Dark Star

It is fair to say that most Maltese homes follow the light. Walls pulled down, floor-to-ceiling apertures installed, and a neutral palette is chosen, all aimed at creating a space that is light and bright. But not this home. Here, instead of carving up the property to make it brighter, the lack of light has been embraced to create a moody elegance that is both cosy and cocooning with deep rich colour and jewel tones beautifully playing off against modern and traditional elements.


‘Day or night, you are enveloped by a feeling of richness and warmth’


‘It wasn’t naturally well lit, so the decision was taken to create a den-type feeling,’ says Perit Claire Carter of Carter Architectural Studio, responsible for renovating the property. ‘Day or night, you are enveloped by a feeling of richness and warmth; when we were designing the property, we intentionally carried similar elements through all the rooms, to strengthen these feelings and treat the interiors in a holistic manner.’
Claire renovated the entire building, a historic house in Valletta, creating three apartments and a triplex penthouse suite. The owners, Roberto and Clifford, bought it three years ago, putting in an offer within 15 minutes of seeing it. ‘We love Valletta, and the house is very, very beautiful,’ says Roberto.
This was their fifth renovation project. ‘We live in a place for a few years and then feel we need another project,’ laughs Roberto. This was their first historic building, however, and their brief to Claire was to work with traditional features to create 21st-century apartments.
For Claire, the challenge was to find a way to ‘maintain the original fabric of the house without having to do away with modern comforts that the clients needed,’ she says.
Roberto and Clifford live in the penthouse apartment which takes up the top three floors, reaching their home via a smart glass elevator from the communal entrance courtyard.
The apartment’s high sense of style is apparent as soon as one enters. Instead of plain walls, the hallway is decorated with panelled wallpaper, the landscape pattern drawing the eye in and beyond the small hallway. ‘Panelled wallpaper makes the hallway visually interesting and gives a more spacious feel to it than it actually is,’ says Claire.
The largest room in the apartment is the open-plan kitchen and dining room but here, it is not the kitchen but the table that holds court, the kitchen contained to a long island. ‘The clients don’t have children but entertain a lot, so instead of a regular kitchen I designed an island so guests can mill around and talk to each other,’ says Claire.
In fact, continues the architect, the entire apartment has been designed with entertaining in mind. ‘There is one bedroom, the rest of the area is for lounging, with places to meet and chat,’ says Claire.
The apartment beautifully blends the historic with the modern, Claire, at times, adding new elements that appear original to ensure the rooms have a balance of the the two styles. ‘For example, in the kitchen,’ she explains, ‘the tiles and doors are original, but the kitchen is contemporary, so I added panelled mouldings to one wall to reinforce the effect of a modern kitchen in a traditional building and help bring to light the building’s style.’
The mouldings are one trick Claire has used to balance the height of the rooms with the disproportionately smaller floor space. Another is found in the living room where Claire installed panelling that was then painted. ‘The volume of the room is vertical rather than horizontal – the panelling helps the eye to focus on the wall and not travel upwards, and at the same time helps give dimension and interest to the room,’ she says.
The walls in the room have been rendered but left uneven. ‘This way we’ve maintained the original look of the fabric as walls were never absolutely straight in the past,’ says Claire. ‘Making things look too perfect beats the purpose of having a historic building.’
The bedroom is reached via the original staircase. Unusually it is downstairs, but this positioning allows the living area to connect directly to the roof terrace. Situated directly below the kitchen/dining room, the bedroom is also large, and in adding a bathroom, Claire did not want to lose this sense of spaciousness. ‘The solution was a three-metre panel which delineates the space between the bedroom and bathroom but also allows you to see the ceiling ensuring the room still feels large,’ she says.
For Roberto and Clifford, the end result of the renovation is an apartment they love. ‘This is probably our last project,’ says Roberto. ‘I think this home is where we will stay.’