Mixing high-end pieces with local finds can transform your home into an island hideaway

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When half her furniture was lost en route to her Greek idyll, Italian interior designer Paola Navone was forced to improvise using pieces bought at a local market. Even then she pulled off something sensational.

When Paola Navone set about decorating her seaside home on the Greek island of Serifos, she had one overriding requirement. “I wanted it to be an easy house,” she reveals. No one could ever describe the Milan designer’s interiors as fussy or complicated; there’s a definite sense of studied discipline in the restaurants, shops and domestic interiors Paola has styled for clients all over the world in a career spanning 40 years.

So her own Serifos house comes as something of a surprise. Her instinct for what works is there in every detail, but there’s also a sense that she has allowed herself to relax a bit in this sea-girt holiday home. One of the islands in the Little Cyclades, Serifos is not overrun with tourists.

“It was a very poor place, an iron-mining island,” says Paola. “When they closed the mine in the 1960s, the island emptied out. The landscape’s barren, a little lunar, with this intense red iron-bearing rock and very few trees.”

The gas hob looks elegant despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity.

The gas hob looks elegant despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity. Photo: Enrico Conti

Paola first visited Serifos when she was holidaying on the nearby island of Milos, and something about the arid beauty of the place held her attention. She bought her first house there in the 1980s, and began to discover Serifos’s summer social scene, revolving around a small Greek community and foreigners who, like her, had fallen in love with the island. One was the architect Yorgos Zaphiriou, who took her to see a new building project of his overlooking a rocky bay five kilometres from the nearest village.

The outdoor kitchen takes advantage of the climate and the views.

The outdoor kitchen takes advantage of the climate and the views. Photo: Enrico Conti

The location was breathtaking, and the shape of the house, too, felt right. 

Paola designed the furniture for Gervasoni’s InOut collection.

Paola designed the furniture for Gervasoni’s InOut collection. Photo: Enrico Conti

“It’s inspired by traditional Cycladean architecture,” says Paola. “It’s basically just a series of boxes, made of local stone, so that when seen from the sea it loses itself against the hillside.” With its guest bedroom, two bathrooms and panoramic terrace, the house is low-maintenance enough for Paola to indulge in her favourite holiday activity – “leaving the world behind” – but has the space for her to enjoy the company of friends.

“My approach was ‘as little as possible’,” she says.

A painted bench on the terrace contrasts with the raw rock behind.

A painted bench on the terrace contrasts with the raw rock behind. Photo: Enrico Conti

“I like the levelling effect of painting everything white. You have nothing to hold on to, everything comes down to shapes and textures. It’s like floating in the sea.” There was, however, one detail that felt wrong: the grey cement floors. So she painted rugs in every room. She also let fate take a hand. She had set herself the challenge of decorating the whole place in a week.

However, only half of her furniture, antiques and kitchen supplies actually arrived from Milan. So she made do with what she had, and to replace the missing items she “picked up things locally, and adapted”. As a substitute for a table that never turned up, she bought two large flowerpots, turned them upside down, laid planks across the top, and painted it all white.

Shrouded in floating white muslin, the bedroom opens onto a terrace and has a breathtaking view of the Aegean.

Shrouded in floating white muslin, the bedroom opens onto a terrace and has a breathtaking view of the Aegean. Photo: Enrico Conti

Above this is a mirror, from Athens, still in its rough wooden shipping frame. “I realised when it arrived just how fragile it was. I didn’t have the courage to try to remove the boards.” So she left them on.

Painting rugs on the floor helps to soften the industrial look of the concrete.

Painting rugs on the floor helps to soften the industrial look of the concrete. Photo: Enrico Conti

Of course, not everybody’s idea of casual style looks as curated as this. But that’s the Navone touch. When I express surprise that a cheap cast-iron gas hob should work so well in the kitchen, she replies: “It wasn’t the only burner at the market. I chose that one.” Which is an elegant way of saying: either you got the design eye, or you ain’t.

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