The Portuguese live at a crossroads of histories, cultures, arts, and faiths that remain visible even today: Roman fountains, Visigothic churches, Moorish fortifications, and Rococo monasteries. In the country’s far north (an hour’s drive from Porto) in the town of Braga, in a colonial-era mansion whose interiors they redesigned, Catarina Rosas and her two daughters, Cláudia Soares Pereira, 47, and Catarina Soares Pereira, 44, run a 25-year-old family interior design business. They named their ten-person studio Casa do Passadiço (House of the Footbridge) after the building that houses their offices as well as a showroom and design shop. “My sister and I have the same eye,” says Cláudia, who lives in a sleek, contemporary-modern house in Braga with her husband, son, and daughter; her sister lives nearby in a similar dwelling with her husband and daughter. “We have different personalities, but we’re deeply connected. And that shows in our work.”
But the soul of the family lies even farther north, in Ponte de Lima, a 900-year-old village—one of the oldest in Portugal. There, the firm designed new interiors for Casa de Pousada, the family’s lavish 17th-century home. It’s their retreat during holidays, harvests, and the summer religious festival; it too enshrines the juxtaposition of old and new.
The building, with a crenellated tower and terra-cotta roofs, sits on 114 acres that include a working vineyard. Inside, the home evokes both an Old World grandeur and fresh-faced contemporaneity. The designers inherited the property from the sisters’ maternal grandfather, an industrialist who manufactured ceramics and textiles and was a lifelong collector of antiques, including ivory-encrusted Indo-Portuguese furniture and sacred art—all of which are now dispersed throughout the house. His influence on his daughter and granddaughters is inestimable: The past was part of the present at home, and he often took them to visit modern museums and galleries as well. “We are used to having a mix of the historic and contemporary art before our eyes,” Cláudia says, “and living with these things in our daily life.”
While styles may differ, it’s not hard to see the appreciation for color and detail found throughout the firm’s portfolio. Its design work ranges from historical residences to a modern yacht interior, an ice cream shop, and three ornate boutiques for the shoe brand Aquazzura in historic buildings, including an Italian palazzo. “Casa do Passadiço was a perfect match for our aesthetic vision,” says Aquazzura’s creative director, Edgardo Osorio, “because the brand loves colors, patterns, graphics, and sophisticated embellishments: a union between classic and modern that becomes timeless.”
And Casa de Pousada is timeless indeed. An example of arquitectura chão (plain architecture), the house features robust structures and smooth surfaces but is also enhanced with talha dourada, which is elaborately carved, gilded wood, and blue-painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles called azulejos. Wrapping a grassy central patio, the rooms exude savoir vivre: a library and reading room with fireplace, a solarium, smoking and billiard rooms, a wine cellar, and a fresco-clad 18th-century chapel where Catarina and Cláudia were each married and baptized their children. The family is Catholic, and Cláudia points out that the house was likely used by Portuguese kings during their pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, a venerated Catholic site in Spain.
The family entertains often, and as with guests, the women mix and mingle styles in each room. This makes the dining room a cacophony of patterns, from the paisley wallpaper to the Hermès porcelain in varying tones of blue—a bold experiment. “To be your own client is difficult,” Cláudia admits, “because we want to change and experience different pieces and fabrics together all the time. Sometimes our own houses, together with our showroom, work as a laboratory of ideas.”
The reception lounge too represents a synthesis of clean lines and rich materiality. The ceiling, which is a masterpiece of gilded woodwork, soars above a 20th-century Louis Vuitton trunk that belongs to Cláudia and Catarina’s father, a low engraved brass table by George Mathias, and a 1970s painting by French artist René Roche. Furniture designed by the sisters—and locally crafted in veiny marbles, handwoven wool and silk, leather, and velvet—lives beside found pieces. The family finds them, as Portuguese merchants once did, around the globe at galleries, auction houses, and antique fairs such as La Biennale Paris, Carpenters Workshop Gallery, and Phillips. “Our grandfather gave us a passion for the antique, but we adapt it to the times,” Cláudia explains. “Elegance gives soul to a house, but to be elegant, interiors have to have a mix of the contemporary with the traditional and with pieces that are meaningful to the family.
“We travel a lot, and the farther we go, the more we discover our own culture’s richness,” she adds. “We try to preserve our heritage the best we can. We believe our grandparents would be very proud.”