An opportunity to sleeping inside silos structures, between steel, timber, and engineered glass. In conversation with Nikos Karaflos, the founder of the rural Dexamenes Seaside Hotel in the Western Peloponnese
An industrial structure symbolizing the development and production of Greek’s black currant grape was the core of entrepreneur-turned-hotelier Nikos Karaflos’ vision for the Dexamenes Seaside Hotel in the Western Peloponnese.
The original buildings were built by the Autonomous Currants Organisation in the 1920s as a facility for conversion of the unsold stock of currants into wine, giving the product a second opportunity for exportation. The winery was active until the early 1980s and then closed, only to be abandoned until 2003 when Nikos Karaflos’ family bought the place. He was attracted to the brutalism of the existing buildings, their history, and their significance for the local economy and culture.
After many years, the planning for its conversion into a resort started. Nikos Karaflos contacted and met Konstantinos and Dimitris Karampatakis, founders of K-studio architects and started analyzing the layout of the buildings, the area of the tanks (30 sqm each — an ideal area for a resort’s suite) and the rest of the buildings (the ex Engine Room that is now part of the restaurant).
“From the outset, it was clear that the strong history and raw beauty of the existing buildings should not only be preserved but be showcased in a design that would breathe new life into their walls. The new design complements their brutalism with elegance and transforms their austerity and functionality into a place of calm, comfort, and relaxation. A complementary palette of concrete, steel, timber, and engineered glass ensures that new construction elements leave the existing buildings untouched in their presence,” said the architects.
The Western Peloponnese has always been a destination for travelers and nature lovers. Since the ’80s, hospitality has become a key industry for Greece. And while greek islands started getting flooded with guests during the summer months, the Peloponnese was kept under the radar. It was an off-the-beaten-path destination — attracting, for the most part, those from Central Europe who enjoy immersing themselves in the local culture, exploring archaeological sites, respecting cultural norms and the environment, and establishing friendships with the locals. The Peloponnese remained therefore untouched, its natural and cultural heritage not altered by mass tourism.
Guests who choose to book at Dexamenes usually don’t know exactly what they should expect. They know that they will sleep inside wine tanks, that the hotel is on the beach, that it has a cultural agenda, and that if they want to explore more, they can visit local wineries or archaeological sites. This, they know — the rest is a surprise.
I was compelled to discover how it all developed from a material point of view. Concrete, steel, and engineered glass with the addition of timber as a reference to the project’s nautical concept, as I read in the architect’s K-studio’s planning, were at the base of the construction. Nikos Karaflos tells me that the existing buildings were actually innovative in the design and material selection process.
The architects chose to communicate with the historical structures and to listen to them. The original patina of the walls was immediately one of the key elements of the “materials palette”. When they cut a door on a concrete wine tank, on the “cut edge”, a kind of terrace was revealed. A terrace was therefore the second element that joined the palette. Nikos Karaflos found a specialized company and shipped them a piece of concrete from the existing building. The company made a terrace with the same color of cement and a variety of little stones as the original material.
One of the aspirations for the design approach was surely sustainability. Reusing and upscaling as many materials and elements as possible was Niko’s focus, as well as engaging local businesses in the construction and design. Except for the mattresses (that were “Coco-mat”, a Greek brand of natural mattresses ), the rest of the furniture was custom made, commissioned to local craftsmen.
The hotel has an ongoing program of events, with resident artists presenting performances, installations and exhibitions throughout the summer. During summer 2019, it hosted a series of artist-designed wine tastings called Kantharos Gatherings celebrating the body as a receptacle of hospitality, transformation, community and well-being. Through performance, installation and mixed media, their mission is to stage site specific wine tasting events set in the Hotel’s signature silos. Hotel guests and locals alike are invited to gather around an original wine experience. The program aims at raising awareness on the site’s transitory identity and aspires to reshape its collective memory and cultural significance while connecting local producers with global creative minds.
Dexamenes is built in a region that relies on agriculture. Access to local fresh produce with a great variety of products is the key of the culinary experience at the resort. At the same time, the attachment to traditional cuisine makes it a great challenge for the chefs to experiment with. A team of local farmers and fishermen collaborate with the staff, so the majority of the products used are seasonal, fresh and locally sourced. The challenge for summer 2020 was to create menus of hyperlocal flavours, taking into consideration the dietary preferences or restrictions of each guest.
Conscious travelling, a word which we hear more and more today is indeed not a trend but a necessity in the eyes of Nikos, and I couldn’t agree more. Consciousness is the only sustainable solution for all fields of human activity. We have overused our planet and we take more than nature can offer us. At the same time, as humans, we are overstressed, overworked and digitally addicted. Creatives from different fields use their creativity and focus on finding more sustainable solutions in many different industries that all together could be named as “the slow movement”: slow fashion, slow food, slow education and so on.
Through travel, people seek transformation, awakening and transformation. Luxury is therefore is not the “plunge pools” and the “jacuzzis” anymore. It is something much more meaningful, such us taking time for yourself, living a bonding experience with your family, starting a new creative activity/hobby, do some meditation, switch off your mobile phone for a couple of days, enjoy the sea, swim, taste local dishes, drink local wines and be part of the local community for a while.
Rawness, in its most refined form, is the first word I think of when exploring Dexamanes Seaside Hotel. Nikos reminds me again how much he believes that the term “luxury” has already changed. In his words, “raw luxury” is what people are looking for — it is not about money or privilege, but rather a mentality.
Pedestrian of Kourouta