The Myconian Ambassador underwent a transformation in 2015 under the guidance of international architect Galal Mahmoud, President of GM Architects, and recipient in the same year of the prestigious Architectural Review MIPIM Future Projects Award in Cannes for his “Museum of Civilizations”.
Galal first came to Mykonos with his parents in 1967 and The Ambassador became a yearly destination for his own family. “This island is part of my life where I feel deeply rooted”.
“Vangelis always struck me as a great guy and accomplished hotelier, but the defining moment was in the summer of 2006, when we were unable to leave Lebanon during the military conflict and I called him to release our fortnight’s reservation. Not only did he insist that the rooms were ours, but when we finally arrived several days late and I was in urgent need of an office, Vangelis took me by the arm to the back of house, pointed to his desk and very attractive PA and said, “this is your base for as long as you need it”. I worked a six-hour day, which enabled me to open offices in Abu Dhabi during my stay. This was the beginning of our friendship”.
Even after Galal eventually built his own home on the island, their relationship continued over holiday lunches and long dinners at the Ambassador. “Vangelis and his family were always busy building and expanding and he kept showing me new projects”. Then one day the opportunity presented itself naturally: after seeing a residential project Galal had just completed for a client on the other side of the island, Vangelis invited him over for coffee. They discussed their collaboration over a napkin sketch and sealed a verbal agreement with a handshake.
“A gamble which one should attempt only with faith, friends and a bit of folly”, smiles Galal. It turns out that they needed all three to see them through the massive renovation completed in a record four months thanks to their hands-on approach.
As the most critical unit of hotel luxury, the standard rooms were tackled first, with a simple brief: space. “I went home with my napkin sketch and came back two days later with a concept”. The key principles that were put into action before the ink could dry were open flow, quality materials, lighting, and streamlined functionality.
On entering a room at the Ambassador, the eye is immediately drawn out towards the sea. It’s the classic combination of blue and white but with a modern twist. The open plan layout creates a luminous space that invokes flow, with functional items arranged along the marble shelf along the length of the room. The bathroom is elevated to a design feature, with a freestanding shower enclosed in circular glass. The wardrobe is an equally strong visual, with solid shelves and the beautiful fiddleback figure of plantation-grown red gum.
Wood adds character and warmth and is floated as a tactile layer over the cool elegance of marble shelves at the bedsides. Although it is the exception to locally sourced materials, its particular hue was selected to recall olive heart and driftwood. “We wanted to work with noble materials that will endure and which are not too trend driven”. Tones and textures borrow from the local vernacular and from nature, creating a sense of place and heritage as well as being contemporary. Against traditional white walls, the cool touch of Thassos marble, once quarried on the neighbouring island of Tinos, is used to dramatic effect in full-height, single panels and floating shelves.
Broad marble tiles with ultramarine mosaic accents fall into step with this generous scale, and white curtains shift like sails in the gentle breeze, framing the legendary blue view that draws the eye out to the horizon. These elements alone are backdrop enough to the sought-after, relaxed art of Myconian living for which guests travel halfway across the world.
Perhaps the ultimate luxury here lies in the masterful use of light. “Today’s technology allows you to achieve an environment that transports you into a different dimension”, explains Galal. Here, even the smallest room has concealed architectural lights and three feature light fittings: A Flos design by a Greek architect is suspended above the desk like a floating moon; while a striking pair of custom-designed lights glow at the bedsides. “This is just one example of Vangelis’ approach to design perfectionism and his willingness to engage with stylish solutions”.
While a generosity of scale and a restrained palette of warm wood accents, turquoise and ultramarine are carried through in every detail, it is the luminosity and palette of whites that are perhaps the defining features of the new Ambassador – manifest in its airy interiors, the apertures that steal glimpses of things happening elsewhere, and the generous windows and angled mirrors that not only invite the sea and sky inside, but reflect them too. Light is harnessed naturally from the Aegean sun, and with lighting fixtures that celebrate mystery and drama, casting warm glows or sculptural shadows. Light-filled corridors that connect the rooms and floors have an air of monastic simplicity, none more than the vaulted passage with concealed lighting that leads off from reception.
Seamless flow of open spaces is modulated with different floor levels, materials and lighting. “It’s what makes the Ambassador’s spectacular deck work”, explains Galal. “The constellation of pool terrace, bar and two restaurants is the heart of the hotel that beats to different rhythms throughout the day, and although you take it all in at a glance, the architectural detailing sets the stage for subtle mood shifts”.
If guests have an enduring romance with the pool deck, it’s at the Ambassador’s reception lobby that their seduction begins. “It’s the first impression. As a child, I was taken to fantastic hotels and their lobbies were like portals to another world where you sank into luxurious, soft armchairs and thought about the start of the holiday. No more homework!” The moment you enter the Ambassador and step onto its floor made of pure white slabs of marble, you’re aware of a sense of lightness, of luxury. Perhaps it’s the power of white and the open, dreamlike space that’s punctuated here and there by islands of activity. The eye is either at ease or is gripped by spectacular detail – like the sculpted wall behind the reception, which was inspired by the marble draperies of the famous antique statues of Delos, or the modular ceramic by Terziani suspended like a shoal of fish over three majestic monoliths that serve as reception desks. Each one, sculpted from solid white Thassos marble, weighs over five tons and recalls the myth of the giants slain by Hercules and cast into the sea where, turned to stone, they formed the island of Mykonos. (more about Our Island’s history)
There’s drama here, and sensuality. The lobby makes a powerful architectural statement, but it’s offset by bold original artworks and the soft curves of designer furniture and bespoke rugs. The choices handpicked in Milan, France and Greece by Vangelis and Galal, are domestic grand lux and rather unexpected in a hotel setting. Most of the contemporary Italian greats are represented – from Gervasoni, B&B, Minotti, and Paola Lenti to Edra and Flos – and all are combined with an eye to form, functionality, luxury and comfort. “The only piece you can’t sit on comfortably is the Noodle chair”, says Vangelis, referring to Edra’s iconic Corallo chair designed by the Campana Brothers and which is part of the MOMA collection. It’s a hand-bent steel wire concoction with coral pink epoxy paint that looks like a psychedelic tangle of fishermen’s nets. “But Galal and I agreed that it would be interesting to see people try it”.
“You see what I mean”, Galal has the last word. “From our fateful coffee in August 2014 to the grand opening for season in May 2015, here you have an owner who went crazy with us.”