An abandoned townhouse in Athens has been restored to be one part b&b, one part art gallery – depending on what month of the year you go
Esperinos, a short-stay holiday rental in the heart of Athens, eludes easy categorisation. The 1930s residence on Filopappou Hill – a leafy rise next to the marbled Acropolis – can only be booked for stays during half the year. From November to April, the space is transformed into a gallery, hosting shows in collaboration with independent art foundation Grace. Yet even when welcoming guests for overnight stays, the residence maintains the air of a warm, inviting gallery.
An evolving art and design collection is on display throughout the one-storey townhouse and garden. Original pieces by the designer, Stamos Michael, are juxtaposed with 20th century icons such as a traffic chaise longue by Konstantin Grcic, and chairs by Danish designer Bent Krogh and French modernist Robert Mallet Stevens. A steel sculpture by Athenian artist Spiros Kokkonis rests on a plinth in the dappled shade of the courtyard garden, and figurative paintings hang on the brightly coloured walls of the kitchen and living space.
From the street, two large shuttered windows provide a glimpse through the entire space to the courtyard behind. Michael removed partition walls and introduced a mezzanine to act as the sleeping quarters, providing guests with an intimate vantage point to observe the pitched, pinewood ceiling above. A bold jade and burgundy colour scheme provides warmth to the interiors, in contrast to the austere, whitewashed stone of the façade. “The property had stood empty for more than 30 years, and the front wall was literally collapsing,” says Michael. “I was invited to restore the home, and when I looked inside, I felt the scale of the structure, together with the private space in the courtyard, created this strange sense of intimacy, as if I had lost all sense of time.”
I was invited to restore the home, and when I looked inside, I felt the scale of the structure, together with the private space in the courtyard, created this strange sense of intimacy, as if I had lost all sense of time
The material palette references the building’s past, as well as elements of other periods of residential architecture in the city. Concrete floors are ornamented with touches of terracotta tiles – a reference to the balconies of Athenian 1930s apartment blocks – and precise cut outs in the brightly coloured plaster reveal glimpses of the raw stone walls. There are also found elements in the interior, including a traditional window sill sourced from a monastery on the Aegean island of Tinos, and a stool formed from two hefty blocks of stone from a quarry on the same island, providing an evocative dialogue with the cut-outs in the walls.
Michael, who also set up the art foundation Grace, explains how the hybrid nature of Esperinos arose organically during its design. “As the property faces the street, we noticed passers-by would stop to check out the interior through the windows,” he says. “We always welcomed them inside to show them the work, which is actually how we made our first sale. At Grace, a significant part of our work questions the current platforms through which contemporary art is showcased and purchased, so a domestic environment like this seemed an interesting platform to work with. I like to see the space as a small extension of our cultural universe: a point where hospitality and culture – values this city has celebrated since ancient times – merge into one another.”