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Grecian Glamour

Set in a former industrial building in Psirri, Athens, a new kind of boutique hotel takes centre stage.

Mona Athens (c) Tristan Hollingsworth

From the outside, nothing shows. Stopping at 4 Kakourgodikiou Street in Psirri, Athens, one looks up at the façade of an eight-story industrial factory from the 1950s.

There is no sign on the door. Across the street, one of Athens’ oldest tool shops – an institution – is busy welcoming workers. “We didn’t follow any obvious hotel process; blending in with the neighborhood was key to us”, co-creator and creative director of Mona Athens Eftihia Stefanidi explains, pointing out that the area’s authentic, unconventional, and cultural character dates back to the early 20th century, when working-class outlaws and Asia Minor refugees (called “Manges” and “Rebetes”) lived alongside each other, often singing songs about loss and unrequited love. Like a song calling for a new era, Mona Athens looks at places, culture, and hospitality in a different way.

Artist Atelier (c) Pia Riverola

It all started seven years ago when Eftihia Stefanidi, then scouting locations for Secret Cinema in NY, regularly met with Shai Antebi, an Israel-born real estate entrepreneur with a unique eye for spaces and tasteful buildings. Looking for ‘something special’ in Athens, when the city was just out of the recession, Stefanidi helped Antebi spot one-of-a-kind locations.

“It was the first building we visited: the former textile factory was vacant, filled with the remnants of a rich past. We were excited at the sight of the main marble staircase, decorative details, and heavy cement structures. Something had to be done”, she recalls.

Staircase at Mona Athens (c) Eftihia Stefanidi

Together they worked towards a concept-led boutique hotel and multi-disciplinary space that combined Antebi’s passions - art, design, and photography – with Stefanidi’s love of theater stage set and performing arts. “From day one, we both agreed that we didn’t really like hotels: they always lacked a personal touch, and we wanted the building to come to life differently, target a new type of clientele. We followed what inspired us rather than the traditional marketing and advertising route!”, she remembers, admitting that they were both detailed, obsessive, and passionate about getting everything down to their taste.

Staged inside the former 1950s factory, Mona Athens features 20 characterful rooms, a concept cafe lounge & bar, and a speakeasy basement venue. “We played with what we had and felt free to create: we found materials, reused them, built couches from old bricks, crafted tables using layers of marble. We also came across incredible velvets from the 70s and 80s in the factory: the coincidence created the story, and we installed velvet curtains to bring a theatrical experience to the rooms."

Artist Atelier (c) Pia Riverola

After a year at Mona, they say they are still improving, adjusting, and adding. "We are constantly on the look-out for new things, sourcing young photographers from Greece and abroad, commissioning ceramicists to create different teacups and tea pots for each room, we spot rough talents, invite Greek fashion designers, organize exhibitions and pop-ups with galleries to exchange art. We want Mona Athens to be constantly alive, a place of experiment that fosters unique memories and encounters”, adds Stefanidi, who ended up becoming the art director of the project.

The roof garden (c) Eftihia Stefanidi

From the rooftop, one looks out to the Acropolis and feels a sudden ‘Greekness’, like being an integral part of Athens. “You can’t take the Greekness out of a building and city: it is embedded in the materials, the terrazzo, the technique used to twist metal in the staircase. We never aimed to be Greek, we simply didn’t want to be one thing or categorize a style. Mona Athens is all about merging and blurring the lines, surfing on opportunities and challenges to create a place that resonates with character and stories”, Stefanidi concludes.

Today, after the success of House of Sila and Mona Athens, the creative duo is scouting for additional buildings and working on new-age farm stay on the island of Skopelos. “We are always so inspired by nature; it feels like our souls are always more awake and creative in the wild”, Stefanidi concludes.