I Left My Heart in PortugalAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Geoffrey De Sousa is a residential interior designer whose own stylistic sensibilities range from traditional to modern. However, his professional knack lies in his ability to express his clients’ personalities through carefully curated but totally comfortable homes, designed for family and friend gatherings. “I don’t really do places with roped-off living rooms,” says De Sousa. “These are spaces where people actually live—with dogs and kids and friends coming by—and can be truly happy.”
For De Sousa, entertaining friends and family plays a central role not only in his approach to design, but also when designing his own vacations. Having family from the small archipelago of Madeira recently inspired a month-long Portuguese vacation, where he rented a home to welcome loved ones from around the world for a visit. Though he has been based in the Bay Area for decades, traveling to Portugal is in many ways like returning home. From the food to the architecture to the shopping and more, we asked the designer to give us a glimpse into why he left his heart in Portugal.
You’ve got long-standing familial connections with Madeira, but the island itself has quite a bit of history. What does this mean to you?
Madeira is a small island. To get there, you have to get to Lisbon (or the Azores) first and then fly to Funchal. It was once home to Christopher Columbus—and (much) later to soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo—and it’s known for fishing and agriculture, with things like bananas and sugarcane grown on these terraced fields over the hills and cliffs. Now the economy is largely established on tourism; it’s common to see big cruise ships come into the harbor, and you’ll meet people from all over Europe and beyond.
I rented a house in the upscale neighborhood of São Gonçalo through HomeAway and spent time getting to know the place—and people—in a way I hadn’t before. The pace there is so much slower; every afternoon my family met at my cousin’s house for lunch. One of my favorite memories from the trip was throwing a dinner for 17 people with fado singers and guitar players and enjoying everything and everyone in this spot overlooking the harbor.
Does Funchal have a distinct style?
People abandoned the Old World look for a while, and everything was much more modern than you might see in the U.S., but now they’re balancing both and embracing their heritage a bit more. Architecture is really based on the indoor-outdoor connection—the temperature is in the 70s year-round—and gardens are very important. A lot of the Mediterranean stucco houses are painted in this beautiful color called Funchal pink.
What were your favorite design moments during the trip?
The old part of Funchal used to be a rough area known for…all sorts of things. Now there’s an ongoing project called the Art of Open Doors, where artists have created hundreds of beautiful works and elaborate installations on doors throughout this historical district: paintings and sculpture and all kinds of things. It’s really revitalized the downtown. Interior designer Nini Andrade Silva has opened up a showroom and a restaurant in the Fortress of Our Lady of Conception of the Islet, a structure that dates back to the 17th century, and there is a new restaurant called Tipografia in the Castanheiro Boutique Hotel that I loved.
Where would you recommend visiting outside of Funchal?
Faja Dos Padres is a really interesting organic farm and coastal area that’s accessible by funicular; you take it down one of the biggest cliffs in Europe to the beach, where there are cabins for rent.
Are there any special souvenirs that travelers should take home?
Madeira has a lot of specialties: pottery, blue and white tiles, textiles. There’s a company called Bordal that’s been there for hundreds of years specializing in incredibly intricate embroidery. They’ve got a traditional outlook but will also do custom work; I had them do a modern tablecloth and napkins for me on a previous trip that I love. I’d also definitely recommend a visit to the Camacha area, which is known for its wicker furniture made by local artisans.
DE SOUSA’S LOCAL FAVORITES…
HOTEL: The new Castanheiro Boutique Hotel is fantastic, but Belmond Reid’s Palace is also spectacular. Winston Churchill famously stayed there in the 1950s to do some painting.
RESTAURANT: I would suggest sitting out on the terrace at the Ristorante Villa Cipriani at Belmond Reid’s Palace. The view is unbelievable.
GALLERY OR MUSEUM: The Casa Museu Frederico de Freitas is housed in the lawyer and collector’s 18th-century former home and features a wonderful look at local history and beyond through Madeiran—and global—objects.
MOST NOTABLE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE: To me the island is meant for relaxing, not shopping, but if you’re in the mood the main thing to buy is embroidery work from Bordal.