Crystal-blue waters lapping against sun-kissed beaches. The dry, meltemi wind rustling through fuchsia-colored bougainvillea vines. White-washed cubical buildings hugging arid, rugged hillsides that stretch all the way down to turquoise shorelines.
These are just some of the images that have made people fall in love with the stunning, hauntingly beautiful complex of roughly 220 islands that make up the Cyclades in the Aegean archipelago. The Cycladic Civilization's rich history dates all the way back to the late Neolithic age (approx. 3,200 BC) and its relics, the flat idols carved out of local white marble, are lauded the world over as design icons of schematic symmetry that seem to capture within themselves the pure essence of their home islands.
Housed in one of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings on one of the main boulevards in downtown Athens, Greece, the Museum of Cycladic Art houses the largest collection of these evocative figures in the world; and it's recently redesigned, Cycladic Shop and Café, brings the minimal spirit of the feel, light and tastes of the Cyclades Islands to the very heart of the city.
The award winning firm in charge of the remodel, Kois Associated Architects, was inspired by the simple and thoughtful elements of traditional Cycladic art and expertly melded them with the building's classical character. The Shop space, a stunning amalgam of earthy walnut wood, glass and mirror, opens up to welcome visitors in stages, organically and on two levels. As stated by the firm, the design is a play on the "confrontation between introversion and extroversion."
The selection of unique items available in the Shop have been created by Greek and international artists and are inspired by the Museum's permanent collections of millennia-old Cycladic and Ancient Greek art. Housed in a cubic space, the Shop offers visitors the chance to uncover covetable, timeless gifts, the proceeds of which go towards supporting the Museum's educational programs. Each and every item has been expertly curated by Yatzer founder, Costas Voyatzis, and Tina Daskalantonaki, and conceived and designed with the truly discerning in mind: visitors can buy small pieces of ancient history through the Shop's selection of Cycladic statue copies, useful marble objects crafted using 4,500-year-old techniques, or stunning copies of ancient Greek jewellery, which are available side by side with contemporary pieces from new, local designers.
Across the way, visitors are welcomed into the Cycladic Café for a chance to experience the marriage of Cycladic culture and daily city life with a literal taste from the islands. For this purpose, Kois Associated Architects created a sparse, serene and sun-filled garden in the city, the hallmark of the space undoubtedly being the Stelios Kois-designed roof screens which allow natural sunlight to filter through, creating subtle shadings. The plentiful natural light is further accented by the thoughtful lighting design by Eleftheria Deko, while the marble benches and wall of plants which reaches all the way to the atrium's ceiling has been carefully designed bydoxiadis + (Aggeliki Mathioudaki, Architect, Landscape Architect). The Cycladic Café, which is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, offers a delicious and seasonal menu and features the pure flavours and aromas of the Cyclades prepared with the freshest ingredients.
While the Cycladic islands' crystal-blue waters, meltemi breezes and white-washed buildings may not be in everybody's backyard, if you're in Athens, a visit the Shop & Café at the Museum of Cycladic Art provides the next best thing: a sensory, tactile and - definitely - tasteful island experience in the city!
Originally published in Yatzer