Alexandra Coutinho and Nuno Grande, owners of Hotel Casa do Conto and Hotel Tipografia do Conto, don’t use the term ‘tourist’. «We prefer to think of them as ‘travellers of the world,’ both in space and time». The concept of time travel is near and dear to these designers turned hotel owners, whose location in Cedofeita, Porto they describe as «like taking a trip on a time machine». The neighborhood, dating back to the 18th century, serves as a physical and ideological connection between Porto’s history and its modern occupation as a center for both business and culture. Both hotels, a stone’s throw from one another, retain this juxtaposition of old and new as modern accommodations behind reimagined traditional facades.
Hotel Casa do Conto, the first of the two hotels, opened its doors to the public in 2011. What was once a traditional upper class family home was largely devastated in a fire in 2009, which left Coutinho and Grande with no option but to gut the building and start anew. «We wanted to recall and evoke the decorative elements of the pre-existing ceilings, previously made in wood and stucco». To modernize the space but maintain the local feel, the owners opted for concrete where there was one stucco and rather than adornments in flourishes and finishes, they chose to engrave texts into the concrete itself. Throughout the rooms and common spaces of the hotel you can see texts and quotes of writers, poets, architects, historians, and a bevy of other creatives from Porto’s local scene, hand selected by the owners themselves.
Carrying over to their second hotel, Tipografia do Conto, which opened in 2019, the same writers were approached but «to think, this time, on the concepts of edition and typography». This subtle but pertinent differentiation in the two hotels is owed largely to their differing history. While the former was a private family home the latter was the headquarters of an old printing company called Gráficos Reunidos which operated in the building from 1916 for just shy of a hundred years. The rehab and redesign of Tipografia aimed to maintain many of the preexisting elements from its former occupation, including a central courtyard that now unites the two wings of the hotel.
Pedra Liquida, the architecture and engineering studio under the same ownership as the hotels, was the creative machine behind both projects. While the two hotels are thematically similar, the stark differentiation in design can be attributed to the individual character of the buildings themselves. «In the first project we were more austere», remark Countinho and Grande, «because the existing house was very eclectic, and we wanted to prove that it was possible to keep some of its missing features, through a sober and abstract design». The marker of the old classic interior, the central staircase dividing the once family estate, has remained in tact. While Casa’s familiarity was toned down with severe and industrial elements, the opposite took place at Tipografia. «There», they say, «we decided we should design a different atmosphere, in order to achieve the refinement and comfort one expects in a hotel; yet without losing the flexibility and extensiveness of an industrial space».
Beyond just a place to hang your hat, both hotels boast in depth relationships with the cultural and creative scene of the city. Concerts, lectures, book launches, art installations, and gastronomic dinners are but a selection of the events held in Hotel Casa do Conto or the Cultural Cafe of the Hotel Tipografia do Conto. The owners like to invite local creatives to engage in a dialogue with the space, making each event unique. They also offer tours for their guests that they describe as more off the beaten path, avoiding the typical tourist attractions. «We are in favor of a tourism that ‘dialogues’ with the city’s social memories, without gentrifying it too much». After all, in the eyes of Countinho and Grande, «a city crowded with tourists but without inhabitants makes no sense».