An internationally acknowledged architect and surveyor- by occupation, a presiding member of the Green Building Counsel in Montenegro – by vocation; an actor and artist at heart, a loving father of three and a grandfather of five, a passionate cook and a skillfulmodel shipbuilder… meet Robin Gellately-Smith. A man that has it all.
Robin arrived in Montenegro 16 years ago. The only Englishman in Kotor back then, he witnessed the rise of Montenegro’s real estate and tourism; not only did he witness it, he actively participated in it.
#mnetoday: What brought you to Montenegro?
RGS: I came to Montenegro…. On a basis of a very strong feeling. I was sitting in my office in London looking out on a particular dull rainy autumn day, when a client of mine came into the office, having just come back from a holiday in Montenegro. This was in 2000, just after the NATO bombing stopped. So getting to Montenegro was quite difficult for her. She showed me photos of her visit and something about these photos stirred a strong feeling in me, a feeling that I’ve been to this country before. So strong was this sensation that a month later I jumped on a plane to Montenegro. After spending a week here I decided to close my surveying business down and to make Montenegro my home…
#mnetoday: What was it like when you first arrived here?
RGS: In October 2000 Montenegro was part of Serbia and a poor region with big seasonal unemployment and poor infrastructure. Naturally, there was no property market; as property ownership was only realized in 1972, prior to that all land and properties were owned by the state. With the help of the British Embassy I decided to create a business club in Kotor with a Montenegrin partner to encourage business between the UK and Montenegro. Yet, it happened to be over-ambitious for that period. In October 2004 English television Channel 4 featured Montenegro in a program called ‘Place in the Sun’. Amazingly, planes loaded with the British and Irish came out to buy property. And that was the real start of the property boom. Followed quickly by the first great 5 of UK estate agents. It was quite natural for me to become an estate agent as well.
#mnetoday: Your English background and knowledge of English standards and criteria must have given you a competitive edge…
RGS: The synergy of my agency had the advantage of not only selling properties, we offered a full-blown architectural service based on English standards and criteria, which meshed in very well with the English and Irish buyers. This allowed me to indulge in my passion of creating and designing a whole range of buildings from stone Venetian-style houses to modern apartment blocks and high-net worth villas. In the meantime, I was appointed the local Embassy Warden for the Kotor bay region by the newly established British Embassy then based in Podgorica and fulfilled my functions as adviser for UK investors, particularly on the coast.
In 2012 my project of a Venetian house in the UNESCO-listed town of Perast was awarded an International architectural award received in Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
#mnetoday: Taking into consideration the positioning of Montenegro as a ‘Wild Beauty’, have you been guided by the principles of sustainable building in your projects?
RGS: Most certainly so. Sustainability is at the core of all my projects. A few years ago I joined some fellow enthusiasts to create a Montenegro Green Building Counsel which is now recognized and part of the World Green Building Counsel; this has become the hallmark of my time here in Montenegro, allowing me to concentrate on the promotion of sustainable and green building initiatives: from energy saving to waste recycling.
#mnetoday: You’ve been here for over 16 years, you’ve done a lot in many spheres, does the thought of going back to England ever cross your mind?
RGS: I do go back to England every now and then, to visit my children and grandchildren. But I feel at home in Montenegro, I love this country and I have made it my own.
#mnetoday: I hear that you have been quite active on the cultural side too – introducing Scottish festivities to Montenegro.
RGS: You must be referring to Robert Burn’s Night! I thought it was a good enough reason to bring us, expats together and to familiarize the local people with our traditions too. Montenegro’s becoming a melting port of cultures, giving us a wonderful opportunity to exchange traditions and travel in time and space without the actual relocation.
#mnetoday: Architecture, real estate, environmental issues, cultural exchange, is there anything else that you engage in –as it seems that your day has more hours than that of a normal person?
RGS: I have a lot of passions. One is model shipbuilding. We spend weekends with my young son engaged in this meticulous activity – it makes him feel proud to see a proper multi-mast vessel appearing out of a number of wood plates. I love painting, but I don’t find much time to engage in it…maybe when I retire (laughing)…The other thing I am very passionate about is cooking, you are very welcome to come over and try my scones – you won’t find better once in Cornwall, the place of their origin. I’m not restricting myself to English cuisine though, I love to cook Asian and Italian food too; and I love to have guests to cook for. It feels very gratifying. Dancing has been my passion since I remember myself.
#mnetoday: Do you feel happy?
RGS: I am a very happy and lucky man. I have it all: my work, which I love, my family who are happy and healthy and expanding! And the woman I love who shares all my passions. All I feel is gratitude.
#mnetoday: And the last question, which you might find challenging to answer –being such a multi-faceted personality, could you describe yourself in a few words?
RGS: One of God’s souls doing the best he can with his time on this planet.