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February 25, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2018 issue

When classic meets modern

​​Words Justine Bartolo

Photography Alan Carville

Walking into this home for the first time I still remember the feeling I got as I passed the threshold. A sense of excitement came over me as the first thing I realized was that the building had good bones. By good bones we mean that it was architecturally sound and aesthetically pleasing from its foundations up.


The spiral staircase caught my eye straight away, the Maltese stone on every wall, and the gorgeous arches dividing areas.


The client immediately explained that most changes were to be superficial, ie. No removing of internal walls, removing arches or anything that meant construction. We wanted to gain a fresh look by changing the furniture, the flooring in the living / dining and changing the lighting. This might sound like it would be less work for a designer, but in reality, it can sometimes create more challenges due to the lack of flexibility one has, to make drastic changes.


Flooring plays a huge part in the overall look of a space, so when changing from tiles, we immediately decided to go for a warm wooden floor. We didn’t want to go too dark because
dull colours absorb light rather than reflect it, and as most old Maltese properties, large windows are not a traditional element, so we were already dealing with a space that did not carry that much natural light.


The furniture at the time was mainly made from solid mahogany, and whilst incredibly luxurious, the colour of the wood did create a dull effect to the space.


Immediately the client and I seemed to bond on the style that we wanted to achieve from the space. Modern, but respecting the tradition of the building. Light and airy, but still cosy and warm, reflecting the fact that the property is a family home.


Another thing we agreed upon, was that the current kitchen was not to be completely removed and replaced, but instead we were going to restore it, replacing fundamental elements, such as the counter, hardware and backsplash, but keep the structure and just working on updating it. I loved that idea straight away, as a before and after whilst still using the same furniture, can show just how possibly it is to create a completely new and updated look, without an exorbitant budget.


Working from the foundation up, we changed the floor first, and the difference was dramatic. The old tiles were giving a cold feel to the space, whilst a wooden floor warms and adds elegance.


We then proceeded to change the wall lamps and pendant lighting, always keeping in mind that we are updating the property, but not changing it completely. Changing a design from classic to modern can be challenging, but when we still want to allow for the original elements to come through, that is even more complex.


I knew I wanted to bring in colour, a fresh look and light and wooden surfaces. All those elements add to a space becoming brighter, visually lighter and warmer. We made sure that every corner was thought of and all details were analysed and broken down, from the fabrics of the classic wing armchairs, to the display of art on the gallery wall, plants and lighting.


One of the most gorgeous spaces of the overall look, is the sitting area. We custom made a tall bookcase and added a rug, side table and leather armchair.


The most beautiful focal point is the armchair, and we especially love it as the tan leather gives an old English feel to the area, yet the shape is incredibly mid-century modern, that oozes style.


A very important part of the brief, was that even though all the rooms on this level of the property were not technically in an open place space, it was still vital that each area was to be consistent in flow. Therefore we needed to make sure that as you walk through the space, you are introduced with subtle new elements whilst still maintaining design balance throughout.


As soon as you walk through the entrance you are in the living space, so it was very important that this room was inviting yet open. A challenging aspect was that we did need to include a good amount of seating in the room without it looking heavy and cluttered. Open spaces near entrances are always more endearing and a badly designed space can create a feel of confusion for the viewer. We achieved an open space by deciding on a light coloured fabric for the sofa and armchairs, and using wooden furniture for a soft feel that doesn’t add too much visual heaviness, but using a bold pattern for the rug to create contrast between the flooring and coffee table. Plants and other gorgeous decorative styling brings the modern edge to the space.


Looking to your left upon entry, you are immediately grasped by the gorgeous chandelier in the dining room, and although the client’s taste is not overall luxurious and grand, the large scale chandelier together with the oversized wall clock create an impactful focal point to the room, adding to a casual kind of sophistication you see throughout the entire space.


The client was looking for a design company to brighten and update their living quarters of a traditional Maltese home, definitely not a task for the faint-hearted, and now, upon project finalization, we can say that all non-negotiable requirements were met and surpassed. Both we at Lillie Helena Design House, and the client are incredibly happy with the outcome, that eclectic collaboration of classic and modern can work together in harmony, and we believe we have achieved that perfect balance of what we call “traditionally present”, that fine line of where classic meets modern!

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