Conversation with Linda McGill of Greenpiece
For years, California-born Linda McGill and Brazilian native Renato Dantas dreamed about leaving their home in Rio de Janeiro to live in the Atlantic Rainforest. Five years ago, they took a leap of faith and went back to nature, on a plot of land near Paraty on Brazil's southeastern coast.
Their dream was to create a home where visitors from all over the world could experience nature at its most glorious, and the land they found, in a verdant valley next to the Serra da Bocaina National Park, fit the bill perfectly.
With its clean air and drinking water, waterfalls, and vivid display of flora and fauna, it's as close to untouched as any of us are ever likely to experience. And the homes they've created fit right in – three dwellings made with natural materials and decorated in pops of color from cobalt blue to tangerine, with wraparound windows and a laid-back ambience. One home they share with their dogs Babi and Pepe, but the other two are available for rent through BoutiqueHomes.
We reached out to Linda and Renato to find out more.
How did you find the property that is now Greenpiece?
Linda McGill: "Some friends told us about a green piece of land in the forest near Paraty with a clean, calm river. We visited the property and fell in love with it. We had seen many places but nothing like it. It had a river running through it and was filled with lush vegetation. The size of the land, around six acres, was just right for us."
What attracted you to it?
LM: "We are in the middle of a preserved, green valley with lots of palm trees, banana trees, many other fruit trees, and native trees and plants of the Atlantic Rainforest. We built a house near the river to hear the sound of the running water. We only drink the pure water from the natural springs inside our land. The place is quiet and peaceful and makes you feel relaxed. There is a large diversity of birds and plants everywhere to contemplate. It is also 15 minutes away from the historical beach city of Paraty, which has good restaurants and wonderful beaches. The region has been recently granted by UNESCO the status of a world heritage site."
What were your guiding principles in creating it?
LM: "We care about keeping the natural beauty we found here and intervening as little as possible to preserve the forest and the animals and plants that were here before us. We were careful to integrate our houses with the environment. This place has been here for ages, and we will be here just for a little while, but we will do our best to preserve it. We plant our own vegetables but are not completely self-sufficient. For example, we plant lettuce, beets, sweet potatoes, avocados, lemons, tangerines, oranges, papaya, mangos and many other edible plants."
It sounds like you have a special relationship with the birds. Can you tell us about it?
LM: "We are located near the border of Serra da Bocaina National Park, a hotspot for birdwatching. We are still getting to know the many species of colorful birds in the forest here, and we have placed bird feeders near the houses so we can watch them swoop down to feed. We know local guides who give tours to our guests."
What were your influences when you were designing the houses?
LM: "Cadas Abranches and Claudio Bernardes, well-known Brazilian architects, were inspirations. They both often use eucalyptus as structure, lots of wood, natural materials like bamboo, and big glass doors. Their houses have a rustic style and are well integrated with nature.
"We found a great local architect, Daniela Buissa, who is concerned, as we are, with preserving the environment. We used eucalyptus posts to structure the houses and glass windows with screens. When you are in the living room, you feel almost like you are outside because of the view of the forest through the glass and screens. The ceiling in the living room is high and has a wonderful design. We use a lot of bamboo for our fixtures, and my paintings line the walls. We also have a number of articles from local arts and crafts."
Your paintings are vivid and colorful, very much like the interiors of the house. Were they inspired by the landscape at Greenpiece?
LM: "I've been painting for many years, but since we moved here, I have been struck by the colors and shapes of nature in the Atlantic Rainforest. Most of the paintings hung in our three houses are of natural scenes seen here, of the banana trees and other plants, and of the river."
Was the move to the rainforest what you were expecting?
LM: "For us to move to the rainforest was a profound experience because of our 100% urban background. We were afraid we wouldn’t adapt, and we would end up soon going back to the city. When you live in a big city, you forget that you are part of nature because you drive cars, ride elevators, fly airplanes, wear ties and high heels, and almost forget that you are animals.
"The immersion in the forest brought us back to our primal roots and made us understand life better to the point that we feel out of place when we go into a big city. Here, our lives are much slower, calmer and meaningful and we spend a good amount of time contemplating nature. We step outside to pick vegetables and herbs to use while cooking for ourselves and usually just take care of the property, exercise, read books and play with our dogs. During the pandemic, while most people had to be imprisoned in small apartments, we felt comfortable and safe being isolated in the forest. In every aspect, living here at Greenpiece has been an experience that has gone way beyond our expectations."
Why did you decide to rent the property to guests, rather than keeping it to yourselves?
LM: "We love the forest and want to share it with other people. Our guests praise the immersion in nature that our houses and surroundings offer, and through this experience they can easily understand what is now at stake for the human race on this planet. That is why we like it when guests bring their kids and stay for a while."
For those considering a trip, when is the best time to visit Greenpiece?
LM: "Our climate here is agreeable all year round. Our place is located at an altitude of 300 meters, halfway between the ocean and the Bocaina Mountains. More birds show up in the winter months (June to September), which are mild compared to Europe and North America. But like anywhere, perhaps the most comfortable seasons, regarding humidity and temperature, are spring (September to December) and fall (March to June).
"The summer (December to March) is usually hot in Brazil, but here in the forest the temperature is lower, and there is a breeze that is refreshing. When the heat gets to us, we jump in the river!"