Oh, the dream of coastal living! Raise your hand if you have a secret or not so secret dream of living by the sea someday (don’t hate me, I’m already there). For some, coastal living is the key to their happiness and even if this may sound like an overstatement, no one will deny that living by the sea is good for our soul.
As a subcategory of Mediterranean style, greek island style is the one that immediately brings to mind sunny days, blue waters and endless summer.
I’m sure the picture is familiar to you.
Whitewashed cubes stacked on sun-drenched rock cliffs, usually overlooking the big blue or spread along Cycladic seashores, with small splashes of blue here and there. Chances are you’ve stumbled upon some photo of Mykonos or Santorini or any other greek island on Pinterest on a cold rainy morning while working and wished you could hop on a plane and get there as soon as possible.
Can’t blame you.
Greek island style with its simplicity and beauty is extremely appealing and one of the reasons the greek islands are a dream summer travel destination for people all over the world.
But what makes greek style houses so charming and an endless source of inspiration when it comes to home décor? Is it the white against the blue, the simple life it evokes, the promise of careless summer vacation by the sea? Is it the human scale, the sense of balance and the absolute respect to the landscape and nature?
There are a few thousand islands in Greece, with more than two hundred of them being inhabited. Different historical, social and economic circumstances lead to the development of various architectural styles, all charming and remarkable. “Greek island style” could mean a dozen different things. But the most iconic and famous type of greek home is the Cycladic one. What is generally referred to as “greek island style” is in fact the Cycladic architecture, which is the kind of architecture you’ll find on the Cyclades, the island complex in the heart of the Aegean sea which forms a circle (a kyclos in greek, thus the name) around the ancient sacred island of Delos.
Suppose you went on an island-hopping trip to the Cyclades. You would soon find out that not all of the settlements look the same throughout the Cyclades. There are common features for sure but from one island to the other there are also differences and variations that will surprise pleasantly whoever visits them. Don’t assume that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all!
So, in general terms, how does a typical greek island house of the Cyclades look like and what are the features that make it so special? (Take notes in case that daydream of owning the perfect summer house comes true).
Simplicity is the number one feature of greek island style. Simplicity is also one of the things that attracts us to coastal living, right? Greek island houses are usually humble residences built in past centuries by the poor inhabitants of the Cyclades. In those past times, people didn’t care about making their homes look beautiful. They just wanted to protect themselves from the wind, the cold, the heat and the pirates and they had to do it with what was available. They didn’t have endless choices of materials to choose from, they had to make do with whatever their land gave them and often built their homes with their own hands.
You won’t find anything extravagant here. The volumes are small and follow the landscape. A traditional greek island house takes only the necessary space. It is a small, one-room, rectangular, one or two-storey building with an exterior stairway and a tiny balcony. If it has a small yard, it may include a stone-built oven and tank to collect rainwater. Very narrow cobblestone alleys connect the small houses.
Limewashed to reflect the harsh summer sun but also for sanitization – don’t forget that in past times epidemics were usual.
There’s a big discussion going on about the original color of greek island houses. It seems that not all Cycladic settlements were white in earlier years, there were islands with houses colored with earthy colors like ochre, terracotta but also pink and light blue. The limewashing was decided by the Greek government of 1938 as a means to protect the public health from the contagious diseases of that time.
These walls were built with local stone. The stone was usually plastered but in some cases not totally covered but partially exposed. The walls were very thick, 0.60cm to 1m, as a way to keep the heat and cold outside.
Colorful doors and windows
The predominant color is blue, but there is also gray, red, green, yellow, pink. Against the white walls they look even brighter.
Arches are a common feature of the mediterranean style. In a greek island house you’ll find them inside the house, above the windows or for extra support in larger rooms. Since the available beams were no longer than three meters, arches were needed to construct larger spaces. Also in the public space, arches connect two houses and form passages and covered areas.