Whilst many of us have a particular fondness for another country, for Tasman Forge CEO, Tim Bleackley the affinity with Greece and her islands goes much deeper.
It is these multiple layers of connection that have seen one particular island become his second home in recent years. We sat down with Tim to ask him about his relationship with Greece, and hear about the home he has renovated with interior designer partner Wendy.
Q When did your love for Greece begin?
My parents lived in and worked in Athens before I was born. I remember listening to them reminiscing about the happy years they spent there, and the friendships they made. A few of their friends from 60 years ago I still see when I return. After studying in the UK I went to live in Athens, eventually developing my wrought iron business there.
My time there in the 80’s and 90’s made me understand and appreciate my parents love for Greece. Its welcoming and friendly people, amazing climate, long days and unique culture. In the 90’s I met my Kiwi partner Wendy, who was working as an interior designer in Athens, then moving to NZ in the late 90’s.
Q Tell us about the building you have made your home. Where is it located, and what was it about the structure that captured your imagination?
Living and working in Athens in the 80’s and 90’s was fast paced, so we would often escape to nearby islands for the weekends. Since moving to New Zealand we would yearn for those long summer evenings with friends on the islands. Especially in the winter months here in NZ when the days were cold and short.
A few years ago we decided to purchase a small house on an island in Greece, where we could escape the New Zealand winter for a few months each year, and catch up with old friends. We visited 19 different islands looking for the one we would want to live on. We eventually decided on Andros.
Close enough to Athens (only a couple of hours by boat), the island has ancient walking paths and natural springs, with water running through our village all year round. It’s not very touristy, but it’s just a short ferry ride to busier places such as Paros and Mykonos.
Our house is in the village of Stenies. It’s just 10 minutes from the main town of Chora, with its architecturally beautiful old buildings, outdoor movie theatres, museums, galleries and amphitheatre.
Our village Stenies (pronounced Sten-Yez), is situated on a hillside overlooking the sea. It is made up of ancient paths and alleyways, and there are no roads or cars in the village. You either park at the top, at the bottom or on the edge of the village and walk to your house.
Our house is a traditional old stone and plaster house with a tiled roof, built in the 1920’s, with 70cm thick walls and 3.7m high wooden ceilings. It had perfect bones for us, and we both knew upon first sight this was ‘the one’. So later in the day we met up with the owner at a little taverna by the sea, and purchased the house.
Q What was involved in the renovation process? Were there additional challenges undertaking this work in a different country?
The day after we purchased the house we met up with friends from the UK for a week on Skopelos (another Greek Island). We spent any spare time drawing up plans of how we wanted our new house to look and function with our ideas for renovation. We would interview builders on return to Andros, showing them our plans to get quotes, and decide on who we could rely on to carry out our renovation.
Photo: House exterior prior to renovation
Upon returning we met the first builder at the house, showing him our plans for the renovation. We decided not to look for another builder, as he understood our ideas and what we we were trying to achieve. The renovation was going to be carried out during the winter in Greece when we were back in New Zealand.
The only real difficulty was the time difference between the two countries, because discussions with the builder were either very late at night or early in the morning. Fortunately FaceTime enabled our builder to walk us through any issues, and we could work towards solutions on the spot.
Photo: House exterior following renovation
Q Which aspect of the renovation did you enjoy the most?
It was great to work on a stone house. With the different skills and materials needed it gave us more freedom with the design. We didn’t have to have everything perfect being an old stone house.
Q Your partner Wendy is an Interior Designer here in New Zealand. How was it working together on the design elements and style for your shared home?
We have renovated homes together in both Greece and New Zealand. I’ve also worked with Wendy on various commissioned pieces for her clients at Tresson Interior Design. We work well together, but I definitely leave the architectural and interior design to Wendy. She is always able to figure out the best use of space and create the perfect, timeless, look.
The dark and outdated kitchen was transformed into a modern, functional and light space. Uplifting decorative, original entrance floor tiles to create a beautiful yet durable kitchen table, forever preserves the history of the home.
Photo: Kitchen prior to renovation
Photo: Kitchen following renovation
Q As designers, travel to new cities and countries offers another layer of inspiration. Where have you sought inspiration and what aspect of Greece is evident in your work?
Having lived and travelled around Greece over many years I think I’ve perhaps absorbed a certain Greek harmonious and classic style into my work. I’ve never knowingly tried to replicate anything I’ve seen, but the things I’ve seen and experienced whilst living in Greece have influenced me, my ideas and style through osmosis.
Q What advice would you offer anyone considering renovating their home away from home?
Try and learn the language as much as possible. The locals always appreciate the effort. Speak to neighbours who have carried out similar work for advice around what you can and can’t do.
Our village is a protected village, and only certain materials can be used when renovating. You can’t use aluminium or PVC windows and doors in our village. If doing anything structural speak to an engineer, and get relevant planning/paperwork signed off.
Photo: Stenies Beach