Originally conceived as a private residence, the Serralves Villa and the surrounding Park were commissioned by the 2nd Count of Vizela, Carlos Alberto Cabral (1895−1968), on the grounds of his family’s former summer residence on the outskirts of Porto. Designed and constructed between 1925 and 1944, the Villa is considered the most notable example of an Art Deco building in Portugal. In 1996 it was classified as a ‘Building of Public Interest’. In 2012, the ensemble of the architectural and natural heritage of the Serralves Foundation was accorded the status of National Monument.
Authorship of the Villa may be attributed, with a certain degree of care, to the French architect Charles Siclis (1889−1944), who played a decisive role in the project’s overall design, and José Marques da Silva (1869−1947), responsible for Porto’s São Bento railway station and the São João Theatre, who developed, modified and implemented it. Carlos Alberto Cabral, Jacques Émile Ruhlmann (1879−1933), and subsequently Alfred Porteneuve (1896−1949), the latter’s nephew and architect by training, also intervened in the project.
Many important European designers contributed to the interior of the Serralves Villa: Ruhlman, René Lalique (1880−1945), Edgar Brandt (1880−1960), Ivan da Silva Bruhns (1881−1980), Jules Leleu (1883−1961), Jean Perzel (1892−1986) and Raymond Subes (1893−1970).
Cabral and his wife Blanche Daubin moved into the Villa in 1944, living there for only a few years. The estate was sold in 1957 to Delfim Ferreira (1888−1960), the Count of Riba d´Ave, on the condition that the property would not be subject to any alteration, a restriction that was entirely respected. Most of its furniture was meanwhile sold at different auctions.
In 1987 the estate was purchased from the heirs of Delfim Ferreira by the Portuguese State as a site for a future museum of modern art. The Villa was opened to the public that same year as a site for temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art prior to the opening in 1999 of a new museum of contemporary art designed by the architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. In 2004, Siza supervised the restoration of the Villa and its interiors. Offering spaces for exhibitions and artists' projects as part of the programme of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, the Serralves Villa is, for its architecture and design, a museum in and of itself.