After spending multiple family summers on Patmos in the eastern Aegean, not far from the Turkish coast, Maria Lemos had had enough.
Lemos, founder of the Rainbowwave showroom and Mouki Mou concept stores, has always loved the fashion lovers’ island, which is dotted with private homes and hyper-styled rentals, but she was also restless and wanted to experience the island in a new, more intimate, way.
So when Pagostas, a guesthouse built in 1597 and owned by the monastery of St. John the Theologian, came up at auction, Lemos and her husband Gregoris Kambouroglou jumped.
They took a long lease on the property in Chora, the island’s capital, which is dominated by the 11th century monastery. For centuries the monastery has been a Christian and Greek Orthodox pilgrimage site as it was the place where St. John is said to have written his Gospel and the Book of Revelation.
Although Lemos and her husband never set out to become hoteliers, they fell in love with the place and thought, why not?
“We both love hosting people and had already decided to spend more of our lives in Patmos. It’s something we both really wanted — although we didn’t realize at the time how much work it was,” says Lemos, who is Greek by birth and who grew up between Athens and London.
Their project also had a wider purpose.
“The house belongs to the monastery, and that was the most interesting part for us,” says Lemos. “We’re here doing something that is actually not for financial gain. It’s more a labor of love and a way of giving back to the community.”
Kambouroglou, a retired orthopedic and trauma surgeon, took charge of the restoration. He worked closely with local builders and artisans and has become the de facto doctor on Patmos which, like many Greek islands, only has a small medical center.
The couple tapped Leda Athanasopoulou, an interior designer who has renovated many historic houses on the island, to redesign the space in line with the couple’s vision.
They divided it into three large bedrooms, renovated the bathrooms and created common areas where guests can have breakfast, mingle over cocktails or gaze at the hills and horizon.
There’s even a place to listen to Kambouroglou’s large collection of vinyl records — Greek opera, classical and rock ’n’ roll — which he spins all year round, says Lemos.
The music may be his, but the refined, bohemian style is all hers. Pagostas is a spare, tranquil refuge straight out of an Homeric poem.
“Patmos is very traditional, and you are living in a place that belongs to the monastery. We wanted to show a Greek way of life, and find that cusp between tradition and modernity,” says Lemos.
In addition, she asked herself, “’How do we live with less?’ Greece is about simplicity, about the basics — but those basics have to be modern,” she adds.
The bones of the building are original: there are stone walls, vaulted archways, terracotta floor tiles, and steep slate stairs. The bathrooms are modern, and nearly all the homeware was made to order in Greece.
Sheets, linens and napkins were woven by hand exclusively for Pagostas; the pottery was handmade by a trio of female artisans in Athens, and the glass was handblown in Crete. The silver cutlery is a rare exception — it’s from England.
“Pagostas is not rustic — if you’re doing simplicity, the elements and the components need to be quite elevated,” says Lemos.
The interior designer sourced the furniture from antique markets in Athens, while other bits were made locally.
“And then there are a couple of touches that are mine, like the Bauhaus chandelier and a Swedish tapestry. They kind of like throw you a little bit,” says Lemos. “They fit perfectly, but are unexpected.”
Design is in her DNA.
Lemos began her fashion career working with John Galliano and Clements Ribeiro and later founded London’s Rainbowwave showroom, which has been a launching pad for brands including JW Anderson, Marios Schwab and Carven. Ten years ago she opened Mouki Mou, a concept store in London, and in May she opened a second one in Athens.
Working with the landscape designer Helli Pangalou, Lemos and her husband planted jasmine in the courtyard and filled the walled garden with plumbago, myrtle, and lemon trees.
The Naxos Apothecary, one of Greece’s top fragrance and personal care brands, supplies the herbal bath products while Lemos worked with her old friend — and fellow Londoner — Lyn Harris of Perfumer H on a bespoke candle.
The food is local to the island.
Breakfast might be brown bread with schinos (a type of aromatic root) served with eggs, cheese, and yogurt. There are seasonal fruit juices, and jams which are made by Lemos’ mother-in-law from quinces, figs and other fruits. Honey is made with heather from the nearby island of Lipsi.
Despite all the hard work, and the many trips back and forth across the European continent, Lemos is enjoying Pagostas as much as any of the guests.
“Holidays have become different,” says Lemos, who spent New Year’s on Patmos for the first time this year. “I probably had the best holiday of the year in Patmos in January. This whole project has taken me into a completely different context.”
Lemos has been spending an increasing amount of time in Greece. As she and her husband set about reviving the guesthouse, Lemos took on another project: Opening a branch of Mouki Mou in Athens in May. Although Athens is her native city, she had never done business there, and says it has been an adventure.
Mouki Mou is located in a ’70s building in the historical neighborhood of Plaka and has a view of the Acropolis.
Lemos again worked with interior designer Leda Athanasopoulou. She also created a planted garden on the vast roof terrace, which she plans to use for parties, exhibitions and events.
As with London, the store offers clothing, jewelry and lifestyle, but is different in many ways. Lemos says Mouki Mou is the first fashion concept store to land in Athens; the audience is different from London, and the focus is more on wardrobe building and introducing international designers to the market.
“It’s about exposing the Athenian crowd, and also the international crowd in Athens, to an array of designers and makers that they weren’t exposed to before. In London, we stocked Lemaire but I stopped buying it because now it’s everywhere. But that’s not the case in Athens, so we’re selling Lemaire there,” says Lemos.
She’s also stocking the French clothing label Casey Casey for similar reasons, and wants to introduce the London-based Toogood, which offers clothing, ceramics and furniture designed by the multidisciplinary creative Faye Toogood.
“I’m learning about the Greek clientele. Like London, it’s about building a loyal customer, and we’re beginning to do that in Athens. The surprise was that we have an international following — which I hadn’t expected,” says Lemos.
“They’re all coming through Athens in the summer months — people from Rainbowwave, Mouki Mou and Pagostas. The three are kind of merging, and the lines are getting blurred,” says Lemos.
Her universe of style just keeps getting bigger.