A series of villas in Cabo Verde synergise local craft and contemporary design

barefoot luxury cabo verde
A new residential compound has landed on a secluded bay of Africa's Cabo Verde.
(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

Cabo Verde, an archipelago off the West-African coast, was unoccupied until the arrival of European colonists in 1456 – a scenery of arid and rocky hillsides that contrasts dramatically with the deep blue Atlantic ocean lapping in and out. After the Portugese settlers arrived here, they brought with them enslaved Africans, whose descendants now live scattered across these isles. Their culture, like their creole language, is a hybrid – a testament to survival and creation.

On the island of São Vicente, near the former colonial capital of Mindelo, another tour de force of creation is taking place – this time of architectural proportions. Nestled into the rocky hillsides that flank the Baia de João d’Evora, Barefoot Luxury Cabo Verde is taking shape: a hospitality project spearheaded by Serge Hannecart and Jan Talboom, that consists of 30 serviced villas, all within this unspoilt bay.

‘Mindelo, is a very charming old colonial town, but also carries this tragic history’, says Patrick Lootens, co-founder of POLO Architects, the local agency tasked with the design by LIFE, Hannecart’s Antwerp-based real estate development company. ‘It’s a context that determined our way of handling this project.’

A series of villas in Cabo Verde synergise local craft and contemporary design

The project comprises 30 serviced private villas in the bay

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

When visiting Cabo Verde, Lootens considered the fact that the bay, although only a 15-minute drive from Mindelo, was a non-built-up area. ‘The last thing we wanted to construct here was this alienating type of luxury holiday enclave in a relatively poor country’, he tells, ‘or a development that does not respect the nature surrounding it.’

Instead, POLO Architects approached the bay with respect for its natural characteristics and its inhabitants. Key to this was their choice of materials. The villas, maximum four storeys in height, are built using raw concrete as a framework to a traditional Cabo Verdean way of erecting walls: by stacking basalt rocks dug directly out of the surrounding valley. A network of roads, also in basalt-stone, interconnects these structures. ‘For this labour-intensive method, we counted on the expertise of local specialists from Santo Antao', explains Lootens, ‘proving that it’s possible to create contemporary structures with local techniques and typologies.' 

Most of the villas’ furnishings, too, were made by local craftsmen, tell Anaïs Torfs and Michiel Mertens of the Antwerp-based interior design agency Going East. ‘We scoured Mindelo’s markets for objects that connect these residences to their locale', they say. From shark teeth, to Awale game boards, wicker baskets and manioc mortars, the interiors – though they also incorporate Scandinavian design elements – are strewn with welcome reminders that we’re on African soil.

Barefoot Luxury Francisco Nogueira

The design was the brainchild of Antwerp based Polo Architects.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

Outside, within the villas’ ‘hortus conclusus’, nature’s forceful elements had to be taken into account, explains Lootens. Besides the island’s continuous draught and the ensuing barren landscape, São Vicente is exposed to harsh winds. ‘For us, it wasn’t the sweeping views on the ocean that counted the most’, elucidates Lootens. ‘Here, strong winds travel inland from the ocean, so we wanted to provide a level of protection, and offer a dynamic experience of both the sea and the valley’s landscape.’ Pivoting panels made of Portugese-imported Kotibe wood do the trick, the same type of wood as is used throughout the villas.

Both Going East and Polo Architects are in unison about the synergy between Western and local that made Barefoot Luxury Cabo Verde materialize. From the woven wicker sunscreens, to the ironwork needed for the sofas, the carpentry and the masonry – ‘on each level this was a work of collaboration and dialogue, in a truly constructive and amicable manner,’ smiles Lootens with satisfaction. ‘It’s become a work of architectural ambition, founded on the last of Cabo Verde’s artisans.'

barefoot luxury cabo verde villas

The structures were created to blend effortlessly with their surroudnings.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde pool

At the same time, they ensure modern aesthetics and a comfortable stay.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde exterior

The architects worked with interior agency Going East on the furnishings.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde courtyard

The architects were inspired by traditional local building techniques for the construction.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde terrace

Most of the furniture was also made by local craftsmen...

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde dining

...using locally sourced material, such as shark teeth and wicker baskets.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde living area

The design protects the residents' from the region's harsh winds.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde bedroom

The main materials are concrete and Portugese Kotibe wood.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)

barefoot luxury cabo verde guest bedroom

The project was commissioned by LIFE, an Antwerp-based real estate development company.

(Image credit: Francisco Nogueira)


For more information visit the Polo Architects website, the Going East website and the Barefoot Luxury website