The New House Adventure... Casa Do Sol

The New House Adventure... Casa Do Sol
Time to get to work on this old girl.....

What does buying a new house mean to you?  I was in the real estate business for over 43 years and it seemed to mean something different to each buyer.    When I would buy a new home, I usually bought fixers and it meant a creative adventure and the end result would be a piece of art that told a story.  Our last home in Springfield Oregon was an 1885 Victorian that was sinking into the ground.  It was the first home built in the Historic Washburne district by Judge Anderson and was the crown jewell of the neighborhood in its time.  I so enjoyed restoring the old girl while bringing her into the new age of LED, Insulation, and sustainability.  I also created a fusion of art built into the historic design that told both of its origins and of modern life.  We turned the Victorian into “The Pony House Inn” where she still welcomes guests from around the world.      

So what is the next step. After 5 months in Portugal we bought a home in Caldas da Rainha.  The past few months have been overwhelming creating what to do with this property and how to build the perfect team for rebuilding her.

The Team:

As always, we made our list of “Conditions of Satisfaction” for this project.  We wanted walkability, historic charm, friendly neighborhood of mostly Portuguese speakers (forces us to learn the language faster), reasonably priced and something that needed work because I would rip apart anything we bought and rebuild it anyway.  We also wanted it to be a small compound to have at least one rental besides our home.  As usual, I was told “You are crazy, you will never find it”  I responded with my normal response of “We all know I´m crazy, but that doesn’t make me wrong.”

After over a year of studying the market, construction standards and talking to Agents in Portugal, it didn’t look promising.  Finally I stopped talking to the naysayers and found a new team of agents who got it.  We showed them the neighborhoods that met our conditions and gave them the list. Within a few weeks the call came that they found it.  Thank you Silvia and Pedro from Predimed Rainha for your vision, having the connections and knowing your market here.

The property had been vacant about 20 years and was a stinky mess full of trash.  Silvia got right on it and referred her sister and friend (Sandra & Tania) to help us get it in order straight away.  Her brother in law came over and got a half bath and outside faucet functioning so we would be ready for construction. She also took us to the utilities offices to get basics turned on and to the city hall (Camara) to start the enduring list of paperwork and permits.  Portugal is famous for its bureaucracy then add the layer of speaking a new language increases the level of adventure.  

Cleaning up the property with Sandra and Tania.  Construction crews start April 3, 2023.  

cleaning out the garbage... Nancie, Sandra & Tania

For 2 months we interviewed construction crews.  That was an awakening. Some were two small to take on the task and it would take years, some were too busy and I had to wait a year for them to start.  Some had no English and we realized that that wouldn't work for us.  Some of the contractors were not so accustomed to working with the Caldas da Rainha Camara and their ever changing rules.  The phrase in regards to construction “It is better to get forgiveness than permission” just doesn’t work here.  Nope, gotta do it right the first time.   Your project can be shut down for years if they tag your property.  Then your file to fix it can forever get lost.

Some just couldn’t relate to me being a woman with construction background to deal directly with. We dealt with this issue in the US as well.  I would ask a question and the contractor would turn to my husband to answer it.  It only got worse from there.  My husband Mark is very supportive and helps where it makes sense but his idea of a great project is to change the strings on his guitar and go to a Jam session.  Construction is not the highest and best use of his skill set.

Team number 14 seem to tick all the boxes and we should have some demolition started by the first of April.    George Santana, his wife Susana and his team from Master Renew have been building here in Caldas for 30 years.  George has some English but his wife Susana has excellent English and is so happy to help us.

Susana and George

We finally found an architect and engineer team we are excited about and feel we are in place to get started.  This adventure will probably take 6 to 9 months to complete and we will have a  2 bedroom 2 ½ bath home for us with music room, 2 terraces with views, small yard and a garage.  The other home we will be similar but will rent out and have available sometimes for friends and family.


When I think of shopping for most things, I think of “shop till you drop” and I drop at my front door.  It is not my favorite thing to do unless it is for a creative art project.   I will be looking at finishing materials such as wood for flooring, tiles for walls, floors, and mosaic art.  Also cabinets, wood trim, stone work, metal for terrace railings etc. This does excite me.  I also will be choosing appliances.  

I will do a customer service blog piece on small shop (loja) owners here in Portugal later.  (stay tuned) When I am feeling a bit lost, I love to walk into a small shop and make a new friend. Shopping in Portugal is an act of friendship.  

For now, I will just mention “Antonio´s Appliances”  Antonio “Toze”, his wife, Margarida and grown daughter Monica run and own this tiny shop a few blocks from the rental we are in.  I bought a fridge, microwave, dryer, vacuum cleaner and a number of small kitchen appliances from them when we first came to Portugal. We love to pop our head in and say "Ola!" when walking by.  Toze and Margarida speak very little English but Monica the daughter does.  Monica told me Toze used to play guitar in a band so when he delivered our new dryer one afternoon, I handed him one of Marks guitars and he played us an incredible piece. We will buy all our appliances for both homes at Antonio´s.

Margarita amd Monica in Antonio Alves Eletrodomesticos. Where is Antonio (Toze)? Out delivering. Let's help him play more guitar!

This experience in America is almost unheard of and we are graced with it everyday in Portugal.  I asked one lady in a shop why the Portuguese shop owners are so helpful.  She explained to me that Portuguese people are poor and need to help each other to make life work.  I think there is some truth to this but there is also a rich heritage of the influence the Queens of Portugal had on this lovely county.  I´ll write about that more in another blog piece.

The Art of Finishing:

One of our girls just arrived for 2 months from Japan.  Ikuko is a freelance commercial artist and illustrator so she brought her work with her but has time to work with me on the finishing ideas to transform this property into a piece of art that reflects the neighborhood, community and Portugal.  I have thought about what theme and materials I wanted to do with the new house for a year now.  What I came up with were birds, cats and ceramics.  Portugal is famous for many things but ceramics are their top art form.  I started taking classes here to learn about the different styles of making and painting traditional tiles.  As for the birds and cats, I just love them.  

Ikuko at the beach touching Atlantic ocean for first first time getting inspiration for art projects.....

Shortly after finalizing the purchase of the property a new commissioned piece of art was installed on the main boulevard in our neighborhood just a block from our new home.  It was enchanting and confirmed why I had to do cats and birds in the new home.  A famous ceramic artist  Mario Reis created this piece pictured below....

Grape is off to make tiles for the new house....

It was with great happiness that this morning I shared with everyone present at Rua Manuel Mafra, the piece I have been working on over the last few months. When I was invited to do this work, my goal was to make a piece that related to Caldas, with Manuel Mafra, with Bairro da Ponte and with my relationship with these various aspects. I represented a cat talking to a seagull, an analogy to neighborhood conversations between neighbors. It was precisely in this neighborhood where the first seagulls appeared in Caldas. The cats were already around, an essential company for many of the residents of the neighborhood. I wanted to mix several techniques in this work, some of which are part of our identity such as tile and wheel pottery, as well as to emphasize some colors used in traditional ceramics in Caldas such as Caldas green and honey yellow. This work invites you to see it up close, as there are many details that tell stories.” Mario Reis

Every day that we work on this new house, I realize that the magic of creativity and belief are working with us.

You may not be buying and rebuilding a new house in Portugal or anywhere, but I am sure you have dreams of what you want to do or create.  The principals are the same.   1.  Visualize it,  2.  Create conditions of satisfaction,  3. Believe in it,    4.  Surround yourself with a team that can help you achieve it and take action.  

Old rules:  When they tell you your dreams are not attainable and you are crazy, give up!!!!!
New rules: Agree with them, and then move ahead with your dreams anyway!!!!!


To Finish off, I couldn't find a great recording of the song I wanted to post for this blog.  It is called "The new house" by Laura Risk.  We picked up this song at a fiddle camp about 20 years ago and did a quick recording in our little home studio yesterday with the band, "Well Seasoned".  (Nancie, Katya, Teresa and Mark.. Iku recording)  Come hear us play when you are in Portugal.  

The New house