We almost did an about-face when we saw the phone booth size elevator with the rickety folding gate.
But the realtor’s listing advertised a 4-bedroom, 4 bath apartment, which is a rarity within the ancient fortress walls of Lagos. The photos promised a 4th floor “penthouse” with a commanding view of the 2 1/2-mile long beach that hugs this little seaside town.
Ron had his nostalgic heart set on old town Lagos. Before we met he had lived in New York City’s West Village and adored the vintage architecture, the countless restaurants and small quirky indy shops.
So as new U.S. expats looking for our Portugal perch, old town Lagos resonated with him given the echo of the charming West Village. I was indifferent actually until he appealed to my practical side – pointing out that city centre living offered us a rich spectrum of everything we needed without getting in the car.
Agreeing on that, we huddled in the tiny elevator shimmying up to the top floor – wondering how this vaunted apartment was going to square with its small decrepit lobby.
Once inside the front door and down a short hall we came face-to-face with a sweeping spectacle of the beach, the Lagos marina, the Monchique mountain range framed by the ubiquitous white walls and orange roofs of Portugal.
Ok, it checked all the boxes… room enough for offices and bedrooms (always have to have a guest room), plenty of bathrooms and, of course, that view!
Old World Europe in Our Apartment
These are the reasons we purchased the place but in the ensuing months an aristocratic pedigree emerged. We knew that the place, built in 1974, had been held by one family. The owner, a well-to-do lawyer in Lisbon had told our realtor that the apartment had been his family’s southern Portugal “holiday house” – and used only once or twice a year.
From that point on, we began noticing some intriguing aspects about the place. For one, there was a peculiar meter-like device mounted to the kitchen wall.
It had numbers 1-5 but we had no clue as to what it was. We then noticed switches in the living room and three of the bedrooms which we thought were dead – because nothing happened when we pressed them. But soon we traced the switches to the device in the kitchen, which was registering a number from the room in which we flicked the switch. We then realized they were call buttons for the maid!
It also became apparent that the 4th bedroom was more modest and separated from the others. Since there was a clothes line outside that bedroom, we took it to be the maid’s room – after all if you’re leaving the city for holiday merry-making, you’ll want to take your live-in housekeeper along!
That explained why there was a second “front door” in the hallway – it was a service entrance for the maid. And it dawned on us that the funky swing door in the kitchen was for serving the dining room, a separate room down the hall.
A Silk Purse Hidden in a Sow’s Ear
Over the months, various skilled laborers helping us renovate remarked on the color-changing floor tiles. We were told that they were Moroccan, crafted from a centuries-old method using a particular clay mixture, hand cut and given a shimmery glaze that created the multi-tonal coloring. With 50 years of wear, they’re chipped and scratched but we wouldn’t dream of changing them out (not to mention the cost would be prohibitive).
Other architectural features include the winding turret staircase, hand-crafted doors and 6 terraces throughout the apartment.
So despite the homely entrance and the scary elevator (although it’s checked and maintained regularly), we’ve become quite fond of our new home. We made the maid’s room into our guest room and did away with the call buttons.
Come See it for Yourself!
While I’m at, I want to invite you to consider joining me in Portugal for a week-long retreat this fall in either September or October. During our time together, I’m planning to have a dinner at my home so that you can visit old town Lagos and hang-out with me at my apartment of this long-gone aristocratic era.
P.S. If you’re interested in this architecture, I’ll leave you with this facebook link to a video from the listing agent back when it was on the market.