Husband and wife team of local architect and design company MA+NU lovingly renovated their own home
Twenty-one years ago, Marieta da Costa was at a crossroads in her life. She was in her late teens, living in her home town of Lisbon, not particularly enjoying her studies. And so her mother suggested that she go to London to have a break, a bit of a holiday, improve her English, and to join the interior design degree programme at the well-respected Chelsea College of Art.
Marieta jumped at the chance and the move was to have a lasting impact on her life. It was the start of a deep love affair she has with London, and for the next 13 years she happily studied and worked there. A romance also blossomed with a fellow interior design student Nuno Che da Paz, who hails from Macau. After completing their 3-year degree, they both joined the 7-year Architecture and Spatial Design degree programme at London Metropolitan University.
The two married and with their qualifications in hand, they decided to move to Macau. For Nuno who was born here, this was a return home. The couple took on his father’s apartment in Pak Vai Garden, on Macau side. The 4-tower complex is situated on Avenida del Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida within a couple of blocks from the northern foothills of Guia Hill Park and the wonderful old Kun Iam Temple. Built in 1987, it’s a predominantly owner-occupied building: “Our next door neighbour is a retired police officer and one floor down is the owner of a construction company”.
It’s a vibrantly local area within a 20-minute stroll of the Red Market and the myriad of shops, restaurants and market stalls along the way.
The apartment, a top floor duplex, was badly in need of some modernization and so the couple set about putting their freshly minted architecture and interior design degrees to work. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms spread over about 2,600 square feet.
“The work took about a year to complete. We tore it all down,” laughs Marieta, “the walls, the ceilings, the floors!”
The end result is a thoughtfully designed space suitable for Marieta, Nuno and their two young sons, 7-year-old Lio and 4-year-old Noa.
“I suppose you could say that our style is modern, eclectic, vintage, with a hint of Asian”.
The colour palate is neutral stone, grey and white: “We find these soothing, calming, and relaxing,” she explains. And she enjoys mixing natural ‘soft’ pieces in wood, cork and animal hide, with harder surfaces, like the attractive, ‘loft-cum-industrial feel’ concrete flooring that is laid throughout.
The dining table, a single piece of beautiful wood, was custom-made for the space. And the large cork bowl on her dining table, a stunning piece, came from a cork tree in her sister’s garden in Portugal. The grey, cream and stone-coloured rug at the top of the stairs is one that Marieta had made in China; many small multi-coloured pieces of cow hide are sewn together to make the one rug.
And if she likes a piece and thinks it’s interesting, like the tree branch hanging on the dining room wall or the ornately carved wooden chest that is her bedside table, then she’s willing to put time and effort into bringing it back to life.
“The chest belonged to my father-in-law and over the years had been covered in layer after layer of paint, so it took me ages to restore it back to its natural colour, and we love it now!”
All new windows were installed throughout the apartment – oversized to optimize the light and views, and double-glazed to keep the sound of traffic out.
“Nuno is sensitive to noise, but these make the apartment so quiet one can literally hear a pin drop!”
The dog-leg staircase was a labour of love: “this is our second one, the first one creaked and drove my husband crazy with the noise!” Every inch and angle was designed by the couple, and brought in from China in sections. Marieta talks animatedly about how they had to work with the contractor to help him figure out how to assemble it – “and this time we made it solid wood so as to be more sturdy, and no more creaks.”
The balcony is full of plants, all of which are of the cactus family. “Succulents are my favourite plant – they’re so good for the atmosphere and act as an air purifier. A large ‘Mother-in-law’s-tongue’ stands in the corner of the living room, and there are other little pots of cactus dotted throughout the apartment.
Whilst Nuno works full time as an architect, Marieta runs their own company, MA+NU, (standing of course for the first two letters of both their names) which primarily helps clients with their interior design needs.
“I do a bit of everything, but I love interior design the most,” from designing furniture, selecting curtains and blinds, to “changing the whole look of a home before the husband comes back from a business trip!”
Business is brisk, which indicates that Macau is in need of this kind of service: “I get all my work through word of mouth, I’ve done no publicity”.
“What moves me is what I like to do. It’s not at all about the money, I’m one of those people who likes to help and often I don’t charge at all – but I realize I should value my work – after all I’ve got two university degrees and have spent a lot of time and money on my education.”
“I like buying for my clients, sourcing fabrics, furnishings, lights, carpets, accessories, and giving them ideas. I go to their homes or offices where I use my body to immerse myself in the space, to experience and engage with it, so that I can show them how best it can work, within what they like, what they can get and their budget. Through the right furnishings, accessories and colours, I can make the spaces more cohesive, to pull different areas together within a home or office”.
Marieta da Costa, MA+NU