Anytime is perfect for a stroll down to Yialos beach next to Myconos Town’s old harbor. Recently, many passers-by have been stopping in front of the Ai Nikolaki church for a closer look at two new additions to the local landscape: a welcoming bench and an aerodynamic lamp post.
Both are the work of Greek designer Minas, who created them especially for the island which he’s been visiting for a number of years. What is it that he loves most about Myconos? “The kind of simplicity that leads to the shapes. They are softened by the wind,” Minas told K.
A mix of Cycladic aesthetics and contemporary technology lies at the core of Minas’s project, which aims to breathe new life into a long-neglected concept in Greece, public space living. The initiative belongs to three young members of the local authority, Myconos Mayor Constantinos Koukas, Deputy Mayor Miltiadis Atzamoglou and municipal councilor Maria P. Kousathana, who approached the designer with the idea of redefining the Yialos landscape. Minas gladly accepted the proposal, on the condition of providing his services pro bono. “I was overjoyed,” he said. “Because of what will remain.”
On an island whose tourism identity – and price list – are a constant subject of discussion, the designer’s take on the Yialos revamp pointed to a new perspective: not another work of art, but a study on public life and elegance.
“Greece doesn’t transmit design; it follows design. The power of design in public spaces is tremendous,” said Minas. “Besides, the term ‘aesthetics’ is generally absent from the country’s education system, as if forbidden. Nevertheless, it was born here.”
The project’s presentation recently in the courtyard of the town’s archaeological museum included a display of the designer’s initial sketches for the project.
“The lamp post and the bench will change the face of Myconos Town forever. Myconos is changing, highlighting its character,” noted the mayor on the night, while also referring to the ongoing exhibition “Vanity,” at the same museum, where ancient jewelry pieces converse with contemporary jewels – among them a silver hairpiece designed by Minas – and a production performed at the ancient theater on Delos this summer, the first after a 2,000-year “break.”
Meanwhile, with regard to the Yialos project, the municipality is inviting residents to adopt a lamp post or a bench and see their family or business names engraved on them – a donation “that will remain unaltered long after we’re gone,” noted Minas.
A multifaceted figure whose creative agenda includes gold and silver jewelry (free of precious or semi-precious stones), furniture, residences and medical tools, among others, Minas is a special case. In another country, given different conditions and expectations, he would be an industrial designer with orders executed at local production units. At home in Greece, he seems like a well-hidden secret whose talent travels by word of mouth – which suits him just fine.
The bench and the lamp post emerged after 10 months, nine of which were spent on research. “I’m not an architect, I’m a one-man show,” he said, as he explained that he scouted areas in Attica, Viotia and all the way up to Thessaloniki to locate the right craftsmen to carry out his plan.
The lamp post, a small lighthouse for boats coming into the harbor, has two lamps: one to direct the vessels and another to guide those walking past Yialos. The lamp post is made of 316 stainless steel with a gray Dionysos marble base. The bench, inspired by the seats that would have been reserved for eminent personalities at ancient Greek theaters, is made of Asian teak and Dionysos marble. A dip in the top rail of the back invites the user to extend their arm along it. “The lamp was developed in collaboration with the light and the wind, while its material was a collaboration with the sea, for it to last longer,” he said. “The bench is a collaboration with human anatomy.”
Born in Athens in 1938, Minas began working as an apprentice silversmith at the age of 15. In 1969, the year of Woodstock, he arrived in New York, where he lived for about a decade. In 1992, he was named the first non-Scandinavian designer to collaborate with Danish group Georg Jensen & Royal Copenhagen, to develop a wristwatch and china collections. Last year, a Minas store opened its doors in Knightsbridge, London.
The designer’s relationship with Myconos dates back to 1969, when he arrived on the island for a few days chasing a failed love affair. Another began, however, and on his way back from New York, he decided to construct a home-studio on the island. In a magazine interview in the mid-1980s he had expressed a desire to change everything on the island. In 1998, the Minas store opened in Myconos Town.
“For me the island was like an ‘embassy’ to the world. This is where I met the Royal Copenhagen people, where I hosted the Rolling Stones,” he said, referring to his long-lasting friendship with Keith Richards, who once said to him, ‘You make music with shapes.’”
“You can’t compare then and now – in the old days there was no electricity after 9 p.m.,” said Minas. “But a small boat that takes you to Delos is still a luxury. The island is the point that brings the puzzle together.”
If the core of the designer’s work on the design table is the ancient Greek world – the Classical period and the Cycladic shapes, among others – his work on the Yialos bench and the lamp post enriched his own creative puzzle. “The project opened doors for me. It connected me to new developments in technology, something which I was not up to speed with through jewelry, but which has become a necessity today.”
While thoughts for more “public space” changes at Yialos continue, one wonders what kind of feedback Minas would like to hear from locals regarding his contribution so far. “I would like to hear that they were well executed, even if they don’t like them.”
When the LED lamps (which guarantee minimum power consumption and have a general life expectancy of 50,000 hours) went on for the first time last month, a group of locals and visitors gathered at Yialos.
“Many people seemed moved,” said Minas. “I did not see anyone saying anything negative. There was a lady, my age. I kissed her hand impulsively. She said to me: ‘This little sofa of yours? I really like it.’”
* This article first appeared in K magazine.