John Stefanidis





Interior designer

Born in 1937 in Alexandria, Egypt. Education: Earned degree in English from Brasenose College of Oxford University.

Addresses: Home —London, England. Office —John Stefanidis Design Limited, 5 Eccleston St., London SW1W 9LZ United Kingdom.

Career

Worked for interior-design firms in Milan, Rome, and Athens; founded John Stefanidis Design Limited in London, 1967.

Sidelights

Interior designer John Stefanidis earns regular mentions in the press for the spectacular interiors he creates for a long list of wealthy clientele, which reportedly even includes some members of the British royal family. Known for using a mélange of styles and influences to execute grandly appointed rooms, Stefanidis still believes that his job is to learn about his client and translate that personality into a three-dimensional space. "However many wands are waved and webs spun," he wrote in his 2002 book, Stefanidis Designs: Creating Atmosphere, Effect and Comfort , "however much money spent, the atmosphere created depends entirely on the people who live in a place."

Stefanidis was born in 1937 in Alexandria, the Mediterranean seaport in Egypt that was one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities of the ancient world. Thanks to the periodic conquests inflicted upon it by various superpowers over the centuries, Alexandria became home to many different ethnic and language groups, including a strong Greek presence. Stefanidis' family belonged to this community of Alexandrites, and though his mother was a rare Sephardic Jew from Greece, she converted to the Greek Orthodox religion when she wed his father. Stefanidis was raised in the latter faith, and his baptismal certificate was signed by the Bishop of Babylon.

Stefanidis' childhood was disrupted by World War II, when his father volunteered to serve with the British military and was posted to Eritrea, a territory on the Red Sea that was part of Ethiopia at the time. It had been an Italian colony prior to the war, but was seized by British forces. Stefanidis and his mother soon joined his father there; when the war ended in 1945, Stefanidis was eight years old, and his parents opted to stay there instead of returning to Egypt. He was sent to Cairo, however, to live with an aunt and uncle and attend school there. He became fluent in English there, which joined an already-impressive list of languages he had mastered, including Greek at home, French from the first schools he attended as a youngster, and Arabic from his family's hired help. Every summer, he returned to his parents in Asmara, the largest city in Eritrea. His unusual upbringing provided him with a wealth of travel experience at a young and impressionable age, which stimulated his interest in the arts and choice of career. "The Egyptian Museum in Cairo," he wrote in Stefanidis Designs , "the Ibn Tulun Mosque; the Giza pyramids and the stepped pyramids of Saqqara; the mausoleums; the palm groves in vivid contrast to the dry, yellow sand dunes of the desert; the meticulously husbanded land, irrigated by waterwheels turned, by buffalo: All of these things influenced me as a child and adolescent."

As a young man, Stefanidis earned a degree in English from Oxford University's Brasenose College, and gravitated toward interior design. After working in Italy and Greece, he settled in London and opened his own firm in 1967, operating out of the dining room of his home in Pimlico, a posh London neighborhood. Over the next several years, John Stefanidis Design Limited built up an impressive list of similarly well-traveled clients, who appreciated the range of influences and periods he deftly mixed in his rooms. They included oil heiress Ann Getty, the Duke of Westminster, and American retail tycoon Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited retail clothing chain and owner of Victoria's Secret. Stefanidis was one of two designers Wexner used to redecorate a palatial New York City residence on East 71st Street that had been built in the 1930s for an heir to the Macy's department-store fortune.

Stefanidis completed the assignment with Thierry Despont, the prominent French interior architect who worked on Microsoft founder Bill Gates' home. Their results were featured on the cover of Architectural Digest in December of 1995. A month later, the New York Times' Christopher Mason wrote about the cover story, noting that "while the article does not mention the home's owner, its history is well known to many interior designers, who have long considered the house a plum assignment." Mason also mentioned that Wexner had spent very little time in the house to date, and since contracting with Stefanidis and Despont had married and become a father to two young children; he and his wife were spending more time near his company headquarters at their residence near Columbus, Ohio, "where Mr. Stefanidis and Mr. Despont have built what visitors describe as a French-style chateau of pre-guillotine splendor," Mason wrote.

The press attention was somewhat unusual for Stefanidis and his firm. "There is a great deal of my work that has never been photographed and cannot be and will never be," he told Sunday Times journalist Caroline Donald, because his clients demand absolute confidentiality. Over the years, however, he has made his design philosophy and finished results accessible through lavishly illustrated books, such as Rooms , a 1989 tome from Rizzoli that was co-authored with Mary Henderson, and Living by Design: Ideas for Interiors and Gardens , published eight years later. He also sells a line of fabrics for interiors under the label JS. Fans of Stefanidis' work might also anticipate actually spending the night in one of his interiors after 2007, when the Swiss hotel Le Richemond re-opened for business. The property, owned by famed British hotelier Rocco Forte, was on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland and was Stefanidis' first full-scale hotel project.

Stefanidis lives in terrific personal style at his London home as well as another in the English countryside of Dorset, and also has a vacation property on the Greek island of Patmos. In London, his renovation of his home's garden has been featured in the print media. The narrow space boasts a pergola he designed himself and layers of greenery that thrive better than blooms in the typically overcast English summer. He was not averse to using an occasional fake potted plant, either. "Friends are inclined to be horrified by such vulgarity," wrote Donald in the Sunday Times , "but Stefanidis is tickled by their presence and shows me a roof terrace above the library, on which strips of 'lawn' are also fake. Glimpsed through the screen of a split-bamboo blind on the staircase," Stefanidis explained, "it gives continuity with the rest of the vegetation."

Selected writings

      (With Mary Henderson) 
      
        Rooms: Design and Decoration
      
      , Rizzoli (New York City), 1989.
      
John Stefanidis Living By Design: A Country House and Garden , Rizzoli, 1997.
Stefanidis Designs: Creating Atmosphere, Effect and Comfort , Vendome Press (New York City), 2002.

Sources

Books

Stefanidis Designs: Creating Atmosphere, Effect and Comfort , Vendome Press (New York City), 2002.

Periodicals

Domino , November 2006, pp. 156-61.

New York Times , January 11, 1996.

Sunday Times (London, England), February 26, 2006, p. 49.

Town & Country , November 2002, p. 250.



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