Altea, the Ultimate in Furniture Signed by Greeks!
Vassilis Moundakis came to Canada from Greece because of his wife, who was born in Montreal, bringing with him the renowned family business from Athens. And, with his signature brand, “Altea,” has created a furniture store in Westmount where he joins modern comforts and styles to classic European pieces.
The furniture is “refurbished” in Greece and transported to Montreal to decorate even the mainstream homes with a high aesthetic. In a telling interview, the businessman who has married his two worlds, those of Greece and Canada, in the realm of furniture, reveals the intricacies of his design and his passion for the beautiful.
Why “Altea?” What is the meaning of this name?
Altea is the area of Athens where my home is situated. To be more precise, the name is “Althea” and it is located beyond the town of Varkiza on the way to Cape Sounion. It is the name of the slope that accompanies you as you take in the majestic Saronic gulf, a hillside with a spectacular view of the sea bathed in Greek sunshine. In this way, I brought the light and the sea of Greece with me here to Canada with the journey’s Godmother being my wife, of course.
What new and different does Altea’s furniture bring to Montreal?
Taken simply, I believe that every new venture expands upon the choices one might have.
At Altea, we offer refined furniture that is both authentic and contemporary. Our pieces incorporate high aesthetics, quality and style that make any space unique. Altea offers European quality with contemporary design. Joining materials, styles and craftsmanship, we reconstruct antique and vintage pieces while maintaining their features. We do not refurbish them, but, rather, refresh their beauty in a modern way. We make them more functional and unique with the use of modern designs and modern lines and with the use of linen fabrics. Our furniture is made of bronze, black chrome, steel and natural Greek marble—materials that express the passion and experience of our Greek craftsmen.
What prompted you to transfer your company to Canada?
The need to be able to help my family, first, and, in turn, my country as well. Living in Greece of the crisis, every dream and hope is confined to surviving another day without putting a business or family further into debt, a constant struggle that approaches the absurd. My wife was raised in Montreal, so a move to Canada was always a feasible option that became a reality. Here, I have the potential to realize my dreams.
Tell us about the family business…
I come from a family with three generations of experience in the realm of furniture and antiques. In 1971, my Mother inherited a small antiques business in Piraeus from my Grandfather. Her skill, along with her love for furniture and the support of my father, enabled her to become one of the biggest names in the Greek furniture market.
Her list of customers included a “who is who” of Greece’s artistic, political and business scene. The homes of Hatzidakis, Theodorakis, Iolas, Mitsotakis, Karamanlis, Stefanopoulos, Vardinogiannis, Konstantakopoulos as well as famous hotels such as Elounda Beach, Costa Navarino and the Grand Resort have seen their spaces adorned with unique furniture re-engineered by our excellent craftsmen.
In order to meet our needs in terms of the variety of items, we would travel all over Europe, visiting umpteen antique furniture markets. This is the environment in which I was raised. I have been working for the family business for 24 years and I still help whenever necessary. It’s something I love and it’s in my DNA.
Where do you find the furniture to purchase and restore?
Presently, Altea has a warehouse with over 700 pieces. Altea’s designer, Alain Courchesne, selects the furniture to be used and how it will be used and chooses the style and the fabrics that will “re-create” it.
Where is Altea’s workshop?
My experience with the Greek market has shown me that the country possesses great artisans and tradition in furniture and, as such, we trust our creations to them. Also, by employing experienced Greek craftsmen, we are helping Greek families in this time of great need. Of course, there is also a manufacturing and repair team here in Montreal that gives us the opportunity to reconstruct furniture we find locally.
How much easier has the new trade agreement between Canada and Europe (CETA) made your business?
Initially, one of the issues that concerned us was the costs associated with transportation and taxes, as the bulk of our goods are shipped from Greece. With CETA, a very positive treaty for Europe and for Canada, our tax issues have been resolved. I believe that the opening up of these two major markets will enhance bilateral trade relations, creating new opportunities. I believe more Canadians may begin to manufacture and import products from Europe, thereby providing an alternative to China.
What are your dreams for Altea?
Altea is a personal dream that God has given me the opportunity to bring to fruition. I would like to see it grow here in Montreal and to have its products become established and loved here in North America. If I succeed, I will know that I have been able to help my home country. For me, this is as important as the success of my business.
What is your target market? Who is your buying audience?
Altea’s furnishings offer a good price/quality ratio. Our buying public, which we could say comes from the middle and upper financial realm, are people with a love for quality and design.
How have you found things in Montreal? Easier than Greece?
Generally speaking, life is easier here than living in Greece. Canada is an organized country that facilitates one’s day-to-day existence. The bureaucracy is minimal and there is a confidence among businessmen with regards to the system. In Greece, it is a struggle. Nevertheless, a business in Canada, with Greece as a backdrop, is the ideal scenario for me.