When one Greek expatriate commissions another to create a cultural center in Shanghai to celebrate their homeland’s culture, it becomes an obsession, and a goal that must impeccably deliver the vision at hand. That was the task taken on by architect Kostas Chatzigiannis (KCA/Kostas Chatzigiannis Architecture) for Pavlos Kontomichalos, each of which had made Shanghai home for 12 and 25 years, respectively.
It took an entire year to gut the five levels of the original 1930s brick and wood villa and complete the design for Hellas House. The construction took another five years. Chatzigiannis even laughed as he noted: “I spent the better part of my youth on it.”
Hellas is what Greeks call their homeland, which is why it was formerly known as the Hellenic Republic in English. Kontomichalos’ challenged Chatzigiannis to renovate the 5,380-square-foot villa so it would “scream Greek” without any brash or tasteless touches that often plague such projects. Chatzigiannis explains: “There is a stereotypical ‘Grecian’ style for this kind of project, one that can’t seem to escape the blue-and-white thing or laurel-wreath crowns or chitons. It can go over the top very easily.” He gladly welcomed his client’s refreshing challenge.
Kontomichalos wanted his main business ventures centered in Hellas House, including an import company dedicated to bringing the finest honey, wine, and olive oil from his homeland into Shanghai, a travel agency dedicated to unique and personalized adventures, and a store offering locals the best of imported Greek produce. His vision also included a space dedicated to showcasing social and corporate events, as well as other floors and rooms that would bring the best of Greece to the other few hundred Greek natives who call Shanghai home. Simply stated, Kontomichalos wanted Hellas House to represent, “the best Greece has to offer: history, culture, natural products, hospitality, and healthy lifestyle.”
The culmination of Chatzigiannis’ five-year project delivered exactly what Kontomichalos wanted. The travel agency, produce store, and import company were the easiest factions to create. The basement of Hellas House became a wine cellar for Greek wines. An open-air kitchen now occupies the ground floor, flanked by a gallery of artifact replicas representing the various eras of Greek culture. The adjacent lounge gives way to a garden, pool, and dining veranda, while a multi-purpose exhibition space occupies the mezzanine. Formal dining is offered on the second floor, which also includes a luxurious living room and terrace. An attic retreat is slipped in beneath the pitched roof and displays ceiling beams salvaged from the original structure.
To ensure Grecian authenticity all throughout Hellas House, Chatzigiannis chose to work with resources and color schemes from ancient times to complete the project. Bronze, marble, and wood are abundant in almost every room, as are basic hues of black, white, and gold. He also imported massive slabs of raw marble to Xiamen from the Aegean islands of Naxos and Thassos to construct the floors, walls, and columns.
Every era of ancient Greek history is represented throughout Hellas House. For example, the entrance hall represents the Bronze Age, with a life-size plaster cast replica of a female circa 2800–2300 BCE. Chatzigiannis complements the statue’s minimalist style with equally restrained custom elements: a graphic metal console in matte black, a simple geometric brass stair rail with a matte-gold finish, and a subtle white-on-white plaid-pattern floor of polished marble.
In addition, the chaises, stools, and chairs found throughout Hellas House are replicas of T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, a renowned 20th-century designer celebrated for incorporating ancient Greek furniture standards into modern creations. Chatzigiannis painstakingly found the small number of elderly Athenian craftsmen who still create Robsjohn-Gibbings’ signature curved-wood furniture to ensure he could bring it into the home.
The journey to completing Hellas House was long and tedious, but both Chatzigiannis and Kontomichalos happily agree that it was a big success.
Photos courtesy of InteriorDesign.com