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January 10, 2021

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Charm of ancient Greece envelops modern Athenian abode

A slick blending of historic elements and contemporary designs has produced a one-of-a-kind setting for architect Kostas Chatzigiannis in an apartment built in the second half of the 20th century in downtown Athens, Greece.

The 110-square-meter apartment is located in the heart of the city, close to its historic monuments, buildings and squares. The Acropolis is only a 20-minute walk away.

“Athens is a Mediterranean capital with more than 300 days of sunshine per year. I always wanted to have an apartment in Athens and was eagerly looking for a place that will be on a high floor, so as to benefit from the sunshine and the open views,” Chatzigiannis said. “I also wanted to be downtown, close to the metro but also in walking distance from most places I find interesting. Luckily, this part of town was built in the second half of the 20th century with a typical Athenian Modernist style that I really admire.”

The building follows clear modernist lines and shapes of modern architecture in Europe. However, there are still some decorative elements such as marble entrances, sculpted staircase handrails, parquet floors and wooden shutters.

Chatzigiannis loved everything about this apartment when he first saw it.

“The layout was right, with a proper entrance hall and a nice sequence of rooms as one proceeds further in the apartment. Also, the south and west facing orientation allow natural light in the rooms throughout the day, which creates a more enjoyable environment for me. In the few cold winter days, I really enjoy absorbing all the sunrays I can get. In that way, having lived in Shanghai for so long has made me similar to the Chinese — I just love facing towards the South,” he said.

The 37-year-old architect considers every project unique in its own context, which requires a unique aesthetic “solution.” The apartment was life-less after being left unattended for many decades. But Chatzigiannis realized there was great potential on the spot.

“The main structure was very solid and strong and no major room arrangements had to be made. The most important, and difficult, task was to refurbish and renovate all the existing old materials with the same old techniques of the past. This ‘sensitive’ type of renovation is a lot harder to do as it requires more time and resources, but I was determined to bring back to life the old charm of the apartment,” Chatzigiannis said, adding that when renovating such spaces, an architect is faced with the dilemma of changing many of these old elements or renovating and refurbishing them in respectful — and yet contemporary — manner.

He meticulously kept all the charming time-honored elements such as the hardwood parquet floors, the marble sink and breakfast counter, the high ceilings as well as the terrazzo floor and the light.

The apartment first began as an investment project for the architect. There is an increasingly large number of Chinese people that appreciate Greece as a destination and want to invest in properties.

“Although I always had in mind that this apartment was meant for a future client, I decided to go about the renovation in the best way that I saw fit,” he said.

The overall color scheme is simplistic with most rooms in white or beige so that they can be filled with natural light. He only made one room in blue hues to create interesting internal views.

The “blue room” is the former study of the apartment and now a dining room.

“I actually use it as my study too with the cast iron and marble table that is usually found in outdoor gardens,” he said. “I wanted this room to be special and artistic, so I painted it blue all around and use a little furniture and an aluminum art piece on the wall, inspired by the poems of Cavafy, a Greek poet.”

The living room features two connected rooms, both facing south and Chatzigiannis really enjoys this large space.

“So I can enjoy the big open space, and instead of a proper dining room, I created a counter between the living room and the kitchen, so that the food can be easily served in a casual style. However the blue room near the center of the apartment is where I can dine in a more formal way,” he said.

The master bedroom is a very spacious room. Facing west, there is a great warm light, perfect for afternoon naps.

“The kitchen sink is one of my favorite corners of this house. I preserved and polished the original marble sink. I love these old elements; they are so heavy and impossible to find anymore,” he said.

Selecting the furniture and artworks was a complicated process.

“I started with a mood board in mind, but any purchase trip in the market might take me to a different direction. I also love antiques so I always mix in a few old pieces,” he said.

There is a uniquely Greek vibe in the house. For example, the walnut chair placed in the living space is called Klismos. It is a reproduction of an ancient Greek chair that can be found illustrated on ancient pottery and sculpted in marble tombstones.

“I love these elegant strong curves. It’s actually a tough technical issue and experts wonder how they used to bend it in ancient time,” Chatzigiannis said. “I’m very lucky to have many artists and gallery owner friends. They have donated some pieces or agreed to showcase some others in my house. There is one common thing I believe that most art pieces have: they carry a certain ‘Greekness.’ Some are made of marble, or brass, or simply their content somehow represents something uniquely Greek.”

Q: What’s the best thing about living in Athens?

A: The sun and the blue sky.


Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Cozy, vintage, bright.


Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?

A: Turn the music on, draw the curtains and let the sunshine in.


Q: How do you unwind?

A: With a glass of wine on my sofa.


Q: Where do you spend most of your time at home?

A: In the living room.


Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: Urban view of the Omonoia fountain and a little bit of the Acropolis rock.


Q: What’s your favorite object in your home?

A: It’s not an object. It’s the parquet hardwood floor.


Q: Where do you source furniture?

A: Everywhere and anywhere. Antique stores, flea markets, furniture fairs. I love the sourcing game.


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