quarta-feira, 3 de agosto de 2011

Casa Hortícola

Growth Ring. Since 1921, the Casa Hortícola has occupied circular premises by Porto's market. Faux marble, lozenge motifs and curved forest-ggreen cabinets are the backdrop for a parade of colourful seed sachets, while outside, the façades's endless layers of turquioise gloss paint mark the passing years, as Marie-France Boyer reports. Photography: Ricardo Labougle.

It is hard to visit Porto without coming face to face with the Casa Hortícola. This delightful store selling seeds and bulbs is part of a large early 19th-century Neoclassical complex that includes the Bolhão market. With an entrance that is just a few yards further down the street from the shop, the market is right in the middle of the commercial centre of this Portuguese city. While still a popular rendezvous, it's now a pale reflection of what it was 30 years ago: colourful, exotic and teeming with people, with produce arriving from the four corners of the globe. (...)

Inside, in an old gold oval frame inset in one of the panels of false marble that decorates the upper part of the walls, a portrait of the founder occupies a place of honour. Antonio Moreira da Silva - double-breasted suit, floral tie on a white shirt, a determined expression - moved into these premises in 1921. He succeeded a pork butcher's, the Salsicharia Internacional, known to the locals as The German Sausage. In spite of its brown-and-red décor and walls decorated with azulejos depicting, appropriately, a wild-boar hunt, the Salsicharia did not last long. It is important to note that Senhor da Silva's business was far from being limited to this little shop, which at the time was just a simple outlet in town. A skilled botanist, he had greenhouses and nourished selling seeds, plants and bulbs wholesale to farmers, just as Vilmorin and truffaut did in france. For a while most of his turnover came from his fruit trees.

When he took over the butcher's premises, Da Silva kept all the furniture, the ceiling, the window and the faux-marble decoration on the upper part of the walls, but masked the azulejos with a rainbow of plant posters more suited to his own needs; he stuck them on either side of two doors, one leading to a stock room via an attractive little iron spiral staircase, the other to a box room. All the 1920s woodwork is inspired by the lozenge-shaped mouldings of the original counter, with its pink-marble top, that is still in place.

This counter is like an altar, on which today Antonio Ferreira de Souza and his assistant solemnly weigh out, sell and package the seeds and bulbs in brown paper bags before wrting on them by hand the name of their contents, like a herbalist or pharmacist. At the time of writing it's the season for iris, freesia, tulip, lily, arum, daffodil, and narcisus bulbs, sold by weight or by the unit. (...) Attentive and meticulous, Sr de Souza may be a man of few words, but he can suddenly flush red and burst into passionate and endless explanations when a customer manages to get through to him, catch his interest or skilfully urge him on. Then a kind of confidential dialogue strikes up. Would it be better to choose a "Purple Sensation" or "Professor Blaauw" iris, and if so why?And can you really combine brown with yellow? Do people really do that? Is it an attractive choice? (...)

He is filled with excitement and he knows better than anyone how to soothe the worries of his lady customers, who are passionate too, and happy to chat. In his little round room that is A Casa Hortícola there is a kind of febrile happiness, a euphoria, a little of what you see in certain patisseries, where people are secretely united by the same obsession." The World of Interiors, July 2011.

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