Meet the Local

Can a House Make You Happier? Interview

architect design house in the outskirts of Ericeira

Can a house make you happier? A few years ago, before we moved to Ericeira, we would definitely have said yes. Any house with a garden around here would surely do the trick. Has this belief stood to the test of time? And, what do experts have to say? These are exactly the things you are about to find out about.

Today, we are interviewing João Trigo, the visionary local architect and co-founder of NOCNOC Studio. As well as shedding further light on the subject of housing, João will give you a behind-the-scenes view of NOCNOC Studio’s most recent project, the stunning MOGO Houses that have just come onto market – and you can deal directly with the vendor. Fancy a peep into a house that could actually make you happier?

For the MOGO Houses and João’s interview, go straight to the second half of the article. Or, just carry on to find out about our experience with the dream house.

boy in the garden, pond and vale view
M House (by ARX) garden in July – pear, straight from the tree

Has a house in Ericeira made us any happier?

Our move from a small apartment in London to a bigger house in Ericeira certainly did wonders for our quality of life. Not only have we got more room now, but also more free time. And a good share of this time is spent doing some kind of outdoor activity, as well as socializing and entertaining family and friends.

There are a few elements that greatly contribute to our happiness here, and a few of which are house-related. The main factors are location, space, social life, work and, last but not least, the improvement relative to our starting point in London.

The Location – We found in Ericeira a satisfying balance between nature and good weather (we did not want anywhere too hot!) on one hand; and a place with all the practical essentials, on the other hand. Such as health, education, easy access to culture, and an international airport. On top of that, Ericeira is a chilled, small town with a good sense of community that, at least for the time being, does not look or feel posh.

The Space – As we like entertaining, having a larger common area, a comfortable kitchen, as well as a garden, comes in handy. But, as NOCNOC Studio will show you, there is more to a house than just these things.

Socializing – Having the time, as well as the outdoor and indoor space, is just as important as having the right people around and a sense of community. Do not worry, Ericeira is full of life, a lot of which is happening outdoors. There are plenty of interesting people settling around here, just like you.

Work – We had to adapt to make this a successful move. And this involved working remotely, for the time being at least. We are learning new things, hoping that someday in the future we might be able to make a living locally.

Starting Point – You will not believe this, but the thought of our lives back in London is enough to lift our mood, any time! Especially or, rather even, during the pandemic, when space and mild weather are priceless.

So yes, we are thrilled to be in Ericeira. Could we be any happier about our house? Also yes, definitely! You see, we live in a normal house ourselves. Not the sort of house designed to make you happier. Just the average house that requires endless mending and adjusting. And not even that will make any fundamental changes to the nature of the house.

ARX design
M House garden in Winter – courtesy of ARX

Over the last few years though, we have become familiar with a beautiful house in the outskirts of Ericeira. This house, designed by the renowned architect ARX, has really opened our eyes to the power of architecture, especially the importance of harmony between a design and the natural environment in which it sits.

Thus, a lot of our appreciation of what a house should feel like comes from this house, where NOCNOC Studio is currently based and is continuously inspired by. Speaking of which, I should tell you how we got to know NOCNOC Studio’s work so well. But first, shall we find out whether a house in Ericeira would make YOU any happier?

Will a house in Ericeira make YOU any happier?

If you are wondering whether a house in Ericeira would make you happier, you have a few things to consider. Firstly, think about your lifestyle and your source of income – could you make both work for you here? Secondly, think about the house itself and its location – what type of house would complement your lifestyle?

If you are unsure, have a good look at the place you already live and ask yourself what are the things you like and dislike about it. Is it the proximity to the shops, the natural light or, the flow within the house, for instance? Then, prioritize what you do like. Easier said than done, sure.

Architect design house in the outskirts of Ericeira, by NOCNOC Studio
MOGO House in the outskirts of Ericeira

But, to help you to make up your mind, here are some ideas. The Canadian Globe and Mail summarizes the main qualities that contribute to a happier home, as follows.

Social interaction is key – According to Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, the happiest homes are those that facilitate social interaction.

Children playing in the garden - outskirts of Ericeira
Garden with a view in the outskirts of Ericeira

A modest green patch – While having a green space, private or public, is good and relaxing, the optimal size is actually quite small. Just enough to sit and talk to your neighbors, according to the urbanist Jan Gehl.

Less is more – As the interior designer Nike Onile puts it, her goal is to help people to have more room for their life, not just their things.

A house tailored to your needs – Do you entertain family and friends? Do you need room for 1 or 100 people? Do you want to work less and spend more time with your children? Then, choose a house tailored to those things, says the sustainable living consultant Kenton Zerbin.

A comfortable kitchen – The heart of the house, the kitchen is where families usually spend a lot of their time. Thus, it makes sense that a study from the University of California’s Center on Everyday Life of Families has pointed to the importance of having comfortable kitchens and dens.

From the ideas above, the take away lesson is that, when it comes to a house, the social element is king. A house is the ultimate living space. So, choose one that has been built for this primary purpose.

And now, I will tell you how we got to know NOCNOC Studio so well.

How well do we know NOCNOC Studio?

On top of having had a small renovation project done with them and having a bigger project in the pipeline, we are also really good friends. And guess what we talk about a lot of the time?

João Trigo finds it extremely hard not to talk about his passion. His enthusiasm for architecture and what he and the team are doing at NOCNOC is infectious. As well as working together, our understanding of NOCNOC’s work also comes from those never-ending conversations about the team’s projects and vision.

Besides working with the natural environment to create a beautiful space, one of the key themes for João is to put the user experience at the heart of each project that NOCNOC does. So, let’s have a look at their most recent project.

MOGO Houses – The sort of house that can actually make you happier

MOGO Houses in the outskirts of Ericeira
The MOGO’s Houses

Skylight ceiling. Double-height entrance. Real wood and stone. A generous open fireplace. Plain white walls. Glass and a peaceful view from any angle. Is it just me, or does this house feel super comforting? Let’s have a closer look.

NOCNOC’s vision starts with finding the ideal plot. The piece of land has to embody all the qualities with which NOCNOC fell in love with in Ericeira. As well as capturing and preserving the local natural beauty, the design respects the integrity of and compliments the environment as a whole. The bigger picture is at least as important as the living space within the house, for this adds to the sense of place, community, and feeling at home. And that is exactly the case here.

A dream house
Dreamhouse in the outskirts of Ericeira – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

João was in heaven when he first found these plots. The only two with the perfect orientation, size, and depth, not to mention the handy, yet quiet location with a relaxing, green view. And along with this, a fair price tag.

living room and view
MOGO’s Houses – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

On the inside of the house, things have been carefully thought through. From the circular flow within the common areas – for greater social interaction – to the smallest details, such as, where to dry the laundry, a clever storage space, putting wall sockets out of sight, and so on.

And what about the gorgeous L-shape common area? Yes, the one with a big fireplace and view over the garden, hill, and valley. Can you imagine entertaining here?

A house, fireplace
MOGO’s, a house in Santo Isidoro – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

There is also a quiet reading space, just behind the wall by the sofa. The sliding door can be closed and the space converted into a guest room in no time.

A house with circular flow
A circular living space, MOGO’S House – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

Upstairs, both ensuite and bedrooms open up to a common terrace and share the beautiful valley view. What is more, there is a walk-in closet and all the cupboards are custom made.

On top of that, there is also a separate unit that can be used as a guest house, office space, or simply as a garage with a stunning view.

Just like the house, the garden is a dynamic and smart space, enjoying an expansive view beyond the lawn that feels like part of the garden. Without the extra work! The outdoor sitting areas are a continuation of both the living room and the dining areas, which allows for effortless flow between the two and maximum use.

Street view house
Street view – a house in the outskirts of Ericeira – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

NOCNOC’s house looks great indeed, but what about the other houses in the area?

A house building site
The MOGO houses building site

The other houses

In the last few years, we have been witnesses to the huge construction boom, with new houses mushrooming around Ericeira. Thus, changing the landscape at a frenetic pace. You can read more about this in our article Construction in Ericeira – by Someone Who knows it.

A building site in the outskirts of Ericeira

And, what about these new houses? Looking from the outside, usually, the most impressive aspect is the speed with which they pop up.

But, of course, there is more to a house than just our superficial impressions. We should consider whether the house fits its landscape or situation; whether the house has been carefully, individually designed; what quality control process was followed; what would living in the house be like; who did the developer have in mind when they built the house; and so on.

I must admit, however, that we are somewhat biased on this issue. Having become familiar with the house of our dreams – unfortunately not the one we actually live in! – the other houses look a bit like fable shadows of the real thing. But, let’s move on to the interview, shall we?

Interview to Joao Trigo, NOCNOC Studio’s Co-founder and Lead Architect

Can a house make us happier?

JT: Yes, absolutely! And what we look for in a house today is different from the past. We still need a house for shelter and safety, but there is another layer to this. We look for a living space that compliments our lifestyle.

Your MOGO’s houses have just come onto the market. What makes these houses different from the others?

JT: I can’t comment in detail about other houses on the market. But what I can say is that at NOCNOC we are not targeting large developments. We’re aiming to make our name as architects first and foremost. We look for plots of land which wouldn’t be interesting for big developers, for example, because of the size or complexity of execution, but in which we can see the potential.

Our aim is then to create something that fits with the natural environment, makes the best use of topography and light, and has beautiful but useful space. In short, a house that we would love to live in ourselves. We also manage the construction to ensure that the final product achieves the goals that we started with at the very beginning.

Arched ceiling
Arched ceiling detail – MOGO House

NOCNOC’s houses do look great. Why are not all the houses like this?

JT: Why is not all the music great? What is good for me may not be so for someone else. There is a personal element to this.

Having said that, doing every aspect of a development is very resource and time-intensive, among other things. Besides, being both the architect and the developer gives NOCNOC a privileged insight. In particular, this means that even in the early stages of a project design we can predict and adjust for better final results than we would be able to if we had to make changes late in the process. To put that another way, we know that we need to deliver the construction as well as the design. So, considerations about the latter feed into the former throughout the process.

What are your Influences?

JT: Peter Zumthor and Campo Baeza have both been great influences. As well as other architects such as the Portuguese Aires Mateus, ARX and Pedro Domingos.

I trained as an architect in Portugal and I’m proud of the Portuguese architectural tradition. We currently have two living Pritzker laureates [think Nobel prize winners for architecture] which is quite remarkable for such a small country. This must have been an influence on me.

And of course, both our privileged workspace and, especially, the people in our small team have been a huge influence on the direction NONOC has taken.

We have been most fortunate to find those who share a passion for what we do and build a team here. Especially our senior architect, Tiago Franco, who has become instrumental in all that we do.

A house in Santo Isidoro - NOCNOC Studio courtesy
MOGO’s house. A house in Santo Isidoro – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

Tell us more about your design style?

JT: I wouldn’t say we have a specific design style, although we are always aiming for a timeless result, to make houses age beautifully throughout time.

One of the most important design methods we use to achieve this goal is to use natural materials. We work with real stone, real wood, all cut for the specific project that we’re working on.

What is a perfect house and how can we identify it when we see one?

Street view MOGO Houses
A house in Santo Isidoro – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

JT: There is no absolute perfect house in an absolute sense. The perfect house has to do with our own experiences, dreams, and expectations, as well as with how each one of us experiences space. And, of course, what would be considered perfect depends a lot on the family’s dynamic.

To put that differently, if a house feels perfect to you, this is a good start. Your next step will be to find out about the building quality, the state of the building, and what can be done to improve it if necessary. The environment in which it is located is very important, too.

How can you tell if a house design is right for that landscape?

JT: The building needs to fit with the context, with what is already there. Although a house should have its character, it should not speak louder than the others. And it should certainly not come across as invasive.

How has the building landscape changed in the last few years?

JT: In the last few years, there has been a sudden increase in demand. Naturally, the local construction companies have tried to keep up with this demand.

construction in Ericeira by NOCNOC Studio
MOGO’s house building site – courtesy of NOCNOC Studio

However, as a result of the time pressure and the lack of a robust architect-design input, the focus of these projects might have slipped towards ” x square meters with a sea view”. But luckily, nothing compared to some other coastal locations.

Nonetheless, nowadays newcomers to Ericeira often have something different in mind for their perfect house. And I think that there is a mismatch between what the buyer ideally wants and what is available on the market. There has been a miscommunication.

What other projects are you currently working on?

JT: NOCNOC has three houses currently in the building stage and three other projects that are just coming to this point.

What is Next for NOCNOC Studio?

JT: We will keep our focus on residential architecture development. As NOCNOC is growing, however, we are feeling that it will soon be time to design our own purpose-built studio space. We would like this new place to be more like an empty canvas. And this is quite exciting.


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