Natural Habitat

When renovating her new property in Birgu, Eliza Costabel faced two challenges. The first was ensuring
the house, parts of which date back to the 1500s, kept its character whilst at the same time making it a home for modern times. The second was turning a space with a width of just 2.5 metres into a place that felt spacious and comfortable.
She overcame both challenges with aplomb, and today the four-storey house has been transformed from a dark and stuffy property into one that is filled with light and air and has a wonderfully relaxing and tranquil mood about it. Having lived most of her life overseas, in particular in North and East Africa, the U.S., and the Far East, Eliza’s home is also decorated with lovely objects from around the world that add interest and charm.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy, though, especially with the challenges of doing major conversion works in a space so tight. She and her fiance’ Alberto went through three contractors which stretched a six-month renovation to over a year. ‘The first contractors unfortunately let us down,’ she says. ‘The third was Nino Marotta and he was our saviour. I call him an artist builder; he puts passion into whatever he does, not just the building but also the finishes and details.’
As well as being owner of landscape company, The Garden Studio, Eliza is also an interior architect so she was clear about what needed to be done to make the property liveable for herself and Alberto. ‘None of the back rooms had ventilation or natural light and were very dark and damp so we demolished the back part of these and inserted an open shaft that stretches from the first floor to the top of the house,’ she says. ‘This way all the rear rooms either have a skylight or window that opens onto the shaft which brings ventilation and light throughout the house.’
Although narrow, the ground and first floors had lovely high ceilings and arches which were left untouched. However, to find space for the bedroom, on the second floor, a loft was built above the first floor living room, and throughout the house she demolished walls, ceilings and rearranged room accesses to open up the spaces and make them code compliant.
Despite the major works, the character of the house has been kept, from the soaring ceiling arches to the elegant spiral stone staircase between the ground and first floors, and the original stone walls. The latter, though, have been tempered with sleek white plastered gypsum panels that cloak the lower half of the walls in the main rooms. ‘This counterbalances the stone and prevents the rooms from having a “cave effect”,’ explains Eliza. ‘And I think this style suits Maltese houses of character because it allows the stone to reign supreme, but without a feeling of claustrophobia.’
The all-white scheme is also crucial in creating the home’s ‘warm minimalist feel’ as Eliza calls it. The colour palette has been kept deliberately neutral and natural materials dominate, from wood that has either been left natural or white-washed with chalk paint, to fabrics of burlap and linen along with rugs of sisal and jute. ‘This house reflects my minimalist taste, my love of nature and international background, but I think it is also what most suits the architecture of this tiny house,’ she says.
Plants play a part too, of course. ‘I have put in each space as much greenery as makes sense to have,’ says Eliza. ‘Together it’s a real antidote to the heat and congestion of Malta. I wanted a house with a relaxing resort-vibe all year round, a place that is restful to the mind and the spirit.’