A Young Greek Architect Reinvents Cycladic Cubism on Antiparos

ATHENS – Greeks and tourists flock to the island of Antiparos in the Cyclades because of what it’s not: it’s not Mykonos or Santorini or other islands, many nearby, that are glitzy showoffs overrun with so many people it doesn’t feel like you’re on vacation.

Antiparos offers a more laid back experience of the kind that attracts celebrities like the now Greek Orthodox Tom Hanks, the renowned actor and his wife, Rita Wilson, who has Greek descent, the couple buying a summer home there.

It was a different experience for Argyro Pouliovali, a Greek architect who was only 27 in 2014 when she finished up a renovation of a beachfront hotel on the island she bought with her husband, keeping it in the tradition of white cubes and blue colors.

“It was a simple job, nothing fancy,” Pouliovali, told The Wall Street Journal. “Actually, it was the opposite – how to just refresh a place without showing that somebody had touched it. I know it was a very Cycladic cliché, but it’s a lovely one so you don’t want to spoil it,” she said, added the piece by Sarah Medford.


In a review of her work, the newspaper noted how she made the house, from below, appear to be a symmetrical grid of cubes and with covered pergolas becoming outdoor living rooms to take advantage of the summer and diffuse the sunlight.

Her work was noticed by Swiss art dealer Eva Presenhuber who was on the island for the summer installing a show and several of the artists were staying at Pouliovali’s hotel.

Presenhuber told Pouliovali that, “If I ever buy a plot of land and I build a house, I will do it with you,” but the architect said she dismissed it until three days later the art dealer came back and said she indeed bought land said, “Let’s do the house.”

Pouliovali by now had gone from being an island-hopping student and dancing at clubs to a more experienced architect at a different point in her life and said she stayed with the Cyclade’s of the white-cube houses and blue woodwork.

“I think the ability to design something very personal and affect the person’s everyday life—it’s a huge impact,” architect Argyro Pouliovali says. “To be able to have the keys to someone’s happiness, that excites me a lot,” she told the paper.

Christina Papadopoulou, a friend of Pouliovali’s and a gallery director at Gagosian, based in Athens said that on the island, “Even though you can still walk barefoot wearing your sarong until midnight, and the island is not as crowded as Mykonos or Paros, it has a truly cosmopolitan character and a vibrant ‘bohemian chic.’ ”

That makes it a lure for artists the around the world who want to escape the runaway hedonism and frenetic pace of more popular islands that attract, well, island-hopping students who like to dance and party.


The hotel shows styles from around the world that make an eclectic mix matching the sensibility. Pouliovali was going for in trying to keep the hotel Cycladic but with the brushwork of an artist drawing on other inspirations.

Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, part of Presenhuber’s gallery family, made her a dining table of painted wood slats. The woven chairs are by architect Oscar Hagerman. Sam Falls’ ‘Untitled (Painted Photograms, Lattice 51)’, 2013 hangs on the wall.

The land that Presenhuber bought, on Antiparos’ southwestern coast, overlooks the protected island of Despotiko, where ruins of an Archaic-period sanctuary to Apollo have been discovered that doesn’t work – Pouliovali calls it “Cycladic Suburbia” but Presenhuber said she likes the dry, withered landscape there.

“On a drive around the island’s southern tip, you first register the dwelling as a modest white square, a napkin tucked under the chin of the hillside. From a distance it looks symmetrical, but up close there are irregularities: a higher roof here, a latticed wall there, mismatched window and door openings,” the story said.

There’s a big kitchen to serve the art dealer’s many friends for dinner parties, and who come to the island for art shows, and there are enough bedrooms too, Presenhuber going there for 15 years.

“It was not about making a big architectural statement per se,” said the architect.  “But there’s an element of surprise inside because we read very thoroughly the laws, which were very strict. You’re not allowed to have a two-story building [on this part of the island], you’re not allowed to have this, you’re not allowed to have that; there’s a series of things that you’re not allowed to do. But there was nothing saying you’re not allowed to have a courtyard.”

Consisting of five interconnecting cubes and a series of terraces, the house takes advantage of prevailing winds for temperature control while solar panels power hot water and heating.

Construction began in 2015, Presenhuber leaving everything to the architect, who told the paper that, “Eva really trusted me a lot, and I was very young and I wanted to do right by her. We had some in-between communication. But I would say that overall, we built this house with 10 emails, and that never happened to me ever after. I think she knows how to manage creative talent and get the best out of you.”

There’s an open courtyard beyond the kitchen and courtyards flank both ends of the house’s long central hub with multicolored woven chairs by Oscar Hagerman.

Pouliovali has island hopped again, not for parties, but to design projects on places such as Mykonos, Crete and elsewhere and said she uses local Greek materials mostly to show them off.

For a long time, she said that, “Greeks were not proud of their stuff,” but that would be seeing what she’s done for them.


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