The House of the Birds is located in the heart of the Alto Alentejo, in the historic town of Crato. The town – since the beginning of the 13th century headquarters to the Order of Hospitallers in Portugal and, two centuries later, to its successor the Order of Malta – is two hours’ distance from Lisbon and just a few kilometres from the Spanish border.
During a period of more than two years, the house was subject to a careful restoration which brought back its distinct and elegant dignity, while at the same time providing those who inhabit it with a simple and relaxed way of life, absolutely modern.
Reinterpreting the traditional decoration of Portuguese noble houses – in its use of decorative painting, stucco, ceramics and ornamental textiles – Marisa allies her creativity to the simplicity and, at the same time, the refinement of the Alentejo’s art of receiving. A unique place to discover, in family or amongst friends, one of the most beautiful regions of Portugal, throbbing with life and authenticity, and known by connoisseurs as the Portuguese Tuscany.
Like that of the other houses in the town’s historic centre, the façade of the House of the Birds is dominantly ochre and white, with granite stonework.
The coat of arms of Marisa’s family, sculpted in marble, ornaments the upper part of the entrance door, while a cross of Malta carved in a granitic lintel, discovered during the renovation of the façade, is now clearly visible.
Once inside the house, the visitor is welcomed by a stately staircase typical of Portuguese Baroque architecture, with its stucco ornamentation alternating curves and volutes, a decorative style which was brought to the country by the stucco master and ornamentist Giovanni Grossi.
A Castelo Branco silk on linen embroidered hanging, made after an original drawing from the 17th century and “recoloured” by Marisa, adorns the left wall, reminiscent of the tapestries which decorated houses in that period.
The four-panelled ceiling ornamented with stucco, known as “de masseira”, as well as the entire entrance, was sponge-painted in Luberon burnt umber, a pigment especially chosen by Marisa for the purpose.
Arriving at the noble floor of the house, the visitor finds to the right a small washbasin decorated with mosaic by Marisa. A special kind of mosaic, made of glass medallions, decorated, according to the technique of true découpage, with the images of Portuguese kings – taken from Melchior’s engravings – interspersed with faience cabochons bearing the cross of Malta, in reference to the prestigious past of the town of Crato.
The mosaic is set on a wall which was sponge-painted in chrome green.
Next, the visitor enters the room which gives its name to the House of the Birds. For this hall, around which the other rooms of the first floor are organized, Marisa conceived a decoration combining wall painting and the technique of true découpage, so as to recreate the peace and tranquility of a Baroque garden courtyard, with the stucco frames and ornaments so characteristic of the noble gardens of the Alentejo.
On the upper part of its walls, an affresco painting, where a myriad of birds and other small animals congregate between trees and other vegetation, brings to the interior of the house the life and sensations aroused by nature, after the fashion of affresco decorations of the second half of the 18th century, particularly in country houses around Lisbon.
To the left of this courtyard, the visitor discovers the dining room.
The stucco adorning the walls, together with the sculpted doors, is original.
The four-panelled ceiling decorated with stucco is a recreation, in the manner of the ceilings which, in Portuguese noble houses, adorn the entrance, the dining room and the living room.
The vibrant colours of this room enliven the senses, bringing to mind the pleasures of the table, as befits a room exclusively dedicated to mealtimes.
From the “courtyard” of the birds one also accesses, through a double door, the living room, which is covered by a large “de masseira” stucco ceiling, echoing, in a brief allusion to French culture, the decoration of the Louis XVI chimney.
The fresh and light atmosphere of this room, in hues of blue and white, extends to the adjoining terrace, where one can fully enjoy the sweet and peaceful nights of the Alentejo summer, tasting a glass of local wine while contemplating a sky ablaze with stars.
Overlooking the upper terrace and the pool, this room maintained the typical style of Alentejo kitchens, with its ceiling painted in ochre and its worktops in local marble. Modern and functional, the kitchen is fully equipped.
The central island can be used as worktop as well as a meal surface, wide enough for several people.
The space surrounding the house has been conceived as a shelter, shadowed by reeds and protected from view.
In the pool and the fountains of the upper and lower terraces, the water, symbol of life, provides freshness and a soft murmuring sound to the surroundings, in perfect harmony with the spirit of Portuguese gardens.