A Conversation with Luísa and Francisca about Duas Portas in Porto

January 9, 2015

Luísa and Francisca are the two passionate Portuenses running Duas Portas, a boutique guesthouse in Porto facing the mouth of the Douro river.

A Conversation with Luísa and Francisca about Duas Portas in Porto

How did the idea of starting Duas Portas come about?

Luísa: Duas Portas came about spontaneously. Four members of the same family, that had never worked in this field before, took it upon themselves to start this adventure. It is the meeting point of each one’s world: travelling, the pleasure of hosting, the quality of architecture, the enjoyment of Porto, in particular of the neighbourhood where we live.

You are an architect and you come from a family of architects. Your mother, Luísa Penha (wife of Eduardo Souto de Moura, 2011 Pritzker Prize Laureate) was responsible for Duas Portas. In what way did you get involved in the project?

Luísa: I got involved in the development of the project both as a potential guest and as the manager of the space. I have complete trust in my mother’s work as an architect. During the process we discussed various aspects mainly related to furniture and decoration. In this kind of project this is potentially the most complicated stage and where differences in opinion may appear between the architect and the owner.

The interior design and the architecture as a whole can be compromised if there isn’t dialogue, commitment and trust between all parties. Although Duas Portas is not a hotel per se, it has requirements for its functioning, cleanliness and maintenance that are more demanding than those of a large family house. The architect fully answered all these requirements, and we found that often she was the one being more flexible during the process.

Duas Portas is a project by local architect Luísa Penha.
A Portuguese Townhouse before the construction works.

Can you tell us more about the architectural concept of Duas Portas?

Luísa: I think that Duas Portas establishes a link between the past, the memory of a family home, and the present in a coherent way. The result is that we are able to offer a unique experience to our guests.

We renovated a 19th century Porto townhouse, respecting the use of traditional materials, but without hesitating when it came to introducing modernity and functionality. It is a type of architecture with a simple language that allows for the space to age well. A sense of quality is created through the essence and robust nature of the materials and the method of construction in order to produce a harmony with the whole.

This idea is clearly present in the façade. A new floor was added, using exactly the same materials and type of construction of the existing floors, natural stone-work salvaged from the demolition of an existing wall of the old house. The thickness of the walls, the proportions of the openings, the window-frames, everything was preserved in order to allow for the same way of aging.

“We renovated a 19th century Porto townhouse without hesitating when it came to introducing modernity and functionality.”

This is a completely new adventure for you, how are you finding the whole process of opening a hotel?

Luísa: Neither of us has training or experience in this field, I am an architect and my aunt is a nurse. Even though we are demanding and well travelled we have been constantly learning new things.

We want to offer the highest standard of quality to our guests and we believe, that in order to do that, time and dedication is necessary for research, studying and testing.

Francisca: Personally one of the biggest challenges was the staff interviewing process. We decided to set up an ‘office’ right in the middle of the construction site because we thought that it was important to present the space to the interviewees. It was February and the house didn’t even have windows! The candidates showed up impeccably dressed and left covered in dust. We were freezing and some of them were coughing as they left. (Laughter)

Both my niece and I felt immediately that we were in tune in what concerns our objectives. At the end of each interview, and we did about forty, our evaluation was almost always the same: I like her, I don’t like her, fantastic, unthinkable… and we ended up in complete agreement in all the choices that we made.

Furnishing the hotel was another big challenge. For example, in order to choose the bed linen and the bathroom towels we visited almost all the textile factories in the north of Portugal. We learnt about the difference between 200 thread Egyptian cotton and 305 thread satin, between single and other types of yarn. We tried all the samples in order to make our decisions. It was fun to choose mattresses and pillows. We spent hours in showrooms: one of us lying down while the other would jump on the mattress to test it. (Laughter)

“Neither of us has training or experience in this field, I am an architect and my aunt is a nurse.”

What part of running the guest house do you most enjoy at the moment?

Luísa: Above all I like to observe people. To understand the differences and the similarities between them. I like to establish a relationship of trust in order to offer the best experience of Porto.

This project has allowed me get to know very different kinds of people, both the guests and my own staff. I get that same feeling when I go travelling.

Francisca: As I am responsible for breakfast, I find the diversity of morning habits of each guest very entertaining. My recipes for home-made cakes are the highlight of the morning meal, I am very happy with all the compliments.

“To choose the bed linen and the bathroom towels we visited almost all the textile factories in the north of Portugal.”

What distinguishes you from the other hotels in Porto?

Luísa: One of the things that distinguishes us is that we don’t see ourselves as a hotel. Duas Portas is one of a kind in its architecture and the attention that it dedicates to its guests. It is a simple but refined space, that offers the tranquility of the river and the sea, while keeping a distance from the frenzy of the city. But it still is very close to the centre of Porto, in both distance and access to public and other means of transport.

Francisca: I think not having standard procedures makes us special. We try to create a unique relationship with each guest, according to each situation.

artwork by Maria Souto Moura, hanged on a wall by the bedside
The artworks in the rooms were created by Luísa’s sister, Maria Souto de Moura, who is also an architect.

What is your favorite object and how did you find it?

Luísa: The beautiful door by the lobby. It is not really an object, more of an element of the architecture. It is exquisite, made of laced woodwork that belonged to the house, which we moved from its original setting. We restored the door, keeping the same ochre and dry-green coloring and varnishing it with old style furniture wax. When I came in I could smell it. I will not forget that feeling.

Luísa´s favourite object is the beautiful door by the lobby. It is exquisite, made of laced woodwork that belonged to the house.
Francisca´s favourite object is the “cheeky bird” in the patio. It fell in love with them and has never flown away.

What is your favourite hotel that you have visited?

Francisca: I loved staying at the Casa do Rio. It has a breathtaking view of the river Douro. Everything about the hotel is beautiful. You feel that you are in an atmosphere of total comfort and the service is excellent. I had to call my friend Francisco (the architect of the project) to tell him what I was feeling. It’s a place I always recommend.

Casa do Rio is a beautiful hotel with a breathtaking view of the river Douro loved by Francisca.

Luísa: That’s a tough question. I’ll never forget a small Riad in Marrakesh, Zaouia 44 where I stayed a few years ago. It had the perfect balance: the location, the architecture, the objects and the people. The local versus the universal, tradition versus modernity. The simplicity and the stripped back feel versus the comfort and the intimate atmosphere. Everything was harmonious, just as I intend for Duas Portas.

Riad Zaouia 44, a small Riad in Marrakech that Luisa never forgot.

Thank you very much for this interview Luísa and Francisca.

Thank you too!

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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Joana and Sofia

Check out our full report on Duas Portas

© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Duas Portas.

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