Through the Keyhole

Smadar and Michael Sun-Fidelman are building Portugal’s first hemp house in the western Algarve. 

Originally from Israel, Michael had explored many natural houses that exist in Jerusalem. “When you are in a stone house, it feels alive,” Michael explains. “Even in the Israeli desert, I have been in mud houses where the air quality is perfect and through which you feel connected to nature.”

The couple did not have a similar experience in Portugal. After renting in the Algarve for eight years, they have always felt cold or hot and discovered mould. Smadar explains, “I realised that my ideal house would have good insulation, be able to breathe and be free from fungi.”

The couple discovered Portugal after travelling to Lisbon to visit friends in Sintra. They fell in love with the country and made their home in the Algarve, working as energy and holistic healing therapists. After settling and having their daughter, aged four, they began looking around for a plot to build their dream house.

They bought an abandoned building plot in Barão São Miguel, which offers beautiful views of the Portuguese countryside and a chance to create a living, breathing house. Michael explained his vision to me when I visited. “I wanted to feel like the house was alive, totally natural and breathing. So you can stare at a wall as if you are admiring a plant.”

After researching natural building materials, Michael discovered hemp blocks. It offered the natural characteristics he was looking for together with the modern straight look with none of the negatives of other natural building solutions. “Hemp’s ability to regulate temperature and be sound and fireproof felt like exactly the right solution for our family.”

Michael was frustrated, though, as the only suppliers were in Belgium or other European countries and the costs of delivery were too expensive. It was then that he came across Cânhamor. When he first contacted them had no idea it was his old friend Elad behind the project. It felt like fate was working in his favour. 

He became the first residential property to use the hemp blocks manufactured in the Alentejo. “Cânhamor has been completely present in the project; they really care. The first time that Elad saw the house, he cried.”

Smadar was excited to watch the house rise from the ground. “We found a great builder who, although did not have previous experience with natural construction, was open to this new material. Along the way became highly enthusiastic about them and is keen to implement them in his new projects. This was a bonus, as other natural building techniques require specialist contractors. The blocks are so light that the walls went up more quickly than in normal construction.” 

I examine the blocks, which, although light, are very solid. They contain a mesh of fibres entwined in a densely packed permeable brick which, in cross-section, resembles extremely hard-pressed stalks. The hemp blocks are then covered with lime plaster which is indistinguishable from traditional plaster, giving the walls a smooth finish.

The single-storey house has an internal area of 164 m2. The accommodation is laid out with an open-plan living space with a vaulted wooden ceiling adding to the organic feel of the house. There are two-bedroom suites and a guest annexe. The couple have also incorporated a working studio for them to give consultations. The house will be heated using a heat-exchange system.

They plan on using other natural techniques in the house with a Tadelakt finish in the bathrooms. Tadelakt is a waterproof plaster surface used in Morocco to make baths and sinks, as well as exterior walls, ceilings, roofs, and floors. It is made from lime plaster, which is rammed, polished, and treated with soap to make it waterproof and water-repellant.

Michael is so pleased with the house, which is due to be completed in the spring of 2023, that he would like to spread the word about hemp building. He is inviting anyone who is interested in this efficient and sustainable building material to contact him. He is happy to show you his new home. He is also keen to stress that the blocks can also be used to insulate existing houses if you are plagued by the cold and mould of traditional building techniques.

Although this property is the first of its kind in the Algarve, it will likely be the first of many with so many advantages to offer for those wanting to make a house a home.

If you like to know more or schedule a visit, feel free to contact Michael via what’s app or email:

+351 927 271 067


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