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Isabel Costa & João Tomás
Moving Mountains

001 Casa Sao Lourenco Isabel Costa Joao Tomas
  • Words Tom Osmond
  • Images Sanda Vuckovic

Bump into Isabel Costa or João Tomás in the corridors of Casa de São Lourenço, and they may forget about their hotel for a second and whisk you off to a balcony or window to point to another project of theirs in the valley below.

Despite being relatively new to the village of Manteigas, they are both already making their mark with their passion for artisanship, their appreciation of their homeland, and their outlook on the future.

002 Casa Sao Lourenco Surrounding Rocks V2
003 Casa Sao Lourenco Architecture Exterior View

How can you leave a city like Lisbon?

João Tomás: Well, I was a lawyer there for many years, and then I reached my forties and wanted a big change—a second life, if you will.

Isabel Costa: Yes, so we decided on the mountains. We found this beautiful 19th-century place in the Serra da Estrela, did some restoration work, and here we are. We still spend some time in Lisbon, however. And the journey there is incredible. Sometimes journeys go underappreciated—perhaps being overshadowed by the thought of the destination—but every time I drive into or out of the mountains, I’m touched by how special the experience is.

004 Casa Sao Lourenco Factory Scale
005 Casa Sao Lourenco Factory Shelf
006 Casa Sao Lourenco Factory Wool

Tell us about your other project in the Serra da Estrela.

IC: Our wool factory is our attempt to harness knowledge that’s threatened with extinction. This factory was going bankrupt and we wanted to save these old machines, many from the 19th century that helped power the industrial revolution, and we wanted to keep the artisans in employment and teach the new generations. In this part of Portugal, there were many villages that relied on the textile industry to survive. Our factory is one of the last ones of its kind. So we bought it to keep this beautiful ancestral craft alive.

JT: Also, it’s common on factory floors around the world for the oldest workers to be considered less important, and even disposable. Think fast fashion and greedy consumerism. But with us, it was completely different. We like to say that we’re building the future with the yarns of the past. And it’s transformed the village of Manteigas as well. Before, young people would leave in search of a better life. But now, thanks in part to the factory and hotels, young people are staying and starting their own families.

007 Casa Sao Lourenco Slide 01 Pattern
007 Casa Sao Lourenco Slide 02 Factory
007 Casa Sao Lourenco Slide 03 Loom
007 Casa Sao Lourenco Slide 04 Yarn
007 Casa Sao Lourenco Slide 05 Fabrics
007 Casa Sao Lourenco Slide 06 Documents

How does this appreciation of artisanship inform your own ideas of hospitality?

JT: Well, we are great believers in small hotels. Interestingly, the tourism minister under the right-wing Salazar dictatorship decided to establish a network of small boutique hotels back in the late 1930s and 1940s across the country. This was a drastic shift from the existing hospitality scene of the time—the huge palaces and grand hotels—and, although the regime was controversial, it was an innovative approach to changing the hospitality industry.

008 Casa Sao Lourenco Architecture Costa Tomas Factory

“We’re building the future with the yarns of the past.”

João Tomás

009 Casa Sao Lourenco Interior Architecture
010 Casa Sao Lourenco Factory Wool Yarns Loom

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

IC: Don’t be afraid.

011 Casa Sao Lourenco Pool Stairs
012 Casa Sao Lourenco Wool Dying Samples
013 Casa Sao Lourenco Mountain View

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