A Conversation with Eftihia Stefanidi of Shila
Photograph by Marco Arguello
Man Ray had Kiki de Montparnasse. Klimt had Emilie Louise Flöge. Creative director and photographer Eftihia Stefanidi has Shila, an invented female character that she drew creative spirit from when building the eponymous Athens hotel.
The imagined Shila used to live in the building and lived a Bohemian life; accordingly, Shila the hotel is full of sensual, feminine charms and an inspired art collection. It has a library of curiously curated books and an old Strauss piano.
Six suites also come with their own character (literally). Stefanidi and her team envisioned that Shila had friends that would come visit, and well, sort of just... stay, occupying all the rooms and imbuing them with their personalities.
We caught up with Stefanidi to find out more about her muse, as well as why Athens has recently been christened an "art capital."
HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT BOUTIQUEHOMES?
Eftihia Stefanidi: "I rang this hotel called Tainaron Blue in the Peloponnese, because I was looking for interesting platforms to be featured - I knew that this hotel is very specific, very boutique. I thought, 'This owner will understand me'. They mentioned BoutiqueHomes, and when I landed on your page, I understood why - it's an incredible collection of amazing design homes."
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AS AN ARTIST.
ES: "I studied theatre dramaturgy in Greece, filmmaking in Prague, and onwards completed a Masters in Film Aesthetics at Oxford. My first jobs were curating and programming short films for film festivals. A lot of my photography, which I have done since I was young, is inspired by cinema and cinematic moments.
“When I spent a couple years in New York City, I was working as a lead creative for Secret Cinema, a London-based immersive events company that pioneered the ‘live cinema experience’."
IT SEEMS OBVIOUS TO SAY THAT SHILA IS A NATURAL EXTENSION FROM THAT; A PERMANENT SPACE TO CURATE AN IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE.
ES: "Shila was actually completely unplanned! When I lived in New York I was renting an apartment from entrepreneur Shai Antebi, who is now the owner of Shila. Shai is a visionary with a passion for architectural design; he makes beautiful homes. When he came to Athens, I happened to be around, and I showed him the city. He loved it. As he always wanted to make a boutique hotel, the moment was ripe for the city, and we decided to work together on this creative production, to create these worlds."
TELL US ABOUT FINDING THE BUILDING FOR YOUR WORLD.
ES: "It's a 1920s neoclassical building; a five-story residence, a grande house, as opposed to just a hotel. We wanted to keep it that way: the feeling of entering someone's personal space, like you are hosted by an old friend. We wanted it to be that much personal, and very very warm.”
WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF THAT?
ES: “Everything! From the furniture, to the books, to the music… We want people to experience things we love ourselves and our excited about — like local products and flavors. For example, we took some time to find our coffee beans. They come from the El Palto cooperative in the Amazonas region of Northern Peru, it’s a special collaboration with ANANA. And we went on a quest to find the best honey in Greece and offer it in the breakfast. Our honey is from Kimolos, a small magical island across Milos. I discovered it a few years ago and fell in love with it. So I contacted the maker and he's actually a veterinarian. Making honey is his passion. Dimitris produces the most amazing heather honey, from the island's wild, native lavender."
WHAT IS IN THE ART COLLECTION?
ES: “Each of the six suites of Shila were imbued with the traits of different "characters" who would pay regular visits to Shila. There's an architect's room, a painter's room, an operatic room… All suites host part of the hotel's art collection.
"The art collection was built slowly, before we opened. I needed to see the rooms come to life first. For example, in the Dreamers Suite, a lot of the furniture are suspended. There's a metal structure going around the walls. The bed and the wardrobe are slightly elevated, giving a feeling that everything's kind of floating. So we matched it with dreamy, surreal themes, like with Jasmine Deporta’s analog photograph of a girl jumping on the bed; there's an element of being in air. Some rooms are interpreted literally, some are more conceptual. Like in the La Boheme suite, we hosted the work of Greek painter Kyveli Zoi, whose themes corresponded magnificently with this milieu.
"We also have a lot of ceramics throughout. We currently host the work of French (but Athens-based) artist Diane Alexandre. Diane created for us a very delicate series of Japanese-inspired white porcelain cups - the Hana Cups. They come in a pair, and the idea is that you drink by holding them with both your hands. An act of embrace. We also host works by Venetia Sacret Young, a New Yorker now living in Greece, who is an amazing multi-talent and interior designer. She makes those whimsical clay candle holders that look like sea creatures from the underworld.”
YOU WERE RECENTLY FEATURED IN A STORY BY THE FINANCIAL TIMES, “ATHENS: AN ART CAPITAL ARISES.” WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BEING IN ATHENS IN THE ART WORLD RIGHT NOW?
ES: "Athens has shown remarkable development since the time I remember it. Coming back after years abroad, I've seen a completely new city; international artists and curators moving to Greece, opening galleries and making interesting projects. This new international community has discovered Athens, and made it their home. Of course Documenta put Athens on the map back in 2017, as we were slowly coming out of a long recession. Right now, and especially after those isolating years of the pandemic, there is regeneration - it feels vibrant and people show an appetite to create. We want to honor and savor this moment at Shila by providing a stage to young and emerging artists - not just local, but international too.”
SINCE WE HAVE YOU, WHICH FILMS DO YOU FEEL DO A GREAT JOB OF PAIRING IMAGES AND LANGUAGE?
ES: "I would say Eric Rohmer’s films are a good example. There's a lot of rambling and mumbling that's mundane and philosophical at once, but how he stages his tableau are so aesthetically arousing, yet so simple and nonchalant. Then there's Wong Kar Wai's films. ‘In the Mood for Love’ is one of my favorites. With so little dialogue, he achieves such strong visual language, full of insinuation. It’s pure visual poetry to me.”
To book a stay at Shila, click here.