Led by the nation’s First Lady, Maximos Mansion—Greece’s ‘West Wing’—has been reborn as a celebration of Greek craft, design and nationhood.
As the founder of Zeus+Dione—a high-end clothing line highlighting Greek craftsmanship—Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis has a trained eye for design. So when her husband, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, became prime minister of Greece in July 2019, she couldn’t help but notice that the space where he worked running the country—and, pre-pandemic, received foreign officials—wasn’t exactly an advertisement for Greek aesthetics and industry.
In fact, describing the 1921 building known as the Maximos Mansion, which has been the office of every Greek prime minister since 1982, Grabowski-Mitsotakis says, “It had not been repainted since 2004, just before Athens hosted the Olympics.”
That sprucing-up almost two decades ago took place in anticipation of the stream of heads of state who visited the country during the games. But the years that followed—with the economic collapse, austerity, and then the pandemic—were not always kind to Greece, or the Maximos Mansion, which is located in central Athens just off Syntagma Square. Still, with all its challenges, 2021 brought something to celebrate: the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution of 1821, which began to free the country from more than 400 years of Ottoman occupation.
In February 2021 it became clear that COVID-19 was under control enough for Prince Charles and other foreign officials to come to Greece for scaled-down ceremonies to mark March 25—Greek Independence Day—and attend the reopening of the National Gallery. The time seemed ripe to repaint and turn the Maximos Mansion into a receiving room that showcases Greece’s history, heritage, and creativity.
“My philosophy was that it has to be presentable, intriguing, and a representation of who we are,” says Grabowski-Mitsotakis. “This place represents the Greek people.”
The prime minister liked the idea—but was adamant about not sending a renovation bill to the Greek people. “He said, ‘You can do whatever you like, but it can’t cost the Greek state one penny,’” she recalls.
Grabowski-Mitsotakis accepted the challenge and assembled a dream team of about 10 volunteers to draw up plans for the restoration of the three public rooms of the Maximos Mansion: a meeting room with a conference large table, a reception area she calls “the living room,” and the prime minister’s office.
The brain trust, many of whom prefer to remain anonymous, included curators and collectors, along with Elina Kountouri, managing director of Neon Foundation, a Greek nonprofit focused on bringing contemporary art to the public, and Cypriot product designer Michael Anastassiades.
Together, they drew up a list of Greek artists, artisans, collectors, and institutions to approach with a request for an artwork or artifact to be loaned to the building for a two-year period.