Eftihia Stefanidi.

After working in the film industry, Greek photographer and creative director Eftihia Stefanidi has gone on to co-create Shila and Mona, two of Athens most cinematic boutique hotels.

Eftihia will always hold a special place in my travel-writing heart. It was January 2022 and I’d just decided to quit interior design and commit to a life of travel, and Eftihia was the first person in any way related to the travel industry to reach out to me. I was in Murrurundi at the time, emerging from a two-year nationwide lockdown and wondering how I could kick start the new career. Eftihia was in Athens, and had just opened the first of two startlingly lovely boutique hotels. It seemed like a longshot but eight months later, I found myself at the door of an elegant Neoclassical townhouse in Kolonaki to meet her.

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Athens, with many intervals in Ioannina, a town in the North West of Greece, the hometown of my parents. These periods hold the most vivid memories from my childhood. Life was pure and spent outdoors, with careless freedom and a lot of love from my grandparents.


I read that you studied dramaturgy and later filmmaking – was there a particular experience that instilled your love of theatre and film?
I grew up in an aesthetically stimulating house that resembled an antique fair. My parents have been avid art collectors with a deep interest in all forms of art and literature, whose friends included inspiring artists and intellectuals of the time. There was always a movie on TV, or we would sneak on the rooftop to watch the screen of the open-air cinema next door. My sister, now an actress, discovered her acting flair in early childhood, as she would dress and perform in front of our family – and I was part of the productions by default. I think I became interested in theatre through these influences, attracted to the idea of other worlds and other lives, beyond our realities. My passion for cinema emerged a little later, a coup de foudre that deepened through my studies in Prague and Oxford.

Tell me about the House of Shila?
I met entrepreneur Shai Antebi when I lived in New York in 2014. He was my landlord at the time and I fell in love with his apartments and the design approach that was very unique for New York. Some details reminded me of my summer house in Greece, there was a natural affinity with his aesthetic. In 2016, he came to Greece to look for a house in the islands. I happened to be visiting at the time and we worked together in search of that. I thought he would also be interested in Athens as a place to invest. It was the right moment – and he had the boldness and vision to recognize it. We then formed the House of Shila, a creative studio whose original boutique hotels double as art and design showrooms and connect under a members’ club umbrella. The studio engages in the fields of property development, interior and furniture design, art direction and experiential concepts. Shila and Mona are the group’s first projects in the centre of Athens, inhabiting a personal approach to hospitality.


Were the two properties difficult to find?
Although we looked at many properties, Mona was one of the first that we saw. The Shila property came to us a year later. But we couldn’t say no: it was a project that was calling out to be made. Back in 2016, there were a plethora of vacant buildings in Athens, as the city was just coming out of a tarnished period of recession.

Each hotel has a distinct character. What came first, the property or the personality?
The property came first and inspired a narrative. Shila is a 1920s neoclassical building with stunning high ceilings and beautiful interior details, from the doors, to the mosaic terrazzo and the staircase. It evoked an air of elegance, where we could imagine a certain kind of personality inhabiting the residence. The idea to create six different suites also dictated that we could play with mini narratives and references within the wider story. Similarly, with Mona, the industrial features of the building, the urbanity of the landscape, as seen from the interior windows – a setting that is a true protagonist in the overall feel of the spaces – as well as the energy of the area, inspired a certain personality that is wilder and freer. After setting a tone, I would say the storytelling process ran parallel with the design and it was to do with things that spoke to us in the moment, without trying to follow a specific line or ‘style’.


What guided you in the selection, and placement, of art at each hotel?
A combination of personal idiosyncrasy, taking into consideration the interior design and its mise en scene, and paying attention to the feeling an object or an artwork evokes. In a recent interview, Marina Abramovic described the “hotel” as “a space open to destiny, where anything can happen, where all your secret dreams, all of your desires can take place.” I have a similar response to these environments. The curation is inspired by this notion of fantasy, as if many of the themes in the works featured could be manifestations of parallel realities taking place within the spaces. We collaborate with both local and international ceramicists, who showcase work organically within the spaces. Some of the artists we feature are Diane Alexandre, Anna Karountzou, Venetia Sacret Young, Camille Romagnani, Yiorgos Trichas, Elina Belou, and Angeliki Stamatakou, all based in Athens.

Tell me about the creative scene in Athens? Who is doing the most interesting things?
The creative scene is pulsating, you can feel a rebirth following the crisis. The rents are still affordable here compared to the major metropolises, so there has been an influx of artists, designers, architects and entrepreneurs from abroad, who are attracted to the current energy and have chosen to make the city their base. This is something new for Athens, this multi-cultural creative community living and creating in situ.

New galleries and creative spaces have been launched by international creators and expats in recent years. Alkinois Project in Petralona is a great independent gallery belonging to the Belgian curator, Alix Janta, who has also opened the art bookstore, Adad books. Carwan, a leading design gallery from Beirut,  relocated to Piraeus and is accompanied on the same street by Rodeo Gallery (an outpost of the original from London) and The Intermission, opened by Artemis Baltoyanni, an art advisor who lives between Athens and Los Angeles.

10 AM Lofts in Kerameikos is also a magnificent space, architecturally exquisite. Radio Athènes and Martinos Art, led by collector and art advisor, Andreas Melas, are both beautifully curated. There are so many independent spaces flourishing, such as Hot Wheels, Haus N, P.E.T. Projects, One Minute Space…

How has Athenian creativity – and Greece’s rich artistic heritage – influenced the current renaissance?
Greeks have certainly mastered the art of living so that alone must entail a good dose of creativity! The current Athens feels to me like a melting pot of diverse groups and styles. It does this in a creative way – sometimes a little messy, sometimes charming. This is a particularly Athenian vibe.

Still, one can look back on their own heritage at any given moment and feel responsibility, awe, inspiration. I think it is up to the individual to define how much the past traditions are influencing the modern ones. Collectively, I find Athens striving to achieve a balance between honouring and furthering its rich cultural history and at the same time progressing and connecting with the discourse of the now.


Do you have favourite films or filmmakers?
Films that make an impression are like old perfumes. You may not remember exactly the constituents, yet they can unearth a whole spectrum of memories and emotions. I always return to Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood For Love, its haunting aesthetics and the masterly way it depicts the subtleties of human connection.

I love Eric Rohmer’s philosophical universe, its aesthetics, the conversational existentialism and nonchalant eroticism. Stanley Kubrick has been a genius in all genres. My favourite of his films is A Clockwork Orange. Tarkovsky for the visual poetry, John Cassavetes for the raw authenticity of the scenes, there are so many more…

Tell me about shooting on film?
I love shooting on film because it makes you think. You have to be precise and there is no excessive waste of shots. I also enjoy the surprise element, when you finally develop the images and the anticipation to view them. There is a magical quality to analogue that is very cinematic and addictive. Your shot may never come out the way you imagined – or not at all. But it’s still worth it.


Do you have plans to open additional properties?
We are currently working on our first island project, in Skopelos. It is a sacred land full of ancient olive trees near the sea, a verdant island and destination less travelled, pure. We are designing some independent cottages, a few of which are existing stone houses from the 1800’s. This will be a new addition to the HOS family, a countryside residence encompassing Mediterranean values and a slow way of living. This is what we long for, after all, don’t we?

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