The Sheinmans of Serifos:
A Modern Take on Greek Island Living
Ghostwritten for Andrew Sheinman
(Originally published in Elle Decor)
On the idyllic Aegean island, designer Andrew Sheinman transforms a modest house into a Shangri-la by the sea.
In trade and conquest, religion and nutrition, life in Greece has long emerged from the sea. It seems fitting, then, that it was from the Aegean that I first set eyes upon the humble one-room house on Serifos that I would end up buying and transforming into a retreat for my family.
My wife, Helen, and I had been vacationing in the Cyclades for many years and had fallen in love with Serifos, home to a creative community of artists and writers. That summer, we were renting an apartment in Chora, the ancient fortified town built to repel marauding pirates in medieval times.
One day, we chartered a yacht and set sail around the island. Squinting in the midday sun, I noticed the unassuming structure on a rise above the water. A grove of silver-leafed olive trees dappled sunlight onto the soil below. A stone path meandered down from the house to a pristine stretch of coastline, past prickly pears, fig trees, and bougainvillea bursting from the earthen palette.
I resolved to make this lovely cove into a sanctuary for my family and friends. The timing was right. My daughters, Alexia and Isabel, were immersed in their working lives. My interior design firm, Pembrooke & Ives, was operating at full tilt on projects around the world. We were eager to build a getaway for ourselves, a respite from all of our frenzied lives back in Manhattan.
I have always loved Greece. My first trip was in the 1970s, as a 13-year-old from England, when a friend invited me to sail around the Aegean with his family. Later, I married Helen Tsanos—a beautiful Greek-Cypriot writer, chef, and yoga instructor.
The property was owned by an Atheniancouple who had built the house in the early 1990s. With the assurance that we would nurture the land and keep the original structure at the heart of any additions, they agreed to sell it to us in 2005. In expanding the architecture, we were inspired by the traditional Cycladic design vernacular, from the whitewashed walls to the raw-stone exterior that blends into the landscape.
Like most traditional Greek dwellings, this home is designed to draw guests outdoors. A series of sundecks and terraces fan out organically from the structure. They are the scene of many hours of quiet reading, napping, yoga, and sunbathing.
Indoors, the kitchen is our center of gravity. Though stainless steel, Carrara marble, glass fixtures, and a customized Dutch stove lend an air of refinement to the space, it is designed to be a workhorse. My wife—whose cookbook-cum-memoir, Love Laughter and Lunch, is filled with delicious Greek recipes—can often be found preparing feasts that are then served on the outdoor dining patio. A wood-burning oven bakes pizzas garnished with olive oil from our own grove, and if we wake up in time to meet the boats, we’ll enjoy a lunch of freshly caught fish roasted in salt.
At night, the only lights visible are those of cars winding along mountain roads on the distant island of Sifnos, or a passing ferry gliding to and from the nearby port. Clocks are scarce, so the ferries are our only indicators of the time of day. That and meals, of course.
Serifos was once mined for magnetic iron ore. According to folk belief, this accounts for the island’s allure among artists and seekers. Superstition aside, the house is indeed my family’s lodestar, keeping us connected with the elements, our senses, and one another, and always pointing us in the right direction.