I was drawn to theatre and film from a young age; my studies and practice pertained to these disciplines. Photography then came about as a personal exploration that underlined my journey. I never studied it, but I felt it. Everywhere I looked I saw pictures.
Creative & art direction followed as a natural continuation to an aesthetic eye and a vision of things. With Shila and Mona, the two boutique hotels I co-founded in Athens, I am involved with everything that has to do with the creative, the conceptual and the experiential. A friend humorously described me recently as a “director of ambience”. Essentially my work is about setting a tone. And finding the right people.
Aesthetics is a visual and sensory language and I love the challenge of communicating it, and how that enters into curation, branding, product design, marketing – fields I work in, too.
Shila Athens, Pia Riverola
Shila and Mona are two projects that sprung from a very organic need to create. We are a team that loves design and aesthetics, passionate about experiencing concepts that are intelligent, aesthetically gratifying, with soul.
With Shila, we created a world of our own that encompasses these interests and is an open invitation for like-minded encounters and collaborations. We opened in 2020 as a hôtel particulier set in a neoclassical building. We took over the residence and imagined this cosmopolitan woman dwelling there and receiving her extravagant guests in an open house. On that narrative, we built six very singular suites that are full of stories and character, and we organised a weekly social club on its rooftop that resembled a modern times “salon”.
Every piece at Shila is either custom-made or an antique find, which makes each corner unique. We worked with a very talented interior designer, Anna Bonnet, and various artists that enhanced the spaces with works that are made available for sale. We are interested in showcasing art in lived-in spaces, versus the traditional white cube.
To be honest, we never just wanted to make a hotel per se. It was always about the artistic expression, the imagination, the ripe timing in Athens, which felt that the city had an immense sense of potential. And it was also about the challenge of how we combine architecture, design and aesthetics with a hospitality experience. Shila eventually became what we dreamt of; a meeting point for artists, creatives and people of a certain quality of passion – adventure seekers; curious personalities who carry a fire within. Then came Mona… the downtown sister. We just opened in June!
Mona is about taking Shila’s concept and applying it to a grander scale. The generous 1950s building of industrial form gave us a lot of freedom and more spaces where we can now host a multitude of events and pop-ups. The open kitchen is our favourite spot, designed for having local and international chefs to create personalised dining experiences.
The Charm Factor
I draw inspiration from travelling and other people’s houses. I love discovering personal spaces, the way they have been created, the materials, the books on the shelves. I love looking at beautiful homes, and also architects’ homes. Cinema is a big inspiration for me. Thinking of Godard’s Le Mépris or Kaurismäki’s tableau vivant and colour palette, there is a rich pool of references in film.
My dream interior style is brutalism meets romance. My current home has more of a feeling of a writer’s retreat. I love country homes, Mediterranean simplicity: a fisherman’s house on the sea shore. A beautiful space is a balanced space. Interior beauty brings harmony and therefore a certain relaxation. Imperfections add character and are usually the ones that create feeling. You know you are in a soulful space when your body feels good in it.
I’ve found my home with a stroke of luck. Its charm factor was its small garden with this tinted wall that felt a bit like Mexico. I like that it transports you, that it could be anywhere else too, and that it’s not 100% one particular style – it’s mixed. When I came to see it for the first time, it was already furnished with a library wall full of French books. I knew I had to take it.
Maybe I am biased, but I find my neighbourhood the most gratifying. Its proximity to Filoppapou Hill, with its unassuming beauty overlooking the Acropolis, is pure joy. I like taking walks in the park and on certain streets, to look at the architecture. By the hill, one has the opportunity to notice the seasons change; to observe new flowers growing over the old. I also love that you can still find local shops that have stood the test of time. There is a humane and unrushed tempo, you can talk to the owners, their gaze is still pure, there is siesta. Around the corner is Petralona, with its village quality, open-air cinema and small meze places that make time stand still.
Greece is a blessed country. We are truly spoilt for choice. One just needs to start travelling around to appreciate its gifts. And it is not only endless islands and crystal blue waters. There is still an innocence here, a sense of freedom. It feels anarchic – the wild flowers grow everywhere. Nature is persistent. Greece is about the light, the food from the land, the hospitality of the people, the charming ruins, the simplicity. It is a feeling of surrender.
I love visiting places that combine visual beauty with culture, architecture and an interesting cuisine. I also prefer places that feel remote, uncorrupted. I’ve been to Namibia many times; it is a country that always amazes me by its sense of space. It feels like the beginnings of life on earth. I have had encounters with animals in the wild which were magical. I also enjoy a sailing trip. It can be cathartic and meditative to be at sea for a long period of time. To measure time by the position of the sun. Somehow all our little worries feel insignificant when on a sailing boat.
Nature recharges me, inspires me; it enables reflection and spirituality. It is an elixir for nurturing the internal, for creation. There is something about dawn and dusk, when in nature, that is very mystical to me. Feels like primal beginnings and endings; it reassures that everything can be connected. I think there is nothing more transcendental than connecting with nature, and transcendence is rather exciting.
Shila Athens, Pia Riverola
They say Greek summer is a state of mind. For me, summers are sacred. It is a time when everything is heightened: the sense of potential, of freedom, the erotic. One surrenders to the heat, the water, the slower pace. Summer is long days, long nights, carefree memories. The stillness of the afternoons. Having grown up in Greece, summers have been a state of perpetual bliss. I feel excited to wake up early in the summer, before the heat kicks in. I feel like I am “stealing” the extra hour to experience the season, to observe it from the outside, before the day involves me. This season I am most looking forward to being barefoot, being naked, swimming and eating fresh seafood.
Light is extremely important for me. I play a lot with the light-shadow diptych in my work. When it comes to photography, everything is about the good light. That also applies when setting up ambience in a space. Bad lighting can wipe off any good design.
Recently I stayed in an island house that was painted this deep yellow. I felt very connected to it. There was this book in the house of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, nearly the same warm tone. I thought it was a sign of being in the right spot. I love yellow and indigo blue; they feel invigorating as colours and reflective at the same time. Sweet acacia is a favourite flower of mine. They are all around my neighbourhood and their fragrance has a particular familiarity, it’s magnetic. I also love jasmine, as a scent and a sight, how its graceful petals glow at night. Semiotics of summer.
I am excited about Mona and its potential for forging creative collaborations. We are on a culinary focus right now, with the development of Mona’s Supper Club. It is very gratifying to discover new chefs and explore new flavours – natural wines, too.
I am also working on a personal photographic series with 35mm. I’ve taken up shooting with film this past year and it has inspired me to see my work differently. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this.
Follow Eftihia’s Grecian summer @eftihia
Find out more about her hotels @shila_athens @mona_athens
Photography by Eftihia Stefanidi & Pia Riverola