I remember walking through my great aunt’s house when I was young, marvelling at the beautiful pink and gold (yet useless) rotary phone, that sat in their ‘kalo saloni’.
The ‘kalo saloni’ otherwise known as the formal sitting room, was an intersection of a museum and an entertainment space for special occasions and prestigious guests.
If you were going to show off anything precious in the home, it would be in the saloni says interior stylist Melonie Kaimakamis.
“I absolutely fascinated by my dad’s record player. He would play on the weekend, and I was so fascinated by my mum’s crystals in the cabinet, those figurines, each with their own doily,” says Ms Kaimakamis reminiscing.
Its history runs a little deeper than the plastic covers that adorned the furniture, glass cabinets showing off all the fine china along with porcelain figurines of young people sitting by lambs.
Professor of marketing and anthropology, Dr Janeen Arnold Costa had done her own research in these parlours across Greece during the 80s.
In a paper published in the Advances in Consumer Research journal, Dr Arnold Costa explains how wealth and worldliness of a family were displayed in these spaces.
“Visiting ports all over the world, sailors purchase goods, particularly art objects, which they present to their families when they return home. These objects are placed on display in the saloni and have a value which derives both from the migration process and from the relative prestige attached to foreign-made items.”
It seems that these days the kalo saloni is being phased out in everyday homes as it comes up against the rapid changes of suburban life.
Structural design engineer Evan Livaditis says developers are making way to accommodate for population growth and lifestyle choices.
“Residential living as evolved in a way where people opt for smaller homes but ‘nicer and newer’ for affordability. Pre-COVID people spent less time at home meaning people are at work, out at restaurants or bars, gym etc,” he says.
Although in some instances living spaces have become smaller, designers are still accommodating for spaces to entertaining guests.
“Backyards itself are much smaller, but are replaced with alfresco areas for entertainment and also a barbeque… in boutique homes we see the majority of backyards be used for pool space rather than grass space… Apartments obviously no backyard but balconies provide similar purpose,” says Mr Livaditis.
The heyday of the saloni is not all lost.
People who are able to afford to have these extra spaces do so, however the modern saloni has evolved into something perhaps more minimalistic explains Ms Kaimakamis.
“When we’re entertaining we like to be a bit more uniform and embrace everybody together…so a formal living area would be a room that doesn’t have a TV, but it will have a gorgeous fireplace… you’ll have your gorgeous seating, possibly a bar cart and they’re typically used to sit down, have a glass of wine and eat from a cheeseboard or a reading room with a gorgeous bookshelf,” she says.
Interior stylists like Ms Kaimakamis say clients are opting for more ‘open’ floor plans and using these spare rooms as another bedroom to up the market value.
In place of these omitted formal sitting areas, Ms Kaimakamis found that people are going for a fusion of old and new, up cycling vintage statement pieces and family heirlooms into the modern age.
“I had a gorgeous client and I had to incorporate a lot of pieces from her lost mother, so she has beautiful dining ware, glassware and sentimental pieces. She also has sentimental pieces from her husband’s grandparents. We had to incorporate this antique chair in their home…That now sits in the bedroom as a little occasional chair, where once upon a time it would’ve sat in a formal sitting space,” says Ms Kaimakamis.
The old school kalo saloni can still be found in the homes of our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Facebook pages like Ethnic Homes and Gardens simultaneously pay homage and poke a bit of fun at an aesthetic that infiltrated the homes of Greeks and many other ethnic communities alike, showing off submissions of yiayia’s precious copy of a copy of a copy of an ancient Greek statue.
Who knows, maybe you might have them in your own home one day.
*Originally printed 6 June 2020