A visit to Serralves Villa offers a chance to take a trip back in time: to this unique example of Art Deco architecture, built in the 1930s. With great decorative rigor and quality materials, the Villa benefited from the intervention of leading figures of the time, such as Marques da Silva, Charles Siclis, Jacques Émile Ruhlmann, René Lalique and Edgar Brandt.
Visitors can gain an in-depth understanding of the history of the origins of this Villa, which belonged to Count Carlos Alberto Cabral, including explanation of the architectural and decorative details that create its unique atmosphere.
With its façade overlooking the Rua de Serralves and the main entrance located in the Avenida Marechal Gomes da Costa, Serralves Villa is a significant example of Art Deco style.
The building was designed and constructed on the outskirts of Oporto between the mid 1920s and mid 1940s.
The work was the braindchild of a wealthy industrial magnate from Northern Portugal - Carlos Alberto Cabral, the 2nd Count of Vizela. As a result of his frequent travels throughout Europe he had developed a more refined and modern taste than that dictated by prevailing canons in Portugal.
In 1923, he inherited the Quinta do Lordelo estate in Serralves from his family. Over the ensuing years, through a mixture of land purchases and swaps, he expanded the estate towards the sea and the River Douro, until it attained dimensions similar to those of the present day.
Carlos Alberto Cabral had designed a dwelling for himself and for his future wife, Blanche Daubin, located in the family’s former summer residence: including a new villa, built from scratch on the site of the former house; a new park, around the villa, superimposing itself and occasionally absorbing the landscape of the former garden, and extending to an enclosed rural area, in a naturalist allegory to country life.
The 2nd Count of Vizela inhabited the villa with Blanche Daubin in the mid-1940s. The villa - which looks out over the gardens and is bathed in plentiful natural sunlight, includes refined and inviting spaces for festivities and social gatherings on the ground floor. On the first floor, the bedrooms and other private quarters create an atmosphere of luxury and finesse.
However the Count felt somewhat removed from his social circle while living in the Cilla. Due to financial difficulties, he ultimately sold the property in the early 1950s to Delfim Ferreira, the Count of Riba d´Ave, also a textile industrialist.
The sale agreement involved a key restriction – the property couldn’t be altered or dismembered.
Autorship of the project
There is a certain amount of controversy surrounding authorship of the Villa’s architectural project. We know that the name of the Marquis of Silva - a famous architect in Oporto at the time - was closely linked to the work, throughout its construction period, although the dominant style in most of his leading works is distinct from that of Serralves.
It is also known that the layout plans and elevations by the French architect, Charles Siclis, were very important for the Villa’s overall design. These elements are conserved in the Foundation’s archive and the Villa’s definitive shape can be recognised therein.
The interior decoration was entrusted to the architects and decorators of the House of Ruhlmann, who also suggested adaptations to the exterior design. The Count of Vizela articulated the work between the various intervening parties, and his personal taste, as the person who commissioned the work, left its imprint on the long construction period and successive adaptations to the project.
Eurico Cabral and Mário Cabral, the nephews of the Count of Vizela, recall the decisions taken by their uncle and his attitude in relation to the work:
"The interior was fundamentally designed by Jacques Ruhlman one of the great masters of French furniture design and interior architecture.”
"My uncle had a very special gift... he was the one who brought together many architects, interior decorators and other craftsmen but he always had the last word.”