You could say the story of this palazzo on St Paul Street in Valletta is about making do – but in spectacular fashion. At the top of the 400 -year-old building is a contemporary penthouse that is all sleek lines and minimalist modernity. The three floors below, however, are reminiscent of its age with decorative arched ceilings and original stonework. Unlike the penthouse, though, which is fully and stylishly furnished, these floors below are largely empty. The reason why is both a cautionary tale about buying historic homes without getting the necessary restoration advice, but also one about resilience and perseverance.
The couple who bought this palazzo moved to Malta for work reasons in 2011, and from the start fell in love with Valletta for its charm, history, and its status as the capital of the island. They bought the property on the understanding that the building, at the time being used as offices, could be renovated, in the Nordic-meets-Valletta-vintage style that they desired, within their budget. ‘In fact, the size of the property meant that they would need much more to accomplish what they wanted,’ says Chris.
Radical thinking was needed if the couple were to continue with their dream to restore the property – and so a plan was determined. While the designs and all details were prepared for the entire building, most of the old palazzo’s floors, including the wonderful sala nobile with its five- metre high ceilings, would simply be cleaned and made structurally safe, with a penthouse, large enough for the couple to live in, built and finished on top. It would be reached via an elevator, the doors opening to the inner courtyard.
However, the plans took account of the future too. ‘Works were carried out in such a way that the property can be converted in stages and horizontally, each floor being an independent section,’ says Chris.
For Chris, the main challenge in creating the penthouse was working with a major difference in height. ‘The front terrace was two metres higher than the rest of the roof which meant that penthouse, set back on the roof, would be totally cut off from its terrace,’ says Chris. ‘My solution was to split the lower roof into three – the lowest level for the bedroom, then up three stairs to the dining area, up another three stairs to the kitchen, and then up a further three stairs to the terrace. This slow rise created a better relationship with the outdoor spaces, and allowed us to play with the volume; in just 65 square metres we were able to fit in everything the couple required.’
Today the penthouse, sits neatly atop the palazzo, inside light grey walls and polished cement floors warmed by maple woodwork. In the floors below, cleaned stonework and lime-plastered walls create a pared-back elegance that easily segues into the contemporary feel of what lies above. A perfect balance between old and new.