Relaxing at the Art Foundation of Athens – the coolest and most beautifully restored building transformed into a cafe-bar, gallery and exhibition space, (TAF in Athens)
There is something about roaming in central Athens that I have not found in any other place. I’m very familiar with most areas, and I usually know the in’s and outs of most neighbourhoods in the centre. Yet, every time I find myself there, I always stumble upon a new find. It could be a new corner full of archaeological treasures I hadn’t seen before, a newly opened store, or an interesting street I had never walked through.
It was on one of these ‘discovery expeditions’ of central Athens when my friends and I decided to explore a small alley just off “Ifestou” street. This is the main pedestrian street in the Flea Market of Athens – “Monastiraki”. I always look forward to exploring this area as if it’s my first time. While I have walked through this small street several times before, I never noticed this camouflaged entrance before.
This derelict, Neoclassical building has not gone through any facelifts for many decades. It is a typical example of ‘folk architecture’ dotted throughout the city. Unlike many structures, however, that belong to the Neoclassical architecture, this small housing complex, saw the light of day when a team of talented collaborators got together.
Stepping back in time with The Art Foundation-Athens
Walking through the low and narrow entrance, feelings of uncertainty as to what this place is, still hover and bounce around the old reception area. A notice board and an old armchair live opposite each other and somewhat reluctant to reveal their secrets. The plaster of the walls has undoubtedly seen better days. The multiple layers of colours each have their own story to tell for those willing to listen.
You only get a sense of what this place truly is when you step into the main courtyard.
This team of very talented collaborators stumbled upon a rare find at the heart of Athens. It is rare to find a whole housing complex that dates back to the late 1800’s, among the many neoclassical buildings scattered throughout the city. Its interior captures the essence of humble and simple living. Small house dwellings that often served just the basic needs of the working class. Semi-detached, with a shared courtyard that served as the main hub for many purposes. It was the centre of the universe for the kids being raised there. Their meeting point and playground, a place that would shape friendships and form relationships when they became adults. Gossip was exchanged on a daily basis here between the housewives, and no story could be kept secret from anyone.
These humble neighbourhoods, however, were places where acts of common good were also performed. Everyone cared about each other. Charitable gestures were common during hard times, and acts of kindness were witnessed in everyone’s daily life. Food was shared between families so no kid would be left malnourished. They were safe surroundings to be raised up in and most folks that lived in these housings, have fond memories growing up there.
This atmosphere was encapsulated in such a genius way by TAF in Athens
Whether you sit at the bar or at one of the tables you can feel the warmth of an era now gone. A feeling of nostalgia is always present, but it is also hugely gratifying because this talented team has managed to preserve this. Their inspiration was perfectly executed and reimagined.
The coffee tables and canvas chairs were strategically placed by the side of each of the 3 doorways that comprise the main, 2 storey building. This area is always my favourite to sit and enjoy my ‘freddo espresso’ café. It feels that you are the ‘owner’ of the particular, humble dwelling as you sit by the side of its entrance.
Your train of thoughts instantly transports you back to that time. The people sitting next to you are your neighbours. You can gossip, exchange stories or just greet each other and get on with your day.
TAF in Athens – a cultural reference point
The Art Foundation is not just one of the coolest café/bars in the heart of Athens however. The creative team of collaborators have utilised its spaces in many ingenious ways. They are using the 2nd floor of the main building as a gallery for some of the most creative art exhibitions you can visit during your holidays in Athens. The Athens School of Fine Arts, (one of the oldest academic institutions of modern Greece – 1849), was exhibiting some great works from its students during my visit there.
The Shop of the Art Foundation Athens
More than 80 Greek product designers, architects, photographers and fashion designers are continuously enriching the collection of this design platform. I really enjoyed visiting the “it’s all, oh so souvenir to me” shop that you can access both from inside the main café and from Normanou Street.
The humble rooms of TAF in Athens
All the rooms around the courtyard have had minimal interference and are used independently by creative professionals. It is inspiring to see how these talented minds have used these timeless spaces to display their art. These pop-up stores house different artists, designers that are usually on rotation. You can step inside to browse and buy hand-made jewellery, designer bags, ceramics or watch video installations. Business owners can also rent any of the six rooms available and host business meetings.
Wrapping up TAF in Athens – an artist’s heaven
The Art Foundation in Athens can definitely be on top of the list of alternative and eclectic places. Located in the historic centre of Athens, makes it easily accessible for good coffee and great drinks.
It is an excellent source of inspiration for artists of all kinds. A place to explore and a perfect example of how minimal interference can elevate timeless architectural gems to new heights.
If you are keen on discovering places that reward you with a new sense of spatial awareness, spark your imagination with timeless architectural touches, make sure you come by Normanou 5 Street, but…