Cultural Exchange

Buying and renovating a house in a new country often means melding cultures, taking what you know and are familiar with and blending this with the traditions and styles of one’s adopted home.
In this townhouse in Sliema, the look is Sweden meets Malta, a cultural exchange of two styles which on the face of it are quite different – one created in a cold climate where forests and lakes abound; the other formed in extreme heat and a dry, almost arid terrain – come together beautifully to create a home that really feels like a place you can kick off your shoes and relax in.
Texture is a feature, from the limestone walls to the contrast between the smoothness of concrete and lightly sanded oak and the modern Maltese tiles that flow seamlessly into parquet. A scattering of vintage pieces and pops of bright colour add a lively tone, as does the large scale palm leaf wallpaper in the living room.
The owners of this home, Maria and Lahcene, moved from Sweden six years ago for work reasons and are now happily settled, with Maria the owner of store Fly the Fly Vintage.
They rented for a few years in Valletta before buying this rundown townhouse that was just the right size. ‘We started looking at houses in Valletta; they were beautiful but enormous and there are just the two of us,’ says Maria. ‘We saw this house and we liked it. Townhouses are not common in Sweden so that made it interesting, and we could see the potential.’
The couple had a clear idea of the style they wanted – a combination of rustic Scandi, Malta and vintage. ‘We both felt that we could create something unique, and that we were up to the challenge,’ says Maria.
Joining them in their renovation adventure was spatial designer Sean Cassar of Design Hub Malta. He had already designed the Fly the Fly boutique for Maria and was commissioned to design the townhouse which is a short distance away. He took the couple’s brief and set about turning their ideas into reality, tweaking and amending where necessary. ‘He was very good at listening to what we wished for and sometimes, when it was hard to proceed with what we wanted, he found solutions,’ says Maria.
One such issue was the use of wood – Maria and Lahcene’s initial thoughts blew the budget. ‘Unlike in Sweden, wood is very expensive here,’ says Maria. One solution was to use less costly wood and stain it, so creating the same effect as the more expensive material.
The townhouse was originally two storeys with a basement, but Maria and Lahcene were able to put in a top floor which also gave them a roof terrace. This allowed the house to be slightly reconfigured – the second bedroom on the first floor was turned into a large ensuite bathroom consisting of both a walk-in shower and a free-standing bath. The guest bedroom moved upstairs.
The townhouse also needed to be made more streamlined. On the ground floor, Sean removed an existing arch between the hallway and living room. ‘This opened up the room that otherwise felt fragmented,’ he says.
Downstairs, in the basement kitchen, the floor between the kitchen and dining areas had to be evened out so the two spaces move seamlessly from one space to another – not an easy task as it meant working with concrete, parquet and tiles. ‘All three have different depth at screed level so that had to be taken into account,’ says Sean.
Maximising light was crucial and this was done by creating new windows and expanding existing ones. In the living room, windows were done with modern stained glass, adding pattern and colour to the space, as well as increasing light flow.
The stained glass is one of a number of clever touches that can be found throughout. Within the thick limestone walls are niches which create an interesting pattern, as well as providing places for storage, and for lit candles which create a mellow ambience. In the bathroom, the finely crafted copper taps and steel mirrors are handmade. ‘In Malta there are still craftsman who could do this – I’m not sure we could have had this done in Sweden,’ says Maria.
The rebuild and renovation took two-and-a-half years and like any large project there were some testing times, but the end result a house that feels like home. ‘We are very happy,’ says Maria. ‘Some things had to change and we had to make compromises, but the house is a bit of Sweden with the spirit of Malta, just as we wanted it.’