Casa M is a climate-sensitive home in Portugal’s Algarve

Casa M, an urban home in the Algarve, makes the most of local techniques and the region’s climate in a design by its owners, Portuguese architects A-Lab Architecture

exterior aspects of Casa M, one in daytime and one at dusk
(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

A pattern of cement blocks poetically punctuate Casa M's exterior, a home which stands sentinel on a hill in Alvor, a seaside village of Algarve. The Portuguese region has over 300 days of sun per year, which makes it challenging to design homes without the AC unit – a bête noire of green-minded architects. One natural cooling tactic – common in Palm Springs and São Paulo, too – is cobogós, the hollow bricks that allow cool air to permeate a space without exposing it to the sun. 

Casa M geometric minimalist white facade

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

Casa M: an architect couple’s climate-sensitive home

The home’s owners and architects, husband and wife Luis Fonseca and Inês Almeida, placed LED lights between the cobogós and the windows encasing them. The effect surprised them: when turned on at night, the reflected light inside the blocks illuminated the interiors like wall lamps. From the street, the white-washed, minimalist home glows like a magical lantern.  

man drawing curtain to terrace on sunny day at Casa M

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

Fonseca and Almeida, partners and architects at local studio A-lab Architecture, maximised several other opportunities when designing their single-family townhouse that was completed in August 2023. One such opportunity arose from their longitudinal L-shaped lot, wedged between two other residential structures on an incline. 

kids playing in terrace at Casa M against blue skies and wind blowing off curtain

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

The couple created a design that spreads across three stories but uses half-floors and mirrors, creating visibility between rooms when you’re using the stairs. Fonseca described this as allowing for beautiful moments throughout the day, interactions that always make family members feel like they are in each other’s company (the couple live there with their two children).  

clean minimalist interior in Casa M in Portugal

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

The stairs’ stacking effect also generates natural ventilation, starting at the ground level, where the sea breeze enters and travels up through the open skylight in the interior courtyard. During summer, sun via the skylight is tempered with exterior shading, while passive solar energy heats the home in winter. Such considerations showcase the couple’s passion for sustainable living. 

winding staircase inside Casa M

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

'We designed this house to be a case study for what we think luxury living is,' Fonseca says, as he prepared lunch with vegetables his son had fetched at the market that morning. 'People associate luxury with a jacuzzi on the roof and cold air-conditioning blasting [set using] their phone before they even get home. We’re believers in passive architecture.'  

geometric staircase in white inside Casa M

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

In addition, the drawing of acoustic curtains across selected spaces allows for partitioning and climate control. For example, the children can create a play area on the veranda by separating it from the kitchen, or the adults can create a more cinematic movie-watching experience (and trap in the heat of the fireplace in winter) without waking the children by closing off the living room.

woman under shower on terrace of minimalist house Casa M

(Image credit: Alexander Bogorodskiy)

After spending time in the home – the butterfly chair on the veranda overlooking the fishing boats is a particular highlight – it starts to feel a bit like being in one of those drawings of a dollhouse cut in half. Beautiful moments unfold as easily as the house does. But perhaps nothing compares to the fishing boats’ view at night: the white home on the hill, lit up in all its chiaroscuro, sustainable glory.

Stacy Suaya is a Los Angeles-based writer focusing on design, architecture, and travel. Her stories have appeared in New York Times Styles, New York Times T Magazine, New York Magazine, Architectural Digest, Los Angeles Times, and more.