovation process.
There will be before and after photographs, the good and bad surprises, the milestones, the celebrations. And who knows, their story may inspire others to undertake a project of their own..