As soon as she arrived in Greece in 1958 PGH was interested in finding an island home for herself. Being a woman was no barrier to the negotiations when houses were the property of women, usually as a form of dowry handed down from mothers to eldest daughters. Greeks also respected foreigners, who they assumed were all rich and powerful. According to Charmian Clift, “most Greeks earnestly believe that the good will of the meanest visitor from some other land, the merest scrawl with a pen, can miraculously change the course of a poor Greek’s life and bring him security and ease” (Mermaid Singing, 118). PGH explored islands including Aegina, Hydra and Poros, only a short ferry ride from Athens, but also Rhodes, Kos, Patmos, Mykonos and Delos. She found Poros attractive, and it was a practical option, more so than Mykonos, where the transport of a piano on a caique would be fraught with hazards. Yet Mykonos seemed the most ideally Cycladic, the island that most closely resembled what a village might have looked like in Nausicaa’s day. Her friend the dancer John Butler chose Mykonos for a holiday in summer 1958, when PGH was in Athens. There he met the local matriarch, Vienoula Kousathana, who arranged accommodation for him and his lover, the dancer and gifted photographer Charles Saint-Amant. Vienoula was a legend on the island, the mother of five children, a weaver with a unique love of colour and herself a poet and composer of songs. When Peggy visited Mykonos she found she could stay in a fisherman’s house so close to the sea—probably in Little Venice—that the spray showered her face. Best of all, it cost her only 25 cents a night. Everyone stopped at Vienoula’s shop to chat and ask for advice—she spoke good English, was always cheerful and witty and her shop with its myriad brightly coloured weavings, her large loom and the village atmosphere made it seem cosy and familiar.
PGH returned to Greece in 1960 and made several visits to Mykonos that year, but it wasn’t until June 1961 that she visited the island with the express intention of finding a house of her own. Her earliest photos of the house show it sitting on a hillside above the town, a large box with a door facing the town and a smaller patterned box on the back with turrets, a stone wall running across the front and the hill behind covered in yellow flowers. To get to the house now is an easy walk from the waterfront, through a maze of paved stone streets, past an amphitheatre and up the steps adjacent to the luxurious Belvedere Hotel. The house sits up a lane on the far side of Agiou Ioannou, the main road running around the back of the town. Amazingly, even on the windiest day it seems sheltered, and in 1961 it would have had a clear view of the sea. The house was originally a dovecote, the word peristéria referring to “birds of the goddess Ishtar”. Dovecotes were typically two storeys, the ground floor for storage and the upper floor for the doves. Their distinctive turrets were punctuated with triangular openings built by the local tradesmen with thin flat slate. Opposite PGH’s dovecote was a garden and a vineyard owned by a Zouganelli with more walled gardens and another house beyond. Immediately behind the dovecote was a rocky hillside and a shepherd’s hut. PGH began negotiations hoping to pay $1500 for the house and was hoping some of the surrounding land might be thrown in as insurance against being crowded by other buildings. Eventually she agreed to $2000, so some land must have been included, and either on the voyage there on 20 November or on a later visit in December, a contract was agreed. In mid-December, with her Athenian lawyer, Heracleia Zannou, the purchase was witnessed by representatives of five families that had previously owned the land: Kousathana, Zouganelli, Xydaki, Galouni and Vatimbella, most of them shepherds, fishermen and caique owners. She commissioned Vienoula’s nephew Michalis Lykos—an Adonis with blue eyes and a talent for playing the tsambouna—to replaster, add windows and doors, tile the floors and rethatch the roof. Later she would add a kitchen and bathroom. In March 1962 there was a sixteen-day meltémi, which interrupted their plans and forced Kostandi, the boatman delivering her floor tiles from Piraeus, to shelter in a cove on the way. They also discovered that water tended to gush down the rock wall at the back of the house. From late May they worked under a blazing sun, marking out a 30-metre terrace on two sides, dynamiting the ground for a well with an ornate wrought-iron winder and on a dawn visit to a particular beach gathering fikia seaweed for the roof. She had moved in by the end of May, when she sailed on a shepherd’s caique to Delos to give thanks to Apollo. The house was christened the House of the Angel, “To Spiti tou Angelou”.