Huge thank you to Miguel Flores-Vianna & Vendome Press for letting us have a snippet of this terrific book. Below, we have the introduction by Miguel and a tour of Hydra home of Brice and Helen Marden.
WHAT WOULD MIN HAVE DONE?
“How do I do this?” I wondered to myself when approached to do a book on Greek interiors. “How do I do the country justice?” In one way or another, Greece has been a constant part of the rhythm of my life. My love for this land is profound—this land which welcomes me every summer, making me feel that I am one of its own. Thinking more deeply about the book, I felt that doing something which focused solely on summer places owned by people who lived far away would present a very one-sided view of the country, and would do a great disservice to the rich and varied culture of present-day Greece as well as its extraordinary and lyrical past.
During my research, I found myself thinking back to a trip to the Canary Islands in 2017. At the time, I had been putting the finishing touches to my first Haute Bohemians book, and was visiting the Spanish islands to photograph the house of Min Hogg, the former magazine editor and style-maker. Min is, to my mind, the best interiors editor of all time, single-handedly inventing an editorial “language” that mixed the grand, the humble, the new, and the old, all with dexterity and vision. The issues of The World of Interiors that she edited, although some are more than forty years old now, are timeless. The mix of interiors she put together is something we are used to now, but back then her editorial style was groundbreaking and revolutionary. For me, every encounter with a newly arrived copy of The World of Interiors became a quasi-religious experience. I have kept every single one of Min’s issues.
After two fast-paced days of photography at her home on Grand Canaria, Min was keen to show me around the island, so we spent a couple of days together traversing the rugged geography of the place. It was mid-January and everything was abloom. “This is the first spring of the year,” Min explained, quickly qualifying this with, “There will be a second one in April.” Driving around with her, listening to her stories and taking in the strange beauty of the terrain, helped me to understand her fascination with the island and I became fascinated too. Toward the end of the first day—as we had a late lunch on a terrace overlooking a valley covered with the palimpsest of African, European, and American vegetation so typical of Gran Canaria—Min said: “Tomorrow I want to show you some houses.” Earlier that day, during our drive, I had seen the walls surrounding some of the country estates of the local nobility and I became curious to see Canarian manors up close. But the following day, to my surprise, Min informed me that the first house we would visit was that of her housekeeper. Upon entering the woman’s humble dwelling, I realized why Min wanted me to see it. The simple facade belied its austere interiors. It was devoid of much adornment, but it had been arranged with a mix of nineteenth- and twentieth-century furniture—there were beautiful Thonet chairs, metals beds, and restrained lace curtains. A few simply framed family portraits and religious images hung on the walls, the wooden floors were painted, and occasional silk flowers were immaculately arranged. The rooms felt balanced, peaceful, and devoid of superfluity. After the visit, I asked Min whether she would have published the house if she were still at the helm of her magazine. “Yes,” she replied, her blue eyes twinkling. Those days with her were a lesson to me.
Faced with the somewhat daunting task of showing a country through these pages, I asked myself “What would Min have done?” As I selected the various properties, photographed them, and then later chose which photos to include, I followed one connecting thread—authenticity. I decided that each of these places, whether old or new, lived-in or a historical destination, should be a true representation of those who had created it, an extension of their inhabitants’ lives and one that clearly spoke of the geography of their experiences. I wanted to be moved by these spaces—thinking that, if they had that effect on me, they would also be able to move whoever holds this book. I determined that each place should represent a real point of view, which may not necessarily be my own but, because of its authenticity, could be understood across all tastes and cultures. This philosophy, which I have followed throughout the book, is Min’s legacy. Although I do not have any Greek blood, Greece has touched my whole family in many ways. Both my parents traveled its territory extensively from a young age and grew to love it immensely. My mother often told me about arriving in Santorini in the late 1950s to be greeted by locals holding flaming torches to welcome one of the first group of tourists to visit the island. My father was always happy to tell how his doubts about pursuing a medical career had been allayed during a visit to Delphi.
My own love for Greece started long before I ever set foot in the country. It began in 1967, at a children’s Mardi Gras party at the Club Social in Posadas, Argentina. My mother, who had just returned from a visit to the Peloponnese, had decided that I would attend the ball dressed as an evzone. I loved the attention I got that evening. Everybody asked me what was I dressed as. “Soldado de la Guardia Real Griega,” was my proud reply. Many, many years later, during a warm summer evening on the island of Hydra, I spotted the former king, Constantine of the Hellenes, being driven in the front seat of one of the island’s four vehicles, an ambulance. As the car passed, I surprised myself by shouting, in Spanish, “Viva el Rey!” In a split second, the elderly monarch turned his head, looked at me, and sticking his arm through the ambulance’s window, grabbed my hand, and smiled. That evening, for a brief moment, I was an evzone again.
Long live Greece!
En route, London to Los Angeles, 10 April 2022
THE SOUND OF RUSTLING BAMBOO
HELEN AND BRICE MARDEN
HYDRA TOWN, HYDRA
Helen and Brice Marden’s house is full of echoes, shadows, and subtleties that whisper hints about their captivating lives. I am alone in their house, and find that the spaces I am photographing are, at times, mysterious and umbrous and yet open and full of light. The Mardens, both as protagonists and as witnesses, have been at the very center of the art firmament of our day, and it feels humbling and life-enhancing to see all the things that make their everyday lives sing and shimmer.
The couple has been coming to Hydra for decades, and they own two properties on the island. The one that I am photographing is the Lower House, set a few steps from the main harbor. Built in the eighteenth century, this solid and grandly proportioned structure does not belie the Herculean artistic endeavors that are embraced within its walls. The vast house, full of the creaks, cracks, and murmurs of time, has a certain operatic atmosphere which reminds one, at times, of those wonderful sets from Visconti’s The Leopard. I can almost see Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon chasing each other through room after wondrous room.
Upstairs, where the studio is, there is a room simply furnished with a daybed, a cupboard, and a potting table. The spare beauty of their shapes and faded colors reminds me of a three-dimensional Morandi still life, poised and elegant, awaiting a canvas and brush. Next to this room is the studio proper; work tools—in the form of brushes and twigs—take on the role of sculptures, beautifully frozen, ready to be called back to their noble chores.
The house is quiet, its silence broken only by the movement of foliage coming from the garden—a protective green carapace where nature, one of the couple’s other loves, is free to grow undisturbed. One afternoon as I walked around this garden with Yannis, the man who looks after the property, he pointed to a small bamboo grove and explained that the couple had asked him to plant it. “They find the rustle of the leaves inspiring,” he said.
Buy the book by clicking here - Haute Bohemians: Greece by Miguel Flores-Vianna - £65 , Published by Vendome Press