MYKONOS' laid-back, out-of-this-world ambience had a magical, enchanting charm for French architect Jean-Pierre Heim who built his holiday residence on an astonishing hilltop overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Every year Heim visits his five-bedroom Blue Rock Villa on the Greek island of Mykonos to reconnect with nature. Built in 1991, the striking villa comprised of two symmetrical houses sits atop a rock hill with an uninterrupted 360-degree view of the Cycladic Islands and the archeological site of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.
"As an architect and designer I wanted to create my very own environment in a place that I have enjoyed the most. Mykonos is a magical place where beauty and energy merge," Heim said.
The simple lines and fresh colors of traditional Cycladian architecture had inspired Heim during the design process. His design was based on respecting nature and its resources while providing a pleasant place to live for his family. He has established his summer studio in the house.
"I wanted to create a very Cycladic home and to preserve the rock environment. I have designed this villa with symbols originating in local history and Cyclades principles, such as curved edges, symmetrical shapes and simple materials like local stone and white traditional plaster walls," the architect said. He said its vernacular form complies with strict local construction laws.
It evokes the traditional architectural style of the island, with characteristic elements like domes, rounded walls and a whitewashed facade combined with stone walls that help to "ground'' the classic yet modern design.
The result had balanced the best qualities of past and present with the ancient Cycladic builders' respect for the constraints of nature, creating a unique environment of sparkling white walls, charming bedrooms with their own baths and terraces, picturesque patios and plantings that surround the house and reflect the direction of the wind, welcoming tents and pergolas that protect terraces from the summer sun, and angled roofs that collect winter rain for later use.
The very hip white and turquoise lap-pool with its sunken gazebo is the focal point of the property, more so at night with its blue halogen lighting within. The water appears to hover at the edge of the world with an infinite horizon of 360 degrees surrounding the swimmer, which is profoundly pleasing to the eye in a dry landscape like that of Mykonos.
"However, creating such an idealized vision of water that would also serve as a functional piece of athletic equipment for swimming posed a considerable challenge," Heim said. The land at the edge of the property's stone wall, the most desirable site for the pool, is narrow and abrupt. Careful planning, design and construction have resulted in an alluring, canal-like, 60-foot-long, white-painted lap pool that is edged with a light-absorbing, anti-slip, colored cement. It is symbolically interrupted by an "island" in the middle of the channel containing a sunken dry "salon'' covered with a tent.
"Once a swimmer is ready to leave the water, the 'island' offers a quiet zone for relaxing that is like being aboard a sail boat," Heim said.
It is also bioclimatic architecture. While the villa is occupied mostly in the summer, its vernacular form makes living in Mykonos a tantalizing, year-round possibility.
The exterior's natural, earthy aesthetic was taken a step further indoors. Rounded walls, rock elements, partial walls with built-in display nooks carry the same distinctive Mediterranean look.
The interiors have been decorated with various art objects and paintings in an elegant, sober style. The hardware, furnishings and accessories have been selected by Heim from the best sources worldwide. "I'm a world traveler inspired by many cultures. My architecture job brings me all over the place so I had opportunities to collect many pieces of art and furniture." His collections come from Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, India and Indonesia.
The outdoor living room furniture, for example, comes from Mexico. Indoor furniture comes from many places: carpets, lamps and millwork are products of Morocco; iron work has been fabricated in Tunisia, and the doors represent the handicrafts of India and Saudi Arabia.
There are many terraces and patios where the family can relax, entertain or simply contemplate the view.
"The main philosophy for a design residence is first the geographical environment and the owner's personality. The mix of the two will bring the success of design. Integrating local culture climate and function also leads to great results," Heim said.
Heim runs his architectural and interior design practice in New York, Paris and Shanghai. Jean-Pierre HEIM and Associates has developed a rich portfolio of private residences, office interiors, luxury stores, restaurants, hotels and resorts. His clientele include international business as well as individuals, including as Van Cleef & Arpels, Baccarat, Lanvin and Club Med.
He is currently launching his new brand design firm in China HEIMDESIGN, creating design concepts for projects like the Shanghai Yacht Club on the Bund.
Who is she?
An artist, designer and architect for more than 20 years, Dutch-born Rosan Bosch is the founder of Rosan Bosch Ltd, a Copenhagen-based interdisciplinary design agency. Commissions range from the total design of schools and libraries to public art installations and creative office environments. Bosch questions prevailing norms and seeks new ways of thinking and acting. Her vision is to use art and design as tools for change and development.
Describe some of your works.
I am very proud of our work at the Swedish school VittraTelefonplan in Stockholm. Our main goal was to create an environment that motivate students and make them associate learning with something positive. After the opening last year I have received many positive responses from parents. Sometimes they even have difficulties getting their kids home from school! It makes me glad, because it indicates we fulfilled our goal and helped the school carry out its educational principles.
I am very proud of our work at LEGO where we designed the company's development department. The idea was to reflect the fun, playfulness and creativity of children's fantasy world in the physical office environment. Among other things, we installed a slide to connect two floors and created exhibition platforms to display designers' innovations.
What's your latest work?
We have just finished two more schools in Sweden and we are working with the Danish Bornholm Free School to create a whole new learning environment to facilitate digital learning. We are also involved in a very exciting project developing a digital exhibition space at Copenhagen train station called Vallensbaek Station.
Describe your design style.
My ideal is to create environments to inspire and motivate people - whether a school, an office building or a public space. Thus, my philosophy is not so much about aesthetics or end products as it is about the process of change and development that can be initiated by shaping physical surroundings in new ways.
When designing a space, I always work a lot with the people who are going to use the space to make sure the design will both reflect and challenge their ideas and make a real difference in their everyday life.
Take a school. Learning is supposed to be fun but many kids do not find school fun at all. The design of our schools is still patterned on an approach where the teacher spoke while the students listened. My goal is to create environments that turn learning into a playful experience that also facilitates the integration of new technologies into the learning environment. The same is true of the workplace. We need to look into ways of motivating staff and unleashing their creativity. That can be done by creating more stimulating environments to facilitate knowledge sharing and innovative ideas.
Where are you most creative?
In general, it's very inspiring to work with people of different backgrounds. As a European designer, I have a lot to learn from the Asian design approach, and I think it could be exciting to work with Asian companies and let our two "worlds" meet. Design speaks a universal language that can bring people together across cultural and social boundaries. My ideal is not to export design products to the Asian market - I find it a lot more fruitful to build relations and find collaborative partners and work together on design solutions.