People: Eftihia Stefanidi on blending hospitality with art at Shila Athens

People: Eftihia Stefanidi on blending hospitality with art at Shila Athens

Dimitris Kossyfas | 29 October 2021

Where do we find you these days?

At Shila in Kolonaki and in artist studios preparing our first ceramics show, opening on the 15th of November.

Tell us a bit about yourself and background

I am drawn to everything aesthetically gratifying, to people that are passionate about what they do, and a little larger than life, to a sense of mystery and adventure. My sensibilities are heavily influenced by the worlds of theater and cinema. I studied theater in Greece, filmmaking in Prague and film aesthetics in Oxford. I lived abroad for several years, mainly in London and New York. I travelled extensively and worked in many creative fields. My fascination with film organically led me to approach it from many angles – mainly as film programmer and critic at festivals at first, and eventually through my years with Secret Cinema, a live experiential events organisation that recreated cinematic environments in epic London locations.

Along the way I kept photographing and filming people and scenes. Photography has been a companion. I feel as if I’ve lived many lives, that I carry with me, and keep adding on! It is certainly reflected through Shila. Everything takes a visual meaning, like photographic tableaux.

What’s your favourite food destination(s) in Greece and why?

My favourite food destination is a small taverna on the beach, somewhere in the Aegean for a late summer lunch. Pure and fresh. I love eating in Tinos and Crete. Recently I visited Ikaria and I was lucky to taste cooking by local grandmothers. All their ingredients were homegrown, from their land. Heaven.

Travel Food People - Shila, Athens
Travel Food People - Shila, Athens
Travel Food People - Shila, Athens
Travel Food People - Shila, Athens

What’s your favourite travel destination(s) in Greece and why?

At sea I’m at my best. It’s my favourite state of being. It took me some years afar to eventually perceive Greece as a magical place surrounded by mythical waters and mesmerising islands. So many destinations inspire me, for they hold different memories and symbolisms. I escape in Hydra many times a year, it feels like a second home. I always return to Tinos, Kythira, Kimolos. Patmos’ landscape also fascinates me. The canteen of Nikos & Theologia just above Didimes beach is for me a high end food experience. Greece is also gorgeous by land. I enjoy road trips in Mani and the Zagorochoria region.

Destination or restaurant you can’t wait to get back to?

Mylos in Leros and Il Casta in Hydra. I love the people behind them, so much passion!

Tell us a bit about the story behind your hotel

Shila came to life rather serendipitously. Myself and Shai (Shila’s owner) crossed paths in Greece at a very ripe moment for Athens, and embarked on this adventure that is called making a hotel. We fell in love with the neoclassical building from the 1920s, tucked away on this pedestrian path in Kolonaki, and decided that it will be a ‘hotel particulier’, and concurrently, a space for social interaction, a stage for artists to collaborate and exhibit.

We worked with moodboards, where each room was coming to life with a personality of its own. We designed on the go, ideas and materials were coming to us as we went along.

Our team was inspired to create from the heart, to challenge the formulaic hotel mentality, and to dare to be different. Shai is very good at envisioning outside the box and loves a design challenge. I was excited to interpret this project through the prism of theatricality, as a live experience. I saw Shila as a playground for narratives, where storytelling can be engineered in such ways where you can make people forget reality; to transport them. We live in the era of “connectivity” and of too much information available at our fingertip. Things often feel predictable. With Shila we found a window to channel some “endangered” values: whimsicalness, curiosity, spontaneity, the element of surprise. These things are the things that matter in the end.

Shila Athens, Athens - La Boheme
Shila Athens, Athens - The Dreamers
Shila Athens, Athens - La Boheme

What’s your favourite spot of your hotel and why?

Shila’s Rooftop. Shila Social Club, taking place every Thursday with a curated list of invitees, is a mix of like-minded international flâneurs and locals, meeting up at the bar. Eventually this community will expand through Mona, the sister property we are opening in 2022. Our membership scheme is currently being designed based on the Social Club.

How has COVID impacted your hotel and the hospitality industry?

COVID-19 slowed down traveling, which, of course, has impacted our industry, However it has made us more creative and resourceful, which has brought elevation. We no longer consider Shila as merely a boutique hotel. It was destined to be, and even more relevant now, a space to stage anything one can imagine. Our spaces have become hosts to private events, pop-up exhibitions and film sets, and the possibilities are endless – you just need imagination.

How do you see socialising and events moving forward in the industry?

I see it being more selective, with a focus on privacy, comfort and a sense of intimacy. Perhaps one positive outcome of the pandemic is that we are now more aware about what is valuable and of a certain quality, and we actively seek for it.

Shila remains a well-kept secret amongst those that love unique hospitality experiences. Other than staying with Shila, how can one take part in the community around it?

One great thing about Shila is that it has attracted people without them being necessarily hotel guests. Our language is aesthetics and has become our channel of communication that leads to crossing paths with incredible souls. We keep collaborating with artists, designers, chefs, entrepreneurs, perfumers, actors, and any type of passionate individuals that like to create.

Travel Food People - Shila, Athens

What are the future projects you’re currently thinking of?

At the moment the focus is in preparing our membership scheme through Shila’s Social Club and launching Shila Maison d’Objets, our e-commerce shop of hand picked art and design objects. In addition, we are excited to be working on Mona, the sister property located in the Monastiraki-Psirri area, which will have an interesting culinary angle. In addition, a project on the island of Skopelos is in the making. This is the country-house of Shila, rather excitingly launching next summer.

We keep having many ideas about our spaces, and at some point we would love to stage something of a larger scale, a live immersive experience that will unfold throughout the building and will involve collaborators and artists that can work on the level of the site-specific.

Who are the people of Shila?

We have been lucky to have attracted very talented creators throughout the making of this project. Our brilliant interior designer, Anna Bonnet, is a friend who came midway into the project, having previous experience in interiors and furniture making in NY and Mexico.

Generally speaking, successful collaborations are really about the art of matching with the right people. We tend to care less about curriculum vitae, and more about open-mindedness, a versatile attitude, and a certain energy that aligns with our vision.

How do you see your concept through time? 

I am particularly interested in the beauty one creates as a way of living, which is largely found in the details, the spaces we inhabit, through traveling, meeting people. Hospitality was something we discovered along the way and really fits this journey. Perhaps it becomes a pathway for us to create more beautiful “homes” in the future, in the sense of them becoming “vessels” for ideas we are inspired to materialise.

Cover image: Marco Arguello

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