and when I arrive at the last rung of this dark ladder
and I open the door of the room
only then do I realise that the room was -is-
a large garden full of music and paintings
-a room full of sheets cast into the garden-
This is an extract from the poem ‘The clavicembalos of silence’, written by Nikos Engonopoulos, the pioneer of Greek surrealism. The verses were echoing in our minds as his grandchildren Eleonora and Nikos showed us around the home built by their parents Errieti Engonopoulos and Nikolas Ledakis somewhere in the centre of Athens.
All three generations of the family have added their own powerful touch to the atmosphere in the home as one may detect on the paintings, ranging from small works in the bozetti style to larger oil paintings by the grandfather -many of which are being presented for the first time on these pages- the collection of crystal glasses that belong to the couple or the collection of die-cast toy cars of the children.
The home covers an entire floor high up in the building and as a result is bathed in light. It offers many views out over some of the very few patches of greenery in the capital city plus a view of the Acropolis.
The influence of the grandfather is evident from the way many elements in the home -which differ greatly from one another- interact so harmoniously creating a place of great style. Errieti’s innate ability to bring together and use colours, with the support of her partner Nikolas in matters of style and ergonomics, have led to the creation of this unique home-cum-museum. But their dream could not have become a reality without the help of the architect Michalis Gryparis. A professional with great experience, Gryparis worked with the owners of the house to bring their vision to fruition and supervised the work as it was carried out.
A single area containing the sitting room, study, dining room and kitchen separates the part of the house which is for personal use of the younger members of the family from that of their parents. The area is used as a gathering point for everyday family activities. The three bedrooms and the children’s playroom with their ensuite bathrooms are all equipped with auxiliary and storage areas that have been incorporated skilfully into the final design, thus ensuring that the whole area is put to the best possible ergonomic and practical use.
In any house with small children where the cooker is on more than once a day, an almost permanent human presence in the kitchen is essential. So, the main area of the flat has been designed to allow the woman of the house, who spends most of the day there, to be able simultaneously to take care of family matters and other obligations. These include maintaining and promoting her father’s work via a website and a range of publications that she herself has edited, as well as taking care of day-to-day business with a whole group of people in order to supply and maintain the house.
The house is home to the family’s cultural inheritance, which it promotes like a well-organised exhibition in three colours, red, grey and blonde wood. The colour scheme enhances and yet, in some surreal manner, contradicts the view that works of art need a neutral colour background if they are to be seen at their best. Even the colour grey, the colour of quite a lot of the surface area of the walls, has a powerful effect here, despite being considered a neutral colour. Depending on the time of day and how the other colours ‘reflect’ on it, the grey changes, sometimes becoming lighter, sometimes much darker in line with the other trump card in this successful design, the lighting. The natural light is enhanced by a metal construction with spotlights which light up the works of art on the walls. The construction was made by Giorgos Fatseas, who specialises in designing lighting for museums. Along the length of the construction, pointing towards the roof, hidden lights which operate at night complement the spotlights and other lights set in the floor and positioned on the tables. All the lighting has been planned so that it satisfies the requirements to make each work of art stand out on its own when desired without detracting from the friendly homelike atmosphere.
Erotic bodies, Engonopoulos clouds set against the background of the blue of Greece, red fabric hearts, china cats, multicoloured crystal glasses, pleated ancient Greek dresses, bunches of dried hydrangeas, copper-coloured doors, eastern rugs, the white border that is used to separate adjacent colours, dark green, terracotta, aubergine purple, beads and pom-poms, electricity switches the colour of granite… the list is endless. Engonopoulos’ visual myth, the children’s fairytales and daily routine come together in an invisible whole. This scenic environment makes room for journeys of the mind for people of all ages, as visual play does not force the little ones of the house to stay in their rooms. All around there are figures and designs, colours and rays of natural and artificial light. They feed childhood fantasy and somehow sharpen the tired imagination of adults. On the side of a copper door (created by the painter Nikos Anagnostopoulos) in the study, little springs of ivy and other plants are growing. A metal tree with family photos for leaves has taken root in the kitchen ceiling. Two lilliputian human figures by Keith Haring seem transfixed in little wooden chairs. A flower with mirrors for petals on the parrot-green wall in the hall catches the attention of everyone who walks past it and regales them with old reflected Greek tales. It is this sense of freedom of the mind which encourages one to wander for hours from surface to surface, from room to room. Like some tasty meal that one eats slowly, that one relishes when they deliberately delay reaching the last mouthful so that the pleasure goes on as long as possible. That’s what a walk around here is like, both a metaphysical stroll and a genuine one.
Later in the afternoon, the tour around the house has given way to hospitality. The meal, taken in the dining room next to Engonopoulos’ bookcase, which groans under the weight of years’ worth of intellectual treasures, was brought to a close with anthotyro (white dessert cheese) and raki (a Greek form of Schnapps), made by the Ledakis family in Hania, Crete. And so, surrounded by family memories, accompanied by stories told by the adults and the laughter of the children, mouthfuls of food, raki, the sun’s rays turning gold and shining on the crystal glass, sweetly intoxicating, it is as if everything around has jumped out of the picture frames to join in with this afternoon celebration of the joy of life.