BEETROOT: A DISTINCTLY BOLD PRESENCE IN DESIGN
Thessaloniki has gained exceptional prowess in the field of graphic art, as exemplified by the internationally renowned Beetroot team, which over the past 16 years has taken visual communication to another level.
Beetroot is largely responsible for the development of a buzzing graphic arts scene in Thessaloniki. Shortly after completing their studies, Vagelis Liakos, Alexis Nikou and Yiannis Charalambopoulos decided to launch their own agency. Beetroot emerged in 2000 with visual communication and visual art as its main focus.
The team swiftly established itself in the field. A bold use of color and illustration are the elements that define Beetroot’s work in typography, corporate logos, visual installations, digital applications and design objects. Beetroot has won agency of the year prizes at the Red Dot Design Awards and the European Design Awards, and been named national champion three years in a row at the European Business Awards. But fame has not softened the team’s artistic sharpness and the company follows the philosophy of never trying the same thing twice.
Companies like ours have managed to place Thessaloniki on the international visual arts map. Our objective is to keep young people in the city so that they may develop their own plans.
Beetroot operates as a multifaceted and flexible unit whose 18 team members are driven by a variety of references and sources of inspiration, which may be discerned in all of the team’s projects, be they for giants such as Microsoft, the Onassis Foundation or small artistic teams with which the agency collaborates on a frequent basis.
Its acclaimed Greek Monsters exhibition, presenting three-dimensional designs of misunderstood beasts in Greek mythology, may be continuing its tour around the world, but Thessaloniki remains a point of reference for the team. The company aims to keep young people in the city so that they may develop their own entrepreneurial plans. Along with other companies in the wider field, it has managed to place Thessaloniki on the international visual arts map and intends to develop this further.
ERGON: GREEK FOOD AROUND THE WORLD
If you live in London, Brussels or Miami, there is a good chance that you are already familiar with Ergon, a Greek deli-casual restaurant that offers a collection of exceptional Greek products and serves a fine selection of reinvented traditional dishes. For Thomas and George Douzis, “traditional” does not necessarily mean “old.” From a family that was three generations in the food sector, the brothers chose to redefine the meaning of “traditional.” Since 2008, when the first Ergon branded product was created, their collection of select produce from different independent farmers and producers from Greece has grown.
The increasing awareness of Greek gastronomy was an unexpected ally in their efforts. Three years later, the first Ergon deli store opened in Thessaloniki. It was not a recreation of old-style groceries but a new, modern space showcasing Greek gourmet treasures.
Soon, famous Greek chef Dimitris Skarmoutsos joined the team, creating an entire menu based on the brand’s products, redefining traditional shared meze dishes without losing sight of the food’s origin. The team’s concept inevitably expanded to combine a fully functional grocery store with a casual restaurant.
Ergon has not only become a landmark in Thessaloniki’s gastro-scene – the flagship Ergon Agora on Pavlou Mela Street is a must see – but a successful business model that has expanded beyond the city. Ergon products are available from 300 retailers and outlets in Greece and abroad, and Ergon Greek Deli-Restaurants have been established to several international locations. Ergon London recently opened on Regent Street while two more locations were recently added in Florida: Miami and Weston. As the word ergon (work, vocation, but also the fruits of labor) signifies, the team’s work is never done.
URBAN SOUL PROJECT: DESIGN IS THE SOUL OF THE CITY
Although architecture firms were among the first creative businesses to experience the direct consequences of the economic recession – particularly in a comparatively small market such as Thessaloniki – things actually turned out quite different for Urban Soul Project.
Established as a strictly personal venture by an inspired duo in 2009, the team now numbers 12 (architects, engineers, designers), along with a further four colleagues strategically located in Athens, London, Corfu and Santorini. This particular team sees Thessaloniki simply as a base, and its projects address an international audience.
In addition to various projects that have left the firm’s distinctive designs in numerous towns, cities and islands of Greece (homes, restaurants, hotels, exhibition spaces in collaboration with museums and more recently, object design), the team has designed and developed the ERGON delis and restaurants – another success story of creative Thessaloniki – in London, Brussels and Miami. Now the firm’s portfolio is set to expand with the addition of a wine bar in Zurich, a restaurant in Amsterdam and two apartments in London.
The founders and more recent team members share the belief that any city with a creative soul can work on a Europe-wide level. They have seen this in practice, with clients contacting them from abroad after seeing examples of their work on the Internet or in a magazine, not to mention those who have had the opportunity to view some projects first hand while on vacation in Greece.
The average age of the Urban Soul Project team is 27.8 years old, which is just one of the reasons for the fresh and modern approach of the projects they have so far completed. An approach which skillfully combines the location’s history and current use with the character of the owner results in the dynamic and unique expression of each concept. Underlying the firm’s philosophy is a strong desire to create spaces that can evolve over time, remain relevant in the context of new trends, and meet the needs of their users and the city itself.
DIMITRIS KOPARANIS: HYBRID FOODS THAT GO VIRAL
Dimitris Koparanis, aka the Foodie Anarchist, came up with the idea for a Greek hybrid dessert in 2013. A few months later he created the first bougatsan and posted a photo on Instagram. Thirty minutes later he had the first media request. Half Thessaloniki and half Paris, bougatsan successfully combines a French croissant with the thick, hot custard used to fill bougatsa – a popular local filo pastry. Bougatsan instantly became a trending hashtag among local foodies and a sold-out item at Café Estrella, where it is exclusively served. It was not long before media all over the world (The Guardian, National Geographic Traveler, Olive magazine, The Culture Trip) were raving about it.
The man behind this hype-generating dessert, a traveled and well-read food editor, cinephile, blogger and self-taught chef with an eclectic taste in music, is mainly inspired by Thessaloniki’s historically rich background. The city’s Ottoman past and the urban cuisines that emerged from its culturally diverse inhabitants are what make Thessaloniki a perpetual source of creative energy for him.
Bougatsan was created at Estrella (48 Pavlou Mela), a central all-day café-restaurant located next to the iconic church of Aghia Sophia. It is served in three different versions: custard and cinnamon, custard and chocolate, custard and ice-cream, topped with red berries. The “Ottoman burger,” the homemade bagel burger and the hot dog French toast are some of the chef’s other famous creations served at Estrella.
Aside from its irresistible fusion pastries, Estrella is also one of the city’s main brunch spots, buzzing with young people and indie tunes, especially at weekends. Dimitris describes Estrella’s menu as casual, humorous and rather personal. “It was created out of a desire to put together a contemporary menu that reflects the city’s present, in the best way,” he says.
ATHANASIOS BABALIS: DESIGNER INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, SUSTAINABILITY
“A particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.” That is the meaning of the Japanese word shibui and that is exactly what the Shibui design brand represents. This homeware and accessories brand was founded in 2013 by two Greek designers – Athanasios Babalis from Thessaloniki and Constantinos Hoursoglou, who is based in Geneva. Both share a common vision for their brand, one that revolves around purity of form, integrity, quality, simplicity and sustainability. All Shibui products are economical by design, made from natural materials, produced by highly skilled, independent producers in Europe and sold by retailers all around the globe.
But Shibui is just one recent venture for Athanasios Babalis, a key figure in Greek design who started out as a mechanical engineer before deciding to go back to college. After studying Industrial and Furniture Design at London Metropolitan University and the Royal College of Art in London, he worked as a freelance furniture designer, soon relocating to New York. In 2003 and despite having a well established career in the US, he decided to switch direction – once again. He returned to Thessaloniki, founded his own design studio and has since collaborated with a number of Greek and international clients on the development of new products and packaging. “If a creative city is defined by the number of creative people working there, then Thessaloniki is definitely an inspiring place,” he says.
Inevitably, his unique approach to design has not only gained him international recognition, but also several distinctions and awards.
In recent years he has witnessed “a certain energy” in Thessaloniki which is “looking to be channeled in all directions” and believes that the city’s creative scene has the potential to become a force to be reckoned with on an international scale.
HORIZON: SHOOT AT ANY ANGLE!
For Stelios Petrakis and Petros Douvantzis, two young app developers from Kalamaria, Thessaloniki, there was nothing more annoying than encountering online videos shot in vertical mode. The tech-savvy duo, friends since high-school, started designing apps as a hobby before realizing that this was something they could pursue professionally.
They describe their company, Evil Window Dog, as “a small mobile development studio” but the truth is that one of their very first apps instantly reached 1.2 million downloads in Google’s App Store. Horizon is an app that allows the user to record horizontal videos no matter how they hold their device. “Hold it upright, sideways or even keep rotating it while capturing; the video will always stay horizontal!”
The idea for the app was born in 2013 when the two developers started witnessing the so-called Vertical Video Syndrome, where videos are shot in portrait mode. “We don’t create products that we won’t use ourselves. We release applications and services that will serve our needs and benefit many others as well.” Horizon has been featured in almost all tech and mainstream media (BBC, ABC News, Wired, Spiegel, Business Insider), has received multiple awards (Webby Award, Appy Award, Infocom Apps, Βest App Ever), has been selected as a demo app for Apple Stores devices and has repeatedly appeared as a featured app on both App Store and Google Play.
Although frequent trips to California and meetings in Silicon Valley are now part of their routine, they opted to remain in their hometown. “We decided it would be more cost-efficient to maintain our base in Thessaloniki. Soon after Horizon’s global success though, we realized that it doesn’t really matter where we work.”
157+173 DESIGNERS:DESIGN FOR LIFE
According to Christina Tsirangelou and Babis Papanikolaou, aka 157+173 designers, talent is a creator’s last refuge. “That which mediates between the scale of one’s ambitions and the limits of one’s power.” And for Thessaloniki’s creative scene, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, it takes a lot of effort to put one’s talent out in the world while staying true to one’s vision.
If you read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, there is a good chance you have already seen their work. The design duo, best known for their signature industrial lamps and light fixtures, first met while working as architects for the same firm. They soon decided to switch to smaller scale projects, which can be a lot more fun.
Their fresh approach to design can be seen in numerous locations across Thessaloniki, such as bars, restaurants, lights for TOMS Flagship store/cafe, or even “Mia Feta-Feta bar”, a store which they have designed. Whether designing key-holders or buildings, they follow the same creative process, with the aim of positively affecting people’s feelings and offering products that they will be happy to own. All of their creations are made with the lowest environmental impact. Their newest project, a hybrid mat aptly named “Wool(d)en Carpet,” is made of wool and wood and the designers are launching a crowdfunding campaign to finance production.
Thessaloniki’s laid back ambience serves as an inspirational backdrop for their work: “It’s not a huge city but it does have an immense creative potential”, they say. “When it comes to product design, things are just starting to happen. We are trying to make a right start and build solid foundations.”
Thessaloniki is not a huge city, but it has an immense creative potential. When it comes to product design, things are just starting to happen.