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March 24, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Winter 2017 issue

A quiet place in the city

Words Dr. Neville Carabott

Photography Alan Carville

Interior Designer James Dimech


The brief was to create an elegant interior to complement the traditional period features of this refurbished Victorian property. A muted light colour palette was used with ‘cenere’ oak wood, antique silver finishes and luxurious tactile fabrics to enhance both the heritage and modernity of the building which is one of the finest examples of late Victorian property in Valletta. Named Queen Alexandra Mansion and dated 1901, this condominium was built in response to increased demand for comfortable upmarket housing in the capital, ornamented with sculpted elements based on the Ionic order.

The apartment was not officially on the market when I bought it at the close of business on a Friday after viewing several unremarkable properties. The agent did not have the key so she pointed to the location of the apartment and I knew my search was over. The apartment has six traditional Maltese balconies overlooking Manoel Island and the Sliema Creek. The location in the upper side of Valletta, near Hastings Gardens, has always been my favourite part of the city and on Monday morning I signed the promise of sale agreement without a viewing.

Having lived in London for a decade I wanted to make an interior that reflected the way I like to live and to achieve this I knew I needed to find an interior designer that shared my vision.

I had met with several local designers but when James created a 3D rendering based on my inspirations, I knew he was the right man for the job. James and his team really envisioned the concept and executed the project perfectly.

You should have seen it before I moved in. I decided to strip the interior and start from scratch. James was commissioned on a turnkey basis including project management of major construction work involving the replacement of the roof, timber balconies and apertures, carrying out repairs of the building and internal alterations, replacing electrical and plumbing systems, installing thermal insulation and energy efficient glazing which was handled entirely by his professional team of skilled operators and technicians. My biggest dilemma was removing the terrazzo Maltese tiles. Flooring can make or break the look you are after and I knew that regrettably the multi-coloured tiles had to go.

The starting point was communicating to James my non-negotiables such as the enduring classic English roll arm sofa and a wood-burning fireplace with a white mantelpiece and black marble surround. The shape of the English roll arm sofa is very versatile and it works well with lots of different styles of furniture. In the living room a pair of Louis XVI armchairs covered in swayed velvet are substantial enough to sit next to this style of sofa around a Calcatta marble coffee table designed by James Dimech. The Poliform wall system in ‘cenere’ oak, inner grids in mat lacquered ‘piombo’ and built-in lamps serves both as a library and a bar when the jet jutting out flap door is opened exposing a mirror back panel and top in black hide. The TV sits on the Bristol sideboard also in ‘cenere’ oak with a flap door storage unit in ‘piombo’ mat lacquered.

My inclination is towards a neutral colour palette and in the living room James chose colours that are more complex tinged with grey tones. It is all part of the trend of seeking more calm in the home, says James, whereas in the bedroom James chose accents of contrasting darker neutrals from taupe to charcoal grey, but all this happened after demolishing the old spare bedroom wall to make space for a wall to wall fitted wardrobe facing a fully customised padded wall made of twenty upholstered panels as a dominant headboard feature. The charcoal straw textured wallpaper from Fabulous Home adds a dramatic effect to the whole room. Sleep is the ultimate luxury for me and I find the Hastens Platinum Edition bed provides a sense of enclosure ideally conducive to peaceful slumber. The Ralph Lauren bedding crafted from 464-thread-count Egyptian cotton percaleis elegant and designed with contrast charcoal taping. I could probably live in just that one room and I actually miss it when I am away. The Marcel Wanders armchair and side table add a contemporary feel and a striking decorative presence. A pair of large Cobra lamps designed by Constantin Wortmann and the Cafu vase designed by HolmbäckNordentoft for Georg Jensen add an element of understated elegance which emanates from their alluring soft contours.

In the kitchen, the Alea Varenna (Poliform) kitchen in white gloss lacquer, stainless steel Bosch appliances and Silestone Tigris Sand natural quartz countertops create a contemporary ambience. White cannot be ignored, says James. It continues to be so prevalent and highly important in timeless elegance decor. James here managed to surprise once again. The kitchen island sits on a reproduction of the old terrazzo tiles giving back that authentic and missed/nostalgic feel to the room. The Concorde dining table by Emmanuel Gallina with structure in walnut and a black marble top is combined with the Grace armchairs upholstered in beige chanelia fabric. Coloured metals such as silver and pewter are items of discussion in the design industry. And, just as in fashion, a metal finish can be used as a neutral, that is how the silver convex mirror complemented with designer homeware accessories by Eichholtz from Fabulous Home created a statement in the dining room.

A white metal staircase leading up to a home gym with shower room was designed by James Dimech to create a more spacious entry foyer. The Portofino Louis XV Chest together with a Venetian studded frame mirror gives the foyer an exquisite elegant feel combined with a Persian Rug contrasting with the Gres marble effect flooring creating a seamless flow throughout the apartment.

Solid timber doors painted white with glass panels mirror the traditional balcony glass panels creating an open feel as soon as you enter the foyer from where you can see all the way to Sliema. I have an affinity for being near water and the balcony doors were enlarged specifically to open up their spectacular views.

I love things that are pure and simple but I also like classical shapes. Thankfully James Dimech, was on hand to help with creating a space that is soothing and a pleasure to live in. In my experience the key to a successful outcome is good, clear communication and a little patience on both sides. Interior design is all about personal relationships, says James, helping someone to make a home is an intimate experience, so it is important to have a connection. I like a client who enjoys the process and wants a collaborative working relationship, but also trusts me to implement their vision.

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