Casas—Spanish or Portuguese for “houses”—is the perfect surname for the São Paulo–and New York–based architect Arthur Casas, who in the past 35 years has designed distinctive contemporary residences all over the world. The newest one is in the unspoiled Brazilian beach town Praia da Baleia, São Sebastião, some 90 miles outside São Paulo.
One long side of the rectangular house faces a private street (top); the living space opens up at the northeast corner (above). Photo © Leonaro Finotti, click to enlarge.
Its unique challenge was its extremely narrow site. “How was I going to put a dwelling and its extensive program in a not very large plot, with only 45 feet facing the sea?” he asks—the house was to be 10,000 square feet on 12,500 square feet of land. Rather than building up, Casas turned to his signature move: extreme, low-slung horizontality. “The horizontal shape is part of Brazilian modern architecture,” he says. The short side of the rectilinear volume facing the Atlantic has direct access to the beach. On one of the long sides is a private street, on the other, a wall of lush vegetation.
The two-story, seven-bedroom concrete-framed house is a sleek minimalist form. A third level, underground, required double walls to contain the sandy terrain. The facades are clad with small beige bricks made of concrete.
“I tried to use the color of the sand as the basis of the palette, internally and externally,” Casas says. “My intention was to create an amalgam between the sea and the building.” While on the second floor the bricks are stacked horizontally, below they are set vertically, with triangular indentations to create shadows and texture.
Casas’s clients are a couple who wanted a weekend house for themselves and four sons. The upper floor has four bedrooms and a main bedroom suite with a direct view to the sea. The below-ground floor has two guest suites, a game room, and a spa. Openings in the gardens on both the eastern and western sides allow natural light to penetrate the game room and suites.
The short end of the rectangle opens up to the sea. Photo © Leonaro Finotti
The open-plan main floor is the showstopper. With its 10-foot ceiling and equally tall sliding glass walls on the north (facing the ocean) and west sides, the occupants are plunged into nature. “With this visual permeability,” Casas says, “both beach and landscaping seem to penetrate the interior.”
The long, open space has four seating and two dining areas for entertaining. In the center, a rectangular opening, cut into the ceiling, extends 22 feet through the second level to a skylight. The luminosity of this vertical shaft of space, Casas notes, dramatically opens up the horizontal volume.
A round concrete pillar in the northeast corner supports a concrete-framed pergola by the pool as well as the floor slab for the master suite. An inverted, prestressed-concrete beam on the west edge, outside the sons’ rooms, serves as the guard rail for the second-floor corridor.
The central living area is illuminated by a double-height skylight (1). Cables edge the stair (2). Photos © Leonaro Finotti
The range of materials is purposely limited. Floors are pale Montdore limestone. The ceiling of the living room is oak, as is the dramatic stair edged with vertical metal cables that extend through the three floors. Accoya, a local, sustainable, weather-resistant wood is used for doors and louvers.
The pandemic has changed Casas’s thinking about architecture: “People value their house for relationships and physical health. Since families are spending more time together, the interior design, landscape design, and architecture need to stand out.”
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Team: Eduardo Mikowski, Gabriel Ranieri, Rafael Palombo, Claire Dayan, Victória Chaves, Alexandra Kayat, Ana Beatriz Braga, Camilla Dall’Oca
Studio Arthur Casas
Stone Flooring and Countertops:
Pedras Bellas Artes
Wood Lining, Deck and Façade:
Awnings and Curtains: