Senhor Vitor Batalha is a skillful local stonemason, who has worked in construction his whole life. Today, at the age of 56, still hands-on, Vitor reflects on the building landscape of Ericeira.
Let me tell you first though, how we met senhor Vitor and why we hold him in such high regard.
How we met our Local Mason
We had started our renovation work by installing a heating system and redoing the main kitchen. Truth be told, this was not going smoothly.
On top of that, we were having a difficult time finding a builder to deal with all the rest. A serious professional, with high standards.
This was when our friend Joao, a local architect at NocNoc Studio, introduced us to senhor Vitor Batalha. Vitor is a stonemason who had built Joao’s parents’ house 20 years ago and had recently done some renovation work there.
Since then, senhor Vitor has been our pedreiro – stonemason in Portuguese – for every single job.
During the last year and a half, we have built an annex, as well as a terrace and deck area, and installed 200m2 of under roof insulation.
Sr. Vitor has also fixed the roof and gutters and renovated a secondary kitchen, together with his bother Emidio, himself a skillful carpenter.
All of this has been accomplished to the highest standard, with the job done right the first time. No nonsense.
Vitor tells us about his experience in construction and reports the changes seen first-hand, over the last 3 decades.
The work that you do is always so perfect. What is your secret?
Liking what you do. Not just doing something for the sake of it, but thinking ahead.
Having said that, I sometimes wish that I had learnt a different profession. But this has been my life, and I enjoy doing what I do and doing it the best I can.
So, before I start any job, I always visualize what it will look like when I finish. And, I keep that in mind all the way through.
How did you become the Stone Mason you are today?
I started working in construction when I was 14 years old, and learnt the profession from others, as I helped them.
Beginners always start as laborers, helping a stonemason. In my first job, I worked for senhor Manelito, a mason from Achada. Then, when I was 22, my boss left for Angola and I took over his business, together with my colleague.
What has changed in the construction work that you do?
When I was 30, I started building houses for myself and selling these for profit. I would do this for another 15 years.
I used to have a team working with me, but when the crisis broke out, I was forced to let them go. For 4 years I tried to sell my last house, and when I finally did, there was no profit.
Lately, most of the work that comes to me is renovation work. I am doing very little construction from scratch. Only my brother’s house at the moment.
Being a respected local stone mason brings a lot of work. How do you manage the workload and the waiting time?
There is plenty of work and I could have more if I had a team. So, I often tell people that I can not do the job immediately. Some people wait, others do not.
I have the responsibility to finish whatever work I already have started. Then, if it is a small job, I may take on some more. Usually, I book it for later.
About the waiting, look, my brother has been waiting for 5 months. There is also a lady who has been waiting for 4 months. No one likes waiting, but this lady is OK with that, because her work is in the cellar, out of the way.
The clients are generally from long ago and came to me by recommendation. Some of them now want me to do some work for their children.
Have the newcomers to Ericeira found out about you?
Very few (laugh).
Since you started in the construction business, what has changed?
Since I started, a lot has changed.
The materials and the quality, have changed steadily over time. However, there has been a big change since 2000, with the use of insulation. The houses are now completely insulated and have windows with thermo-regulation. Modern houses are also smart houses, with technology.
The landscape in Ericeira has also changed, especially in recent years, mainly because of the surf. The stretch above the national road in Ericeira has been growing at a frenetic pace.
The funny thing is that, a few years ago, we rarely saw anyone surfing. And if we did, we assumed they were hippies.
The business itself has also changed. This used to be very dynamic.
In the ’90s, you could buy a plot and sell it for twice the price the following year.
Thirty years ago, there were crises too. But, these would only last 2 or 3 years, then the business would come back stronger. Not now though. We have never recovered from the last crisis. Things may be a bit better now, but this is only thanks to the foreigners, who have been buying here, and mostly the expensive houses.
Is there a robust new generation of stone masons to carry your work forward?
Construction has been changing over time and people are adjusting to these changes.
For building a house nowadays, you will need a professional for each job. One for making the structure, another will be doing the ironwork, a third for the bricks, someone else for the tiles, and so on.
In the past, we did everything, but now there are fewer and fewer professionals that are good all-round. The new generation specializes in one area, instead.
In the past, you used to have a team, but you now work with one helper only. Why?
Having a team of 6 or 7 people, you need to work on 2 or 3 projects at the same time. This is hard work and the mind never rests.
Managing people is not easy, either. You go to one site and explain to your men what to do. Then, you go to the next and do the same. By the time you get back to the first site, a lot of damage has already been done. This is stressful.
I have had people working with me for 30 years. But now, I am no longer a young lad.
Since I had to stop because of the crisis, I do not want to restart with many employees. Because one also needs to live a little bit. I now want to be “tranquilo”.
What do you do in your free-time?
I spend most of my free time at home, working on my land. Working in my garden, looking after my trees, looking after my vegetable patch and my chickens. Since the crisis, I have started fishing. This is my only sport.