Casa das Portas: The Heart and Soul of Tavira

Lynne Booker for Algarve Goodlife

 What do you do if you fall in love with a place? Jane Gibbin fell in love with Tavira and decided that she would ensure that she did not forget the reason for her enchantment. For Jane, the epitome of the city was the old doorways and windows of Tavira, and she began to photograph them, and to put the photos up for sale at a stall run by her friend in a local market. Her photos sold well and Jane´s life became entwined with the lives of those people who had lived in the houses behind or knew people who had. Customers were drawn into conversation after seeing photos of the doorways and windows they knew. Jane´s new hobby of selling photographs on a friend´s stall had become a business and she now has two shops displaying a wide range of stylish and ethically sourced pieces of art. Among the most colourful items are theose based on her photographs of azulejo designs.

Jane and her family arrived on holiday in the Tavira area in the 1990´s, not deterred by the travel agent who warned that they would need to take a boat to get to the beach. For the Gibbins the separation of the town from the beach was an attraction that has become a passion for the Ria Formosa and for Tavira. They made frequent holiday visits and ultimately decided that they should stay; they arrived on 5 November 2002 and three days later they had bought a house.

The young Jane studied art and moved into psycotherapy. In her art she found inspiration in old and derelict buildings. As a therapist she encouraged clients to work through their different layers of understanding of themselves. Jane has found that her new life reflects her old one as she is fascinated by the doors and windows that she photographs and by the lives of the people who live behind them.

Painting of A Door
Artwork from one of Jane's Photographs

Jane´s photographs were selling so well that in 2007 she decided to open her first shop, Casa das Portas 1. Through her personal and family contacts, she began to source a wide range of beautiful objects that cry out to be taken home. Her shop is a colourful treasure trove of hand-made work: old saris recycled into bedspreads at a women´s cooperative in Bangladesh; skinny notebooks with cover designs based in Portuguese azulejos; jewel bright beach towels from Kenya; and quirky cushions and lavender bags designed and made by her family. Behind each item is an interesting and heartwarming story, and chatting to Jane about the provenance of the pieces that she sells I discovered that the story behind the piece is very much a part of the deal. She has become a passionate advocate of fair trade, saying, ´If I sell well then I can buy more pieces and help others. I believe in aid through trade´. Although she is sometimes disappointed when some favourite piece is sold, she has to remind herself that she runs a business not a museum.

Items for Sale
Other Items for Sale

Casa das Portas 2 opened in mid-July 2011 in an historic setting on the left bank of the River Gilão at the northern end of the Roman bridge. The shop occupies the site of one of the 20 or so tide mills which used to exist along both banks of the river. In more recent times the building was occupied by a tailor and Jane has recycled the old Singer sewing machine table and the counters to display her fair trade merchandise. The old doors, full of character even on the inside, provide an eponymous backdrop for her photographs.

View From Jane´s Shop
View From Jane´s Shop

This tailor´s shop was used in the 2004 film Kiss Me which is a story about a woman named Laura (played by Marisa Cruz) in a small Portuguese town during the 1950s who moved out to find freedom and adventure. In spite of that travel agent, Jane has embarked on adventures of her own. She has identified the unique architectural heritage of Tavira and single handed she is preserving it for posterity. The doors, the windows and the tiles themselves may disappear or they may be modernised or repaired. But in Jane´s pictures and photographs there will always be the old magic which originally drew her to this fascinating town.

Good teamwork is vital to any business and Jane´s team, Sjouke Ysselstein and Ana Gill, share her arts background and the love of unusual handmade goods. Like many of her customers, I will return to Casa das Portas. I have heard the stories behind many of the items on sale but not yet about the chameleon made of tin cans or the wooden fish or the carpet of flowers.

Jane and her team
Jane and her team