On a Corfu Olive Farm, a Much Longed-For Reunion of Friends

On a Corfu Olive Farm, a Much Longed-For Reunion of Friends

To the uninitiated, Christina Martini and Apostolos Porsanidis-Kavvadias’s 18th-century farmhouse, with its whitewashed facade and green shutters, might seem the very picture of Corfiot rusticity. In fact, the houses on the Greek island, which borrow from Venetian, French and British architecture, are more commonly painted ocher, orange or pink. But this one was white when Porsanidis-Kavvadias’s grandparents Thalia Kavvadias, a homemaker, and Apostolos Kavvadias, an orthopedic surgeon, purchased it as a holiday retreat in the 1950s, and it has remained so ever since. Thalia also insisted that another anomalous feature of the structure — a 200-year-old wood and stone olive press on the ground floor — remain untouched despite a 1960s renovation.

And with good reason. Located in the northern half of the island in Tzavros, about six miles up the coast from Corfu Town, the house sits on some 50 acres that are verdant with olive groves and pine trees. Many of the olive trees are ancient examples of the Lianolia variety, while about 200 others are Thiakos that Apostolos Kavvadias planted over half a century ago, when he was flirting with the idea of becoming an olive oil producer. He abandoned the plan, but 35 years later, Apostolos Porsanidis-Kavvadias, now 44, decided to take up the career himself, leaving behind his life as a product designer for the architectural and interior practice RDAI, founded by Rena Dumas — in which capacity he dreamed up everything from coffee cups to leather stools to cutlery for brands including Hermès and John Lobb — and launching his own line of organic, polyphenol-rich olive oil made in large part from the olives grown on the property. He named the line Dr. Kavvadia.

Martini has stayed in the design world — since 2010, following stints at Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, she’s been the co-founder (with Nikolas Minoglou) and creative director of Ancient Greek Sandals, beloved for pared-back, hand-crafted designs that look tailor-made for mythic gods and muses — but she also takes much comfort and inspiration from the property. Both born in Athens, she and Porsanidis-Kavvadias met as students at the Camberwell College of Art in London in the mid-’90s, at which point they started visiting Corfu together every summer. “I’ve been coming here half my life,” said the designer, 44. After the birth of the couple’s first child, Stefanos, now 11 — their daughter, Daphne, is 8 — they decided to leave Paris and live full-time on the farm, which the family shares with chickens, ducks, turkeys, countless cats and their beloved pair of Italian mastiffs, Baba and Blondie. “Living here has really changed my love for Corfu,” said Martini. “Before, it was all about the beach, but now it’s evolved into an appreciation of the landscape and the majestic scenery. It’s really the most beautiful place to make a home.”

It’s also a place they take pleasure in opening up to others. When Porsanidis-Kavvadias isn’t cultivating his olive oil or tending to a sprawling vegetable plot that, depending on the season, is abundant with peppers, kale or sweet corn, he’s slowly renovating the stables and storehouses into a pair of guesthouses. The idea is for visitors to enjoy wine, olive oil tastings and cooking classes and, come olive-picking season in late October, to help harvest the crop. But while the complete farm-stay experience won’t be in full swing until late winter, he and Martini are already consummate hosts.

Last month, they invited a vibrant group of their friends from the island, Athens and beyond to enjoy a laid-back weekend on the farm. “It was the reunion that we’ve all been yearning for for so long,” Martini said of the party, whose attendees included the jewelry designer Lito Karakostanoglou; the ceramist Myrto Zirini and her Norwegian partner, Morten Damsleth; Stratis Andreadis, a sailor and the owner of the accessories line Salty Bag, which makes use of upcycled sails; the Greek-Egyptian painter Farida El Gazzar; and Thanos Karampatsos, a co-founder of Greece is for Lovers, which offers an irreverent take on stereotypical Greek design, and his partner, the Japanese-Greek illustrator Yuri Kumada.

The weekend’s main event was a celebratory Saturday supper cooked by Aristotelis Megoulas, another friend of Martini and Porsanidis-Kavvadias’s and the owner of Pomo D’Oro restaurant in Corfu Town. Megoulas, who was born in Paris, grew up in Athens and spent close to a decade living in Bologna, is known for his intuitive, intercontinental remixes of regional dishes. For this meal, he planned to focus on seafood and vegetables, and arrived at the property’s alfresco kitchen, which is complete with a reclaimed-wood counter and wood-burning stove designed by Porsanidis-Kavvadias and made by local craftspeople, in the early afternoon. He was a few hours later than planned, but the mood remained relaxed. “Everyone came to chat with him while he worked, and we all ended up chipping in,” said Martini.

While several guests chopped homegrown herbs and vegetables and collected eggs to be blended into the fresh fig meringue dessert, Martini recruited others to assemble a 13-foot-long lineup of tables that included the former examining table from Apostolos Kavvadias’s surgery, which has been painted blue and is a family favorite, between a pair of ancient Portola olive trees just west of the house. She covered them with an eclectic array of vintage linens, ceramics and plates from Thalia Kavvadias’s stockpile, as well as with items from Ancient Greek Sandals’s first foray into housewares, AGS Home, which will launch this coming spring and which also happens to be the brand’s first official collaboration with Porsanidis-Kavvadias — a 10-piece collection of accessories featuring black and beige vachetta leather, such as an intricately woven leather bread basket, a demijohn encased in latticed leather cover and a carafe with a studded leather holder, all featuring cutouts and minimal stitching and hardware that draw from the couple’s collective memories of the holiday tavernas of Corfu and the surrounding islands.

At 5 p.m., after drinks under the pergola, everyone sat for supper in the late afternoon sun. The conversation centered on plans for the impending winter, and on fond recollections of hedonistic days the partygoers spent as students in the British capital. “It was very refreshing. No one talked about vaccines, and there were no big debates,” says Martini. “But our friends do enjoy teasing us about the fact that we’ve become farmers.” Nonetheless, the fruits of their labors were enjoyed by all once Megoulas served giant Cuore di Bue tomatoes stuffed with rice, pine nuts and capers alongside potatoes, rather than the traditional Athenian mincemeat. Also on the table were mussels cooked in locally brewed Ionian beer, an oven-baked gray mullet doused in a garlic and white wine sauce, and what turned out to be the star dish — a salad of raw shrimp marinated in citrus juice with peach, kumquat and basil, and drizzled in olive oil. “I’d never had anything like it,” said Martini. The dishes were presented in large platters, allowing guests to serve themselves and one another in a typically communal Greek spirit. As darkness fell around the feast, which was rounded off with the meringue, guests gradually made their way around the table, catching up in easy conversations that lasted until well after midnight.

Here, Martini shares her tips for creating your own Corfu-style gathering.

Ahead of the dinner, Martini gathered sunflowers and greenery from her garden, pairing them with the chamomile, chrysanthemum and wonder flowers in clashing tones that she’d picked up from the florist that morning. “I don’t like pretty bouquets of pink and white,” she said, “and prefer to mix yellow, orange and fuchsia tones — but nothing too romantic.” Martini arranged the blooms loosely in vintage vases from Thalia Kavvadias’s archive and in the odd contemporary container, including one featuring a voluptuous female form by the Athens-based ceramist Myrto Papadopoulou, all of which contributed to Martini’s artfully mismatched tablescape, which she wanted to feel bohemian. “There has to be a rawness to it,” she says. “It’s the antithesis of a Greek wedding where it’s all perfectly coordinated but totally sterile, with everything looking the same.”

The secret to being a relaxed host is preoccupied guests. Since Martini and Porsanidis-Kavvadias had friends staying for the whole weekend, they cleverly devised an itinerary that would give them time to work and prepare the meal. On Saturday morning, some of the group took a trip to the Corfu Archaeological Museum, an Ionian treasure trove, and to Patounis, an olive soap factory founded in 1850. While they were away, Martini popped out to buy the flowers and ingredients for the drinks before getting dressed for the festivities. It’s a trick that works both ways. “There’s nothing worse than going to someone’s house for the weekend and feeling trapped,” she says. “It’s nice to have a plan, but offer alternatives. I gave people the choice of going to the museum or the beach.”

Placing chef Aristotelis Megoulas in the outdoor kitchen — at the center of the action and in full view of the guests — made the often behind-the-scenes prep phase of the meal a major attraction. “It often happens that way,” said Martini. “We have lots of friends who are chefs — the other day one of them came and showed us how to make sushi. It’s the same when my partner cooks. He gets barraged with questions about the ingredients and where he sourced the fish.” Having an audience allows a cook to make things more collaborative, too. “I normally make the salad, and while I’m there whoever’s cooking will ask me to chop the tomatoes or gather ingredients from the garden for other dishes,” said Martini.

“Having good drinks is important,” says Martini. “An aperitif with cucumber, lime, mint and tonic — with or without gin — is my latest obsession.” For this occasion, she added two additional options to the mix, gathering herbs from the garden to garnish the improvised concoctions. First, she blended homegrown watermelon, combined it with soda and added freshly picked basil. “We had a little container nearby with vodka, and another with cucumber, so whoever wanted could add those to the drink as well,” she said. Then, Martini blended two peaches and a grapefruit and mixed in soda, two bottles of rosé and some fresh mint leaves. “I wanted to do something more curated than usual,” she explained. “My friend Yuri told me about the grapefruit recipe, and it was perfect.”

“We usually start a dinner with friends by gathering different elements from the grounds, from herbs to wildflowers,” said Martini. “It’s a great way to catch up and share news.” While the flowers frequently make their way onto the table as decorations, this time, Megoulas incorporated edible botanicals into the meal as well. His stuffed giant Cuore di Bue tomatoes featured bay laurel picked from a large tree at the back of the stable house, as well as spearmint collected from the herb garden. And his standout shrimp salad was garnished with basil and geranium. “I use geraniums a lot in desserts and in drinks,” said Martini, “but it turns out they’re also brilliant in salads.”