By Alexia Evripidou
FAMILY, ECOLOGY and creativity come first for husband and wife team Mark and Alexandra Hellicar and their four children.
This all makes for a rather fulfilling, exciting life. And with Mark’s full name a staggering Mark Husain Hellicar Weir Macfarlane Macnaughton Buchanan, not even the names in their story are dull.
“I hope my name is not the most interesting thing about me,” says Mark.
Maybe not the most interesting, but definitely worth mentioning.
English/Scottish Mark was brought up in Cyprus by his Bahai faith parents, hence his incongruous middle name Husain. The last three names derive from Scottish clans that Mark’s family is thought to belong to.
“I was not very good at exams at school but filling in my name at the top of the paper, made me feel good,” jokes Mark.
“I am just Alexandra Hellicar,” says his East German wife, deadpan.
Opting for a chemical free, sustainable living, eco promoting lifestyle, the Hellicars sought to create opportunities to work from home in order to spend quality time with their four children. They left their big city jobs in 2008 and now run their architectural office; Earthbound Architects and Alex’s daily sewing classes from the renovated old goat shed on their property in the little village of Pera Orinis in the Nicosia district.
Being hands on parents, they participate in their children’s after school activities, which include archery and sewing lessons. Mark and Alex work together sharing responsibilities and chores, negotiating work hours so they can help stimulate creativity in their children and reduce the hours the kids spend on any form of media activity.
They’re predominantly vegetarian, grow food in their garden, recycle religiously, save stray animals and use homeopathic medicine. The neighbours often struggle to understand the Hellicars’ lifestyle. Even so, they are respected members of the community and school council. Mark is a member of the village technical committee, where – using his fluent Greek – he contributes to the meetings by suggesting how to sustain the architecture and landscape of the village.
And yet, they still manage to find time to dedicate to their own hobbies and interests: sewing, leaf cutting, poetry writing and being a member of a music band. It’s all very reminiscent of The Good Life, the British TV comedy of the 1970s which focused on a couple fighting against the odds to be self-sufficient.
“I think we’ve managed to survive because we are home based. I still think that’s the only way to work with four children and without an around-the-clock support system with the children,” says Alex.
The couple met whilst studying in Greenwich University London. In 1998 they married in their design studio in the UK (because it looked like it was going to rain outside). In 2004 they moved with their two young children to Cyprus and made Pera Orinis their home. Their brood has now expanded to four children under 16, four hens, two dogs and cats.
Like Mark did before, all their children attend public schools and like Mark, speak Greek, German and English fluently. “We’re sending our children to a local Greek school, not only to learn about the culture they live in but also to give them an alternative outlook on life, an alternative to what you get at home,” says Mark who himself was brought up Cypriot outside the home and very British at home.
Three-year-old Mark and his family came to Cyprus from the UK in 1970 looking for adventure and curious to discover another culture. He is eldest of six children, so no stranger to the demands of a large family. Mark’s parents had intended to move back to the UK but loved Cyprus so much, they stayed. Mark moved abroad aged 18. Four of his siblings who followed a similar path again live in Cyprus.
“There’s so many of us Hellicars around, it’s quite similar in many ways to the Cypriot system,” says Mark. Only two courtyards separate their house from his parents’ one where his brother lives upstairs.
Before Cyprus, Alex and Mark struggled to find work for four years in Germany before they took advantage of a German government programme to leave the country and find work abroad. With 5000 euro paid expenses as incentive, Mark landed on his feet after only four days of coming to Cyprus in 2004, when he found work as an architect in the country where he had grown up in.
Both qualified architects, they began work in the same architectural office in Nicosia. Alex was only working part-time then.
“I wanted to be there for my children, to do their homework with them instead of sending them out to external institutions that would give them extra lessons, I don’t agree with that,” says Alex. But it did mean for many years that she was unable to work as an architect and instead was given work as a model maker, which left her feeling professionally unfilled.
Unlike Germany, Alex found that support for the working mother was limited here, so in 2008 after their third child was born Alex decided to set up Earthbound Architects. Mark joined her a year and a half later; it was a joint goal of theirs.
Although business did well, the economic crisis has meant less work and Alex took a back seat in the business. At the same time, encouraged by her neighbour, she decided to start offering handicraft sewing lessons – focusing on clothes, accessories and decorations – as a small sideline income.
She now has 20 students and offers adult and youth classes six evenings a week.
She had never anticipated that it would turn into a real business.
“It was completely accidental, but it took off so successfully, it’s now my job. It seems where nearly every business went down during the crisis, the sewing took off.”
Ethics are incorporated into all aspects of their lives, especially in their architectural work. “We’ve always encouraged our clients to look at other ways of heating and cooling, using natural resources rather than fossil fuel and insulating the house, long before the energy regulation came along in 2012. It’s a complex business,” says Alex. “We built the first biological pool in Nicosia, maybe even in Cyprus.” These are self cleaning pools that work without chemicals using UV and ozone treatment and have a regeneration area.
They’re currently commissioned to design the external areas for the old girls’ and boys’ school in the village using locally sourced and sustainable material. Mark’s also been approached for an eco village in Akrotiri and a small three star hotel in Nicosia. All of which reflect the focus on conservation, sustainability and eco friendly architecture.
In his spare time, Mark spends it creatively by painting, writing poetry, being part of a mixed nationality music band (parapera) and doing his leaf cutting art. Always an avid artist, Mark stumbled across this leaf cutting concept a couple of year ago by accident. He cuts intricate designs into the leaves, creating beautiful imagery of landscape, churches or anything else that fires his imagination.
“I don’t feel we have an empty life,” says Mark.
Mark’s work is on display in the shop Phaneromenis 75, Nicosia. His band, parapera, will be performing at the Weaving Mill, Nicosia on April 17