Renovated Retro Chic Apartment Celebrates City's Cultural History

A small apartment in Athens, Greece gets a 1970s-inspired makeover.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects interior

Never Too Small

People often choose to live in certain places because there is a certain historical or cultural charm to them. That's often true with people opting to live in bustling metropolises, perhaps sacrificing quiet and an abundance of living space for something a bit smaller, in order to live right in the heart of an attractive neighborhood, proving that the idea of "location, location, location" is indeed paramount.

One couple in Athens, Greece, did just that by choosing to renovate and reside in a small 516-square-foot (48-square-meter) apartment in the elegant neighborhood of Kolonaki (literally, "little column" in Greek). In tapping local firm Cluster Architects for the job of overhauling what was formerly an open plan space serving as an artist's studio, and then a publisher's offices, the couple indicated that they wanted to preserve the apartment's cultural history, in addition to matching the new interiors to the building's overall retro style from the 1970s. The results are something quite elegant yet functional, as we see from this short video tour of the renovated space via Never Too Small:

The existing layout of the Kolonaki Apartment faced a couple of challenges, the top one being a lack of natural light due to it having only one large window and one balcony. Another issue is the small footprint, which meant that the architects had to develop a more open plan for the layout, rather than putting up partitions that would further diminish the sense of spaciousness.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects interior

Never Too Small

To start, the architects developed their new scheme around a few elements that had to remain in place: a central pillar, as well as a kitchen and bathroom that could not move due to the existing plumbing.

The new layout now has several distinct areas: an entry zone, a dining area, a living room, bedroom, and a kitchen and bathroom. Each zone has its own character, while being visually or spatially separated by means of perforated partitions, open shelving or translucent glass walls, which allow light to pass through, without compromising privacy.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects interior

Never Too Small

For instance, in the entry area, we are welcomed with a view of the central pillar, whose roundness evokes the sense that movement flows around it. The column has a custom golden light fixture wrapped around it, making it all the more striking. Tall wardrobes here allow the inhabitants to store things, or hang guests' coats.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects entry

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Just off to the side of the entry, separated by a well-lit perforated wall, we have a small dining nook in the corner, which features a custom-made bench that has storage incorporated underneath. On the wall, the designers chose to preserve the decades-old autographs of various Greek artists and intellectuals, to showcase the cultural history of this small apartment that once served as a local artist's studio.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects dining area

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Colored mirrors above the column help to reflect light and brighten up this dark corner, and to add an extra sense of depth.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects ceiling

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Beyond the set of custom-designed open shelving, we have the living room, which includes a convertible sofa for guests, as well as a unique sofa cantilevering out the wall, which is made to look lighter and less bulky than a typical sofa.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects living room

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The kitchen has been redone with a long, curved counter, echoing the round form of the column. Appliances and storage has been incorporated in the curved drawers and cabinets underneath the counter, as well as in the black-panelled cabinets opposite the counter.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects kitchen

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The bedroom sits to off to the side of the living room, and is wrapped in a skin of translucent glass that follows the profile of the curved kitchen counter. As the architects explain, their decision was meant to tackle that challenging lack of light to the rest of the interiors:

"The bedroom maintains all its intimacy surrounded by a metal construction filled in with semi-transparent glass. At the same time this amplifies light throughout the apartment through the window placed right next to the bed. The blurry figures behind this translucent wall enhance the experience of the space."
Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects bedroom

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The bedroom has a beautiful Japanese-inspired built-in wardrobe, covered with wooden frames and shoji paper, and lit with LED lighting.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects bedroom

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The bathroom, on the other hand, occupies the darkest corner of the apartment, just behind the kitchen. Yet, it doesn't feel cramped, thanks to the judicious use of natural materials and reflective surfaces to make it feel larger.

Kolonaki Apartment renovation by Cluster Architects bathroom

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Cities are growing, and often it's greener to overhaul existing buildings rather than build anew. So while the apartment might be informed by the aesthetic of a bygone decade, the overall design process is informed by timeless principles that transcend any era, as Cluster Architect co-founder Lora Zampara explains:

"A small living space should be functional, ergonomic, and versatile, according to the needs of the users. The architectural design needs to be smart, to make the space not look limited, by using appropriate materials, natural or artificial light to give depth or perspective."

To see more, visit Cluster Architects.