Interior architect, Maira Koutsoudakis, works in an aesthetic heaven, her Hyde Park boutique office loft reflects the unique style that today graces island resorts, luxury African safari lodges and her LIFE restaurants. Chris Buchanan chatted to her before she jetted off to collect yet another deserving award.
Maira’s 20 years in the design business have nurtured a unique process where design is more than problem solving within an aesthetic or special context and has become something of a personal relationship with the project and the client.
The three projects that have earned the LIFE design studio their latest in a string of design accolades encompass luxury leisure in Kenya and the Seychelles, along with the brand of leisure developed by herself and partner John Koutsoudakis – LIFE Grand Café.
The UK-based International Property Awards 2014-2015 awarded the Segera Retreat in Kenya the best in the category Mixed Use Architecture, the refurbishment of the North Island luxury resort in the Seychelles the best in the category Mixed Use Interior, and the Life Grand Café the best in the category Leisure Interior.
What is the fundamental philosophy behind the Life brand?
Nature is our partner in design and lies at the heart of LIFE’s philosophy. Bringing it into my design ethos is something for which I’ve become known. Since we work in sensitive and exotic natural environments, we design in a way that respects and celebrates the organic form. Nature will be involved in the evolution of what we design, through the mottling, fading, and elegant aging that occurs through its exposure to these elements.
You’ve spent 14 years on the North Island project in Seychelles with a refurbishment completed recently, how do remain objective with a client when a project must be so close to your heart?
You don’t!! And it’s that passion that keeps the design and experience moving forward. I look for inspiration everywhere, especially during offshore travels. Of late the detailed attention to luxury in Milan to the sensorial experience of the Moroccan souks, each would be applied in some form in a future refurbishment.
What have the challenges been in implementing a luxury project with a low eco impact
footprint on a small island?
The challenge and our success has been in understanding that eco-friendly does not need to impact on luxury and comfort. It’s when we can maintain the comfort levels but reduce the footprint that eco becomes truly embraced.
Your client at the Segera project seems a flamboyant character who must have presented some unique design challenges.
Yes he was a very interesting multi-dimensional character. The challenge was that even though it was a commercial project he treated each aspect as if it was a private residence. The amazing thing is that the end result is a unique experience of the challenge in filtering a lifetime of adventures.
Explain the mantra of the four Cs and how it applies to the project.
The 4Cs celebrate Conservation, Culture, Community, and Commerce. Each design project we touch will promote conservation, cultural engagement and commercial growth, as well as enlist the support of local communities.
How has creating your own brand of Life Grand Café influenced your design approach being both the client and the service provider?
Our aim is to build world-class sustainable brands. We have always been entrepreneurs at heart so even though our process is driven by design and design being the core of our philosophy we continually have an eye for the business aspect. So for Life Grand Café design has reinforced our philosophies.
What is the unique offering of LIFE Grand Café?
As soon as you step inside a LIFE Grand Café its vibrant ambience contains the ideal blend of metropolitan buzz and small-town leisure, reminding you of a charming, upmarket street café in Europe.
Each restaurant manages to combine luxury with leisure as it boasts immaculately designed interiors and décor inspired by old world glamour which complement the leisurely indulgence.
The style literally brings food to LIFE as each designer destination offers inventive all day dining. Choices range from cosmopolitan tapas to rustic, hearty-style dishes. A sushi & raw bar, tapas bar, salad bar and patisserie counter aim to provide guests with a universal sensory experience. The Cafés are situated at Hyde Park Corner, the Waterfall corner in Midrand and The Club in Waterkloof, Pretoria.
How would you define your design aesthetic within a South African context?
I have always been fascinated by design in all its forms – food, architecture, interiors, products, experiences. Growing up between Africa and the Greek islands during my formative years, informed my visual language for rusticity and refinement. It’s like the air that I breathe. Great design will always be timeless and emotive.
When you are commissioned by a home owner to design and decorate their living spaces how do you combine your design philosophy with their personalities and preferences?
A home is an extension of one’s personality, it is a tool that allows us to live and experience our lives according to our own philosophy. When working with a client it is important that we have a similar view so that the end result is a collaboration of ideas that gives them the home in which they will be comfortable enough to live freely.