ATHENS is full of beautiful neoclassical buildings that have been abandoned and left to rot. Some of them belong to the state, others to families that were once rich
but today cannot afford to refurbish them, or who are still wrangling on ownership rights over what they inherited from their ancestors, among other reasons. Fortunately, one of those beautiful buildings, standing on 32 Solonos St in Kolonaki, was “rescued” by a couple who have what they describe as an “obsession for old buildings”, and transformed into a space that can be visited and enjoyed by all.
The building in question is a 300 square metre, three storey house that has been registered in architectural records since circa 1937 (but is thought by some to have existed since before 1900), that once belonged to an art collector from the island of Mytilini called Evripidis Koutlidis. “It was love at first sight,” the female member of the couple, who prefer to remain anonymous to the press, told us. After years of searching for “the one”, the pair found the building, which belongs to the National Gallery, where 1500 of Koutlidis’ collected artworks can be seen, three years ago.
On December 22 of 2014, they opened its doors and welcomed in the general public to explore and experience the place they have named Philos, where one can eat and drink, shop, and by summer will also be able to enjoy art exhibitions and other events. “Our aim is to engage all the senses in this multi-space,” the owner tells us, referencing also the different sound effects – such as birds chipring, waves crashing, poetry being recited and music – that play in each room of the house.
The interior of the building has been kept in a condition reminiscent of its history. The mouldings that have been painted over dozens of times while it was still inhabited, heavy windows with original glass, a marble sink and wood stove in the kitchen, old African wood as well as a wooden staircase that connects all the floors and a beautiful stained glass on the top of the roof, give the visitor an intense, gently haunting feel of the house as it was last left, while the grey faded walls also seem to merge with the concept of the post-industrial world we live in today. “Because of the unique characteristics of the building and our passion for the timeless, our approach was respectful and careful, preserving the character and authenticity of the building, while creating something entirely new. We love the magic of transformation and creation, especially when it comes to old neoclassical buildings, ” the owners write on their website.
On the ground floor one can enjoy a light meal from a menu of what the owner describes as “basic, seasonal Mediterranean food – nothing fancy or exotic, just good food,” and the owner’s passion for eggs shows on their menu as they serve all varieties of the ingredient, including both Kayana and Strapatsada, two dishes that are often confused as the same but that we are informed are actually different recipes (Kayana is made up of egg, tomato sauce and tsiglino manis and Strapatsada is egg, tomato sauce, feta and oregano). Tarts, salads, sandwiches, soups and dishes of the day are all on offer, and a special Sunday menu is in the works.
Also on the ground floor one can shop for accessories such as rucksacks, black leather computer mouse cases, playing cards and Pendleton textiles. “We have gathered here the things that we love and have discovered on our trips in different countries,” the owner says. Prices are written on little origami birds and other creatures placed next to each item, a cute idea the owner came up with after her daughter insisted they studied origami together.
On the first floor one can browse through men’s clothes “timeless classics of good quality that we like”, she tells us, and also visit the kitchen where Falcon enamel cookware, glasses, cups and crockery, which the owner says is extremely popular and reminiscent of childhood experiences, are showcased. These are also used for serving food in the restaurant / cafe.
By early summer the huge second floor, made up of around four rooms, will also be ready to receive visitors and present more items for sale – furniture, home decor objects, accessories, clothes and art objects will be laid out here, and events will also be organised to take place on this floor.
Philos is a concept store with real character, and the love and vision that has been poured into it by its owners is evident. It has a unique aesthetic, something still hard to come by often in a city overflowing with eateries and cafes, and although the things sold here are of a very set and particular style, so not for everyone, it’s definitely worth a visit – if not to shop then to enjoy a bite with friends in an environment like nowhere else in Athens.
Hopefully it will inspire more Athenians to appreciate the magnificence of the city’s old buildings and will perhaps inspire more creative entrepreneurs to create more spaces of this kind.