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May 16, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2013 issue

Rustic charm at its best

A delightful family home where the past sits comfortably with the present.

Words: Andrea Christians

Photography: Alan Carville

This enchanting house positively oozes character from every stone which is hardly surprising as it dates back to the 1700s. Although large, it stands inconspicuously tucked away in a side street in one of Malta’s best loved towns. Furthermore, it is a house that has a history and has the notable distinction of once being a holding facility for those awaiting sentence at the nearby courthouse and has a cellar that was once used as cells.

It was bought by its current owners twenty one years ago at a time when it was still possible to find unconverted properties in central locations. Over the coming years it underwent a transformation into a comfortable and stylish family home without compromising its authenticity. Indeed, it is a house full of interesting features that whisper of the past wherever you look. One can only wonder at the many lives and events that must have unfolded here over the centuries and rarely have I seen such attention paid to preserving the historic aspect.

The large front doorway enters into a hallway with an arched glass paned pine door immediately opposite and rooms opening off on either side. The paned door was added to enclose the hall area and looks out onto a small courtyard festooned with flowers and plants. The floors throughout are flag stone whilst the walls have been left in their original form. Large antique iron keys hanging on one wall and a charming candle nook carved in stone immediately conjure up images of the past. I particularly liked the old mill stone that supports a circular glass top and makes an attractive occasional table.

Immediately to the right, metal gates open onto the sitting room. This is a lovely room traversed by low stone arches that support the house and at once indicate its great age. The seat at the far end originated from Gozo and is an antique dating back to the Victorian era whilst the carved wooden mirror nestled between the arches is of eastern origin. Neutral coloured sofas and armchairs complement the honey coloured stone as does the bamboo parquet flooring which is a recent addition. The two alcoves on either side have been again left original although the owners told me that the window in between was once a second front door and that this house actually has two numbers! Turquoise cushions add a gentle accent colour to an eclectic mix of furniture that works well together giving this room a relaxing ambience.

At the far side of the hall we find the dining room. It contains a much loved classic style dining suite and display unit that was originally bought in England and has been with the family for many years. It is well proportioned to the size of the room and its dark colour contrasts nicely against the lighter coloured walls.

At this point I begin to realise that the house is almost circular in layout as immediately adjoining the dining room we find the kitchen. This is a spacious, welcoming room that also looks out onto the central courtyard. 

The Kitchen was purchased from FXB and has recently been given a facelift by changing the dark granite surface to a lighter Corian supplied by Shaker. The effect has transformed the room and also highlights the mosaic tiles on the wall. A central table holds centre stage in the room for informal dining and a compact spiral staircase stands in one corner to allow access to the upper floors. 

Like so many properties access above was originally solely through an external stone staircase which, although a lovely a feature, is not terribly practical during periods of bad weather. The spiral option was subsequently installed and stands adjacent to a window that was also enlarged to allow for more light. Not that this room lacks light as the theme of the pine glass paned doors is continued here in an ingenious piece of planning that saw a small area of the courtyard sacrificed to create and enclosed corridor that curves around to the next section of the house.

In its original state this would have been a stable with a small adjoining room. The enclosure has allowed it to be fully utilised as part of the house and a guest toilet has been created in what may once have been a primitive kitchen. The one time stable next door is now a cosy living room and has some charming original features such as an indentation in the floor for what must have been a gate that closed and hooked into a groove cut into the stone. There is even a stone manger in one corner that still contained hay and even an egg when the owners bought it!

Today it is an interesting little nook lit by a skylight and is used as a shelf for ornaments and CDs. The furniture is this room is wicker and was recently upholstered in the striped design material and is gentle and unobtrusive.

Upstairs the house is just as interesting with high beamed ceilings in contrast to the low arches of the floor below. The spiral staircase opens on to what was originally an open landing that was enclosed by the current owners. This first floor has three bedrooms. The master bedroom has its own en suite with simple colours and ceramics that befit a house of this epoch. An arched window looks onto the courtyard below whilst the bed pale linens complement the antique pine dresser and mirrored wardrobe doors increase the sense of space.

The family bathroom is immediately adjacent and has a separate shower cubicle and serves a further two bedrooms. I particularly liked the arch over the bed in one of the rooms and thought it an interesting feature on this upper floor. Again the bed linens here are neutral and in keeping with farmhouse style.

A stone staircase at the far end leads up to a utility room and home office that opens on to the roof.

From this elevated vantage point it was possible to see that the garden has a second terrace area that spans over the roof of the television room. There are indications that there may once have been another room there but it was already demolished when the current owners bought the house and has since been developed an utilised as a summer terrace with barbecue and dining furniture for al fresco eating in a garden that is walled and completely private.

On ground level a well is disguised with plants and flowers and an extra outer arch was constructed over the pine doors to create more aesthetic interest.

I could not leave the house without seeing the cellar and was met with a neat brightly lit subterranean room now mostly used for storage that bore no resemblance to how it must once have been when it was a holding cell. Still, climbing down flagstone steps hewn out of rock I couldn’t help but wonder about the fate of those who had trodden this path centuries before me and about this house, that, with its sympathetic restoration, so effortlessly combines the past and present to create an exquisite family home.

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