A Conversation with Angelique and Christophe about The Modernist
Angelique and Christophe Oliveira are the co-owners of The Modernist, six minimalist apartment-like suites with a wonderful 1970s vibe, set in a genuine modernist building in the heart of Faro.
“We realised Faro was a modernist architecture gem, and our building was a part of it.”
– ANGELIQUE DE OLIVEIRA, CO-OWNER OF THE MODERNIST
How did you find this building, and what drew you to it?
Christophe: As humans, we often forget one of the most precious tools we have been gifted: our instinct.
When we were hunters, our instinct was our primary tool to find food, a place to sleep, or a partner. Today, we still have this tool that we believe we must keep using when looking for a place to sleep, or even better, to invest.
Four years ago, we thought this was the moment to invest in the Algarve. We already had experience in real estate and hospitality in Paris and were looking to diversify our activity. We wanted a convenient city, close to nature, with great infrastructure and culture.
We concluded Faro was the appropriate city in the Algarve to launch this business. Then we just walked and walked in the centre and followed our hunting instinct. That, in turn, sent us to this abandoned building. Our heartbeats confirmed this was the one!
When investing, we wonder how it will make us feel once we own it. Would we feel good and fulfilled or stressed? We felt good and confident, so this was the one. This questioning always helped us in all our investments.
When you hired architecture studio PAr, did you already know then that you wanted the whole concept to follow the building’s original Mid-century modern design?
Angelique: When we chose to work with PAr, the only thing we knew was that they were the studio we wanted to work with. We were impressed by their project, Casa Modesta, plus the international recognition they won. We aligned with their professionalism and attention to detail.
We knew PAr and ourselves would be the perfect team. We wanted them to express their expertise, and for us to express our passion for design and architecture.
Prior to that, we already had a passion for Mid-century modern. The project was still going to take a while, so we had time to travel. We went to Palm Springs and Phoenix Arizona, where we visited the Taliesin West centre of American Mid-Century, by the genius Frank Lloyd Wright.
Once we came back to Faro, we faced the city with new outsider eyes. We realised Faro was a modernist architecture gem, and our building was a part of it. We figured out that our mission was to democratise at our small level Modernism and promote it to architecture lovers across Portugal and Europe.
How long did the renovation process take, and what were the most significant challenges?
Angelique: The renovation took three years. The most challenging part was dealing with the administration process. The time we had to wait for all the licensing was huge. From the authorisation to start the project to getting the approval to change details of the construction plan, or the four months lost to get electricity from the provider. That was quite frustrating.
But thankfully, we tend to forget that, and once the result is here, your memory just keeps the best bits of the journey. Maybe somehow you have to be a little crazy to get involved in such an adventure, but it is worth it in the end.
“All our furniture is bespoke and exclusively designed for The Modernist. You won’t find it in a retail store!”
– CHRISTOPHE DE OLIVEIRA, CO-OWNER OF THE MODERNIST
Every single part of this project has been designed and manufactured in Portugal and is mostly less than 100km from The Modernist. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Christophe: When we decided on the Modernist concept, we made a strict commitment to only build with local materials. This was the very same commitment that Modernist architects had at the time. And believe us, today, that’s probably the hardest thing to do.
Buying made in China, or made in Sweden is easier, faster and cheaper than made in the Algarve. But when you are involved in a project, you have to stay committed and avoid easy or lazy last-minute decisions. We are grateful to have worked with PAr studio who helped us stick to this discipline.
We also had another commitment that has so much sense nowadays - the footprint of the construction process. We wanted to have the smallest CO2 footprint with our project. So sourcing locally was the only way to achieve it.
That’s how we sourced local materials and collaborated with local artisans. From the stone, which is from São Brás de Alportel in the Algarve, to the wood or iron. Everything was local.
The furniture was made for us by a Portuguese family manufacturer. All our furniture is bespoke and exclusively designed for The Modernist. You won’t find it in a retail store!
Faro had one of the largest concentrations of modern architecture in Southern Europe. You’ve designed a self-walking tour to help guests discover Faro's architecture, which is also an alternative way to discover the city. How did that awesome idea come about?
Christophe: The first time we did an architecture walking tour was in the Miami Art Deco district. It was such an amazing experience for us because we discovered the area of South Beach Miami, not as tourists, but as architecture lovers. That provided a totally different experience.
The tour allowed us to discover some of the most iconic buildings of the city, with details about the client, architect, the history of the houses and the families who lived there. And sometimes some incredible stories such as Versace’s romances or Al Capone’s criminal activities.
That ‘architecture walking tour’ seed stayed with us, and as we walked along the streets of Faro, we figured out how rich the city's architectural heritage is. That’s how we ended up having the idea of offering our guests a tool for visiting Faro, not through the traditional tourist attractions but through its architecture.
This is a unique way to explore the city as a local and from a cultural perspective.
How did you get into the hospitality industry, and as a couple, how do you share your roles?
Angelique: We entered the hospitality industry by accident or by chance! In 2006, we visited an abandoned bakery in Paris, located in a very tranquil street near the Eiffel Tower. We fell in love with this place and decided to buy it. Then we figured out that the shop's street was not busy enough for any kind of business, except a business that required quietness.
That is how we converted the bakery into a loft for travellers. That loft was the first one of our Parisian collection named "Artisan Lofts Paris". The spaces we acquired used to be bakeries, artist studios, fashion studios or start-up garages. Each loft has been upcycled into a designer place with hotel comfort.
As a couple, we developed that passion of seeing beauty in abandoned places and in converting artsy places with charm and history, into hospitality experiences. For us working as a couple made sense since we both have an artistic sensibility, and we like to challenge each other in the creative process. In daily business, we have a clear separation in our tasks. I’m in charge of marketing and sales (said Angelique), while Chris is in charge of finance and operations.
“Our favourite objects at The Modernist are the door handles (...) a handle is the starting and final point of your stay.”
– ANGELIQUE DE OLIVEIRA, CO-OWNER OF THE MODERNIST
What are your favourite objects at The Modernist, and where did you get them?
Angelique: Our favourite objects at The Modernist are the door handles! We love handles since they are the first object you touch when you enter a place. You can neglect them but if you create a special handle, it will make your experience special because a handle is the starting and final point of your stay.
During the demolition works, we found the original 1977 handle that was in an old door, it had been designed by Modernist Architect Joel Santana. We saw it among the engravings, and we rescued it at the last minute. Now every door of The Modernist has that same special handle, which connects you for the first time with our unit.
You also offer guests a list of local tips, which we very much enjoyed. Describe your perfect day off in Faro.
Angelique: A perfect day in Faro starts with a sunny morning with this incredible light we are fortunate to have here. Faro has 300 days of sunshine per year!
Start with coffee and breakfast at our favourite café downstairs called Chelsea. Then using our Architecture Walking tour, take around an hour to explore either the Art Deco district of Faro or the Modernist area. With this fantastic sun and light, you will take the best pictures ever of architecture or of your partner against the architectural backdrop.
End the morning in the market, where you can enjoy a great lunch at Palhaçinho, a kind of market bistro. My favourite dish here is the Algarvian style tuna with potatoes, served with a traditional bell pepper salad.
Then you can walk to the marina and take a taxi boat ride - my favourite company is Animaris - across the Ria Formosa which is one of Portugal’s largest sea natural reserves. Do some bird watching and listen to the sea scientist explaining the ecosystem. Your taxi boat can drop you at one of those deserted beaches of Ria Formosa where you can spend the rest of your afternoon.
End your day with a cocktail at Lab Terrace bar, enjoying the sunset and having dinner at the Checkin restaurant from Chef Leonel Pereira. He cooks like no one else the specialities of the Ria Formosa, such as seafood, fish and salicornia, in a chic bistro style.
Afterwards, enjoy a restful night back in your Modernist’s comfortable bed.
“Faro has 300 days of sunshine per year!”
– ANGELIQUE DE OLIVEIRA, CO-OWNER OF THE MODERNIST
What is your favourite hotel in the world?
Christophe: Our favourite hotel in the world is The Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona (US), built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1929. The resort has 700 rooms, a pool, some cottages, several ballrooms and a bar.
It’s a real piece of art with a distinct particularity; it has been made with 250,000 similar blocks called the Biltmore block designed by Wright that represents the geometric pattern of a freshly cut palm tree.
That pattern is in the construction blocks, the bar decoration details, the light system, the skylights, everywhere—a demonstration of architecture. But best of all, the hotel was built in only nine months. 700 rooms of an artistic hotel in nine months, who can do better?
Thank you Ange and Chris!
Here's hoping you create new memories here in Portugal. Tag us on Instagram (we would love it if you do!) and let us know how it goes. 🤗
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