to Katherine Kennard
reading this story
Taking the time to just be
It is Saturday morning and the neighbourhood around Santa Clara 1728, Silent Living’s city house in Lisbon, is livelier, louder and more colourful than on most days: Saturdays are market days. Antiquities, ‘trouvailles’, vintage pieces – objects of the past that seek the attention of mesmerised eyes looking for a little treasure to make their own. And yet the true gem of the neighbourhood remains unnoticed to most. Contrasting the temporary liveliness of its surroundings, there is a sober elegance to its façade. Once you push open the heavy door and go inside, it feels as if you have entered a different dimension. And before you know it, the calm and peacefulness that surround you gently permeate your body. You breathe easier, deeper, more consciously. With their attentive eyes and charming smiles, the hosts know all too well what you are experiencing: they give you a moment to just be before welcoming you.
As we take in the grandeur of the entrance with its historic arch and stairs, João Rodrigues, Silent Living’s founder and owner, joins us. He flew back from Brazil just the day before, which for him means that he flew the plane back: he works as a captain, mostly on long haul flights, for TAP, Portugal’s flag carrier airline. Everyone at Silent Living will tell you that he is and will always be a pilot at heart; they know how much flying means to him. He himself will tell you how much he loves it, especially those long nights crossing the ocean, up high in the dark sky – “it feels as if I’m connecting with the cosmos,” he says. He started flying when he was 19 and talks about it as though he had just discovered it for himself. To him flying means being present beyond time and space. It is a moment when everything stands still. And perhaps it is this exact sensation that formed his understanding and appreciation of time.
Whether you speak to João or anyone else at Silent Living, you quickly realise that they are fully present in the moment with you. They ask about your story and tell you about theirs. They share fascinating anecdotes about the Silent Living houses in Lisbon, Alentejo, Comporta and the farm. João says that being present when engaging with someone is a main pillar of his hospitality philosophy. Once you get to know him more, you realise that it is a part of his being. He never gets tired of repeating to the team that the person in front of you is who and what matters most – everything else can wait. To him, connecting with others is one of the most precious experiences we can give and receive – “And why would we not want to enjoy what is most beautiful?” he laughs. It is a complicit laugh, that of someone who has gathered enough life experience to know what matters most.
Being at Silent Living makes you aware of time. Of the time you make and the time you take. A realisation that is further heightened by the space created to connect or reconnect – whether with yourself, others, architecture, food or nature. It feels as though you are rediscovering your own rhythm, which, in turn, allows you to gently align with the rhythm of the things and people around you. There is something about the minimalist architecture of the houses that pays tribute to the surrounding nature, but also to the long-lived traditions that it transports effortlessly to our day and age. Every environment soothes a different state of mind and every object has its reason to be. Every food you will enjoy is nourishing and either brings a sense of comfort or a sense of novelty and surprise. At Silent Living you can just be and experience the simplicity of life as it unfolds in front of you and with you.
“Many are trying to turn hospitality into something complicated that it is not. In reality it’s very simple: it’s about feeling welcome and protected, and sharing a sense of love.”
João Rodrigues, Founder and Owner of Silent Living
João Rodrigues believes that “hospitality at its core is about feeling protected”. As he says those words, the tips of his fingers join to form a pointy roof. A roof over your head that protects you, but with heavy doors and thick walls that leave the world outside. Once inside, you should feel welcome and experience a sense of love and nurturing for as long as you stay. This is an idea that he derives from the word ‘hospitality’ itself: it contains the word ‘hospital’ – a place where those in need come to stay and be cared for in order to leave stronger and more in tune with themselves than when they arrived.
With its 6 suites, Santa Clara 1728 feels like your own private space; there is a pervasive sense of intimacy. As soon as you enter your room, you feel your shoulders drop just a little. There is nothing but a sense of calm around and within you. The room is spacious – an impression further enhanced by the high ceiling. Yet this is not a space you could feel lost in; there is nothing overwhelming about it. It feels natural and soothing, even more so after a day spent taking in the liveliness of the city. The rather dim light of the entrance is in contrast with the brighter light of the balcony windows. Without noticing it, you find yourself opening a window and breathing in the soft, sun-drenched air. The handwritten welcoming note on the side table is paired with beautifully arranged flowers, a sweet treat and couple of handpicked magazines: much of the noise has been carefully filtered out. That’s something you will experience at breakfast too: you can choose to enjoy a course or to skip it, but a chef has created a balanced succession of wholesome and beautifully arranged dishes to choose from. There is a unique kind of comfort that comes when everything is carefully curated for you to simply be. You might not notice it right away, perhaps not even during your stay. But you will definitely reminisce about this feeling once you have left Silent Living.
Sometimes it is about the little things that remain with us, the simple things that touch us. The Silent Living team creates beautiful rituals that remind us of our past and can be taken home. From arranging flowers into a bouquet to enjoying breakfast at the long table where guests come together. From the warm and inviting baking aroma that wafts around the house in the afternoon to a bathtime ritual after a long day of walking in the city. Many are the guests who write to João after a stay to tell him about the small rituals they are continuing to enjoy in their own homes.
Rituals are something that João himself cherishes deeply. He likes to walk in the neighbourhood around Santa Clara 1728. He often speaks to the many ‘habitués’ he knows who sell little treasures on market days. The one interaction that is most dear to him happens around the table we are sitting at as we speak to him. The long table in his living room is where his family gathers for breakfast. With his wife Andrea and their five children, he lives on the top floor of Santa Clara 1728, giving a new meaning to a family home where friends and guests are welcome to come and stay. But there is more to it than that. If you were to talk about ‘his’ houses, he would gently put your statement in perspective. He does not see them as his: these houses were there before him and will be there after him. In other words, he is honoured to care for them for some of their time. Everyone who has been at Silent Living would add that he doesn’t only genuinely care for them, but also ensures that they hold the power to continue being a point of connection into the future – by reducing the noise, respecting the heritage and dressing them in a fitting minimalist, contemporaneous look.
Space for chance
It might come as a surprise that Silent Living was borne of pure chance. More than a decade ago, João Rodrigues reached out to his dear friend and architect Manuel Aires Mateus to renovate a house located in the sand dunes of Comporta – a private place for him and his family to enjoy. A balanced combination of architecture and nature, local tradition and innovation, ‘Casas na Areia’ became the residential project that represented Portugal at the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture. It gained much attention and prestige. Friends started to ask if they could spend the weekend. Strangers, who later turned into friends, followed shortly thereafter. And that was the beginning of what became Silent Living. This is the first but not the last of the unplanned happenings around Silent Living. ‘Cabanas No Rio’, two old fishermen’s huts facing the Sado river, originated from one of João’s children asking why they could not spend the night there. He remembers that he could not let this thought go as he was driving the family back to Lisbon – “I hadn’t thought of it before. But yes, why wouldn’t we want to stay overnight? And more importantly, what would we need to do so?” he says. As he recalls this moment, his quiet brown eyes brighten and his otherwise calm voice becomes somewhat jumpier. You can hear the excitement he still feels to this day. An idea and something to accomplish are two of his main motivators.
“I love all of the houses, but the one that is closest to my heart is Casa no Tempo – perhaps because it has belonged to my family for generations, perhaps because I find peace there.”
João Rodrigues, Founder and Owner of Silent Living
Connecting with nature
Situated in Alentejo, in the rural interior of Portugal, Casa no Tempo has been the Rodrigues family estate and farm for generations. João talks fondly about this place, which gives him a sense of peace like no other. It takes time to reach the house, but it is worth it. He believes that the journey there helps you detach from the mundanity of the outside world and initiates a path towards a state of calmness: from city traffic to the countryside, following smaller roads through almost deserted villages until you finally reach the gates. An off-road path takes you through what seems to be an endless territory that leads up to the house. João will be the first to tell you that the landscape is as monotonous as can be, and that that is the greatest thing about it. In a short amount of time, you get the sense that you have seen it all. There is a curved stretch of landscape covered only by cork trees. This repetitiveness allows you to relax. There is no more hurrying around to do or see; you can simply be and enjoy each element. This is something that speaks to his heart. And chances are it will speak to yours too.
Once the initial rush stirred by the raw beauty of the surroundings settles in, you might come to think that you do not remember the last time you were so close to a village and a city, and yet so isolated from human presence. The immensity of the landscape is enhanced by the wilderness of the farm animals who seem masters of their domain, roaming around in their territory – aware of your presence, but not bothered by it. As soon as you enter the house that sense of vastness somehow softens up: rural and refined at once, the simplicity of the interior of Casa no Tempo feels welcoming. And even though the house itself is spacious, a sense of familiarity arises within you.
There is something that reminds us of past times in Casa no Tempo. Of how a family would sit together by the fireplace and tell stories. This might also be the reason why the house is dear to João, who thinks back to his grandfather, “a man with incredible charisma,” he says, “who would charm anyone around”. And so João, his siblings and cousins would cosy up by that same fireplace in excited anticipation of the story he would tell. Even though the house has been remodelled, when you enter the kitchen, you can imagine cheerful adults passing dishes and glasses across the long table and children running around it. While we eat a traditional dish, a much-appreciated comfort food, we see the house lights reflected in the windows, and we hear the sound of our voices and our laughter reverberate in the dark. We think of João’s family and many others after him who have been here and made this space come alive. Stepping outside for a moment, we look at the darkness of the sky and the luminous stars in it. It is a moment so earthily rooted and yet connected with the cosmos.
Even after an evening of endless conversations, the mornings often start early at Casa no Tempo, right around sunrise. It is a spectacle of nature that awakens all the senses. Being within this vast land, alone with flora, fauna and your thoughts, gives you a different perspective on the day ahead. And every season will bring its flavour to this awakening.
While we are here, we walk on misty grass surrounded by silence. This sort of primordial beauty feels almost mystical. It has been a cool night and the grass crackles softly under the shoes; you cannot feel it and barely hear it, yet it completes the sensorial experience. While the fog slowly lifts up on the lake and the horizon, we watch the horses walk towards the house as the sunlight stretches further. While taking in the atmosphere, we notice that our eyes keep returning to the white one-storey house. It looks almost flat from the distance. A simple structure you cannot get enough of, with its arched entrance and its pointy, slightly asymmetrical roof. Simple lines and shapes that are not naturally part of this environment, yet feel just right in it. João’s words about wanting to create a place where flora, fauna and human life are in perfect balance gains a new meaning at this sight.
Soon enough, you realise that you are no longer alone. The farmers have arrived to care for their plants and herbs. When you hear João speak about Silent Living’s vision of sustainable agriculture as a connection between past and future, between how his ancestors were taking care of the land – or the land of them – and how we need to do so in order for it to produce nutritious food, you would expect old, wise and wrinkly farmers who know the ancient ways. Instead you meet two youngsters with a real vocation, who gladly explain to you what they do and which produce they are growing from the seeds of last season’s fruit and vegetable harvest. And still, despite their patient explanations with glimpses of genuine pride for their growing accomplishments, you cannot quite shake off the thought that they would rather continue to attend to their farming than be talking about it. They are doers. They know the timing of nature and they farm in alignment with it. Hence, they know that time is scarce. Much is ahead of them and they want to make sure they attend to all their duties of the day.
Most produce you see is local and seasonal. But there is a collection of pretty herbs that seems anything but: they remind you that what is harvested at the farm is made to enrich the tables of the Silent Living guests. The chefs work closely with the farming team and share their wish list: some produce can be harvested at the farm, while other fruit and vegetables won’t grow, so they need to look for alternatives together.
Although the farmers are young, you feel as if you are around older family members, the ones who remember the past and what this or that could be used for. They remind us of how little we are in tune with nature and the seasons. And even more how little time it takes to be attuned with it again.
This sense of disconnect might soon be forgotten. By now the wild horses have reached the house and they might let you get close for a carrot, or even better an apple. It is an encounter that brings that sense of unconditional joy we remember from childhood. That the horses are free to move around the land as they wish fits with the atmosphere and the philosophy of the farm. Despite that, you will often find them around one of the many ponds not too far from the house. It is something that feels strangely comforting. Cows and goats pick their own radius of movement, too. This is a central element of João’s approach to farming: letting the animals follow their path helps the earth regenerate and create more nutritious foods. In particular, the cows give off a sense of being rulers of their own territory. There is something proud and majestic about their presence near the house that makes you feel somehow protected, especially during the night when you hear their indistinct, never-ending chatter in the distance and realise that you are not alone on this endless land.
Silent Living is about making a choice that naturally eases any other choices that follow. It is about taking the time to just be and connect. And, in itself, it is a connection between a treasured past, a conscious present and an unrushed future. João reflects on the fact that much has changed over time and will continue to do so. Among all these changes, the sense of family, what we understand as and how we live family life has evolved. But love, that has not changed – whether within a family or among friends. “People love each other just as they used to do in the past.” he says. “That’s why we always try to bring a sense of love, family and friendship to our houses.” It is an aspiration and a feeling that will accompany you throughout your stay and beyond.
Silent Living, Campo de Santa Clara, 128 1100-473 Lisboa, Portugal