An art gallery-style habitat on a Greek island

On the remote island of Antiparos, architect Argyro Pouliovali was commissioned to build a modern, minimalist home in keeping with the whitewashed approach of the Cyclades Museum of Art. For a young architect, piecing together small and forgettable tasks is a career path.
In the summer of 2013, Aiello Priovalli, who was 26 and pregnant with her first child, was in her native Greece, designing an information center for some upstart Athens art fair. A year later, she set about completing an economical and enjoyable renovation of the beachfront hotel on the island of Antiparos that her husband had purchased. In the meantime, she lives on Cyclades with her husband and their newborn son.
“It was a simple job, nothing fancy.” Priovalli, now 36, recalls, “In fact, it was the opposite – it’s not easy to renovate a place without presenting signs of human touch. I know it’s very old-fashioned Cycladic style, but the building is so lovely that you don’t want to destroy it.” Swiss art dealer Eva Presen-huber took notice of her work. Presen-huber, who runs several galleries in Zurich, Vienna and New York, also happened to be on the island of Antiparos during the summer. She rented a modest project space in town and installed a show. Several of her artists were staying at the hotel, and one day she met the couple on the patio and became longtime friends.
“Eva is one of those ‘I understand what you’re doing here’ people.” Priovalli said, “He said to me, ‘But anytime I buy a property and build a house, I’m willing to let you design it.'” Priovalli politely brushed off her kind words. “I said, ‘Yes, thank you very much, Eva. Thanks a lot and have a nice life.'” She said, “However, three days later, she came back to me and said, ‘I bought the land. Let’s build a house.'” The islands of the Aegean, despite their extraordinary beauty, are not part of Priovalli’s childhood memories; she comes from the northern city of Thessaloniki, which is full of Byzantine ruins and forested slopes, and it was only in her early 20s that she made her first visit to Antiparos, taking short trips between the islands with her friends. Between camping and dancing at La Luna’s evening discos, Priovari picked up the basic architectural language of whitewashed art galleries and powder-blue carpentry that defines the Cycladic style.
Antiparos sits at the center of the egg-shaped archipelago, between the islands of Sifnos and Naxos, dwarfed by sister island Paros, which has more than 10 times the population and is also more mountainous. It’s this relatively benign terrain and backwardness that makes the smaller island attractive, Priovalli says. Cave explorers might think differently: the Antiparos caves have been attracting visitors since at least the 17th century, and their stalactites and stalagmites have drawn hordes of treasure hunters from classical sculpture. Today, the beach is a magnet for modern-day hippies, individual celebrities [Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson both own property here] and members of the contemporary art world.

It’s no surprise that people who work in art museums also like to vacation in museum-style buildings; but Christina Papadopoulou, Priovalli’s friend and director of the Gagosian Gallery in Athens, sees more in them. In Antiparos, she says, “even though you can walk barefoot and in a sarong until midnight, and even though the island is not as crowded as Mykonos or Paros, it admittedly has a metropolitan air, a ‘bohemian’ energy.” This seductive call, she believes, “attracts the international art world-artists, curators, or gallery owners-to spend summers here, or to build their own island homes.” [Her own house is due to be completed in about two years; she is working with an Athenian architect, Stelios Kois, whose firm is responsible for renovating an early 20th-century townhouse in the city’s posh Kolonaki district into Gagosian’s new headquarters in 2020.

The plot of land purchased by Presan Uber is located on the southwestern coast of the island of Antiparos, overlooking the protected island of Despotiko, where the ruins of an ancient temple of Apollo have been discovered. Though the ridge behind her is home to a bad-looking development – Priovari disdained its blocky grid of streets, calling it a “Cycladic suburb” – it’s not a bad place to live, but it’s a good place to live. But from her slightly sloping rooftop terrace, there’s nothing but rocks, sea and monotony. It’s Presan Uber’s favorite spot.
“In the summer, my favorite time of day is between 6 and 8:45 p.m.” She said in an email she responded to during Art Basel Miami Beach, one of seven art shows her gallery is participating in for 2022. “I sat on the terrace and watched the sun set in the west, drinking wine and looking at the ruins of the ancient Despotico, which sits on the island of the same name across from my house. It was a profound experience!”
Driving around the southern end of the island, you would initially recognize the home as an unassuming white square, as if it were a napkin tucked under the chin of a hillside. From a distance, it looks symmetrical, but up close there are irregularities: a higher roof on this side, a lattice wall on that side, and inconsistent notches in the windows and doors. The house was conceived as a tribute to the local architectural style of Cyclades, rather than to force a historical template, Priovalli said. The architect said Presan Uber had this to say about Priovalli’s renovated hotel, “It’s cleaner, but very subtle.” “We amplified that principle when we built the house.”
A month after construction began, Priovalli vaguely felt pregnant again. Her 9-month-old son was still nursing. Frustrated, she waited three weeks before taking a test. It came back positive.
“I thought, OK, now you have eight months to finish the design of this house.” She recalls, “I remember it was a very lonely time. Basically, this project launched my career; it was like my 3rd child.” Pressanhuber’s overall requirements for the building couldn’t have been simpler. She wanted as many bedrooms as possible, with one bathroom for every two bedrooms, and a living room that could double as a studio or gallery space. Priovalli decided that the kitchen needed to be large enough and centralized; there was plenty of outdoor space for the inevitable parties and dinners that lay ahead. In the 15 years since Presan Uber came to Antiparos, she’s brought with her a growing group of artists who like to get together when the days are winding down. Joe Bradley, Sam Falls, Wyatt Kahn, and others, including Brooklyn-based painter Austin Eddy in the summer of 2022, have had shows in her intimate exhibition space in town.
To make the most of the tilted site, Priovari decided to do something else with her Cycladic cube-shaped house. It wasn’t essentially to make a grand architectural statement, which is surprising because we read the strict laws very carefully: you can’t have a double-story building [on this part of the island], you can’t do this, you can’t do that; there’s a whole list of things you can’t do,” she says. But there’s nothing in there that says you can’t build a patio.” Seriously, what is a courtyard? Is it difficult to remove a few walls from a cube-shaped house? Priovari takes her cubes apart like a chef unwrapping warm brick Parker roofing rolls and assembles them into a checkerboard of solids and hollows. Then she skillfully stacked two more layers on top, which is not technically a two-story building. The outdoor rooms functioned as fully as the indoor rooms, serving as staging points and circulation points; the outdoor staircase cast spine-tingling shadows on the whitewashed walls.
When the architect and her husband, a real estate developer working in Athens, welcomed their second son in 2015, construction of the house was still underway. Presanoube was busy with the day-to-day running of the gallery, leaving everything entirely in the hands of her architect. Priyovalli is still amazed by this. “Eva really trusted me. I was also very young at the time and wanted to make this work for her.” She says, “There was some communication between us. But I can say that, overall, we built the house with only 10 emails, and I haven’t had that happen since. I think she knows how to manage creative talent and utilize it to the best of her ability.”
When the two women first met, Priovalli was still a student at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. A few years later, she transferred to ETH Zurich, a growing architecture school with a faculty that included the likes of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Priovalli would visit every exhibition held at the Preussenhuber Gallery. From her first semester in Zurich, she was a fish out of water. “It felt great for me because, to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable when I was in Greece.” Priovalli admits, “When I got there, everything resonated: okay, so what I was thinking actually made sense.” It was Swiss architect Christian Kerez, not professors at Aristotle University, who emphasized the fundamentals of light, shadow, proportion, and materials that distilled Mediterranean architecture for her.
Later, Priovalli emphasized the use of Greek materials, especially local ones, when building projects elsewhere on Mykonos, Crete and Antiparos. For a long time, she says, “Greece was not proud of what it had.” The heavy kitchen countertops in the Presan Uber house are made of grained Naxos marble, and the cinnamon-colored stone walls that surround the foundation are from the islands of Paros and Antiparos. Some things in the house were imported, including a pair of cartoon-colored armchairs designed by Toshiyuki Kita and many other works of art.
“I had commissioned artist Matias Faldbakken to create a large tile wall painting in one of the courtyards; it really fits in with the whole building.” Presanhuber says, “All the other artwork, including Ugo Rondinone, Sam Foss, Wyatt Kahn, Oscar Tuazon, Jean-Marie Appriou and Josh Smith), all from my personal collection.”
When her artists come to visit, they gather around the wood-paneled farm table Rodina designed for the kitchen or lounge on the simple sofas, chairs, and tables Priovalli designed. She’s in the process of creating a small company to produce them at this point. When it’s all in place, she says, she’ll post a lin   k to it on her Instagram page and write under her profile, “Learning by doing.”

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