Marius Ciavola was on the hunt for a place to call home for two years before finding ‘Candle House’, which happened to be located in Zebbug, the village he grew up in. ‘I was after a feeling I get when entering a house,’ he says. ‘It may be hard to explain, but a home is a place where my family and I, friends and guests, can find comfort, peace, happiness and safety.’ Marius felt this as soon as he walked into this property but before agreeing on the sale, visited it several times to ensure that his gut feeling was real. Originally a candle factory, the building had changed its use and owners a few times but as the key features of the house remain untouched, had retained its DNA. Once his heart was set, Marius and his architect, Alan Galea from MODEL, set about transforming the property into a home that would reflect Marius’s personality and incorporate his ideas. ‘Marius’s vision was always clear but left room for creativity,’ explains Alan. ‘He is a seasoned traveller whose ideas came from the many countries he has travelled to and lived in, so we were challenged to integrate his influence into a beautifully raw townhouse with a rich history in itself. Our main focus was to enhance the energy of the house with the use of natural and raw materials, to create a canvas that would read as a contemporary interpretation of the existing vernacular architecture.’
Marius and his family have been living here for just over a year, ‘it feels so good moving back, I love this village, it’s connected to my roots,’ he says. He does, however, live between Malta and Dubai, having joined a start-up company in Dubai a decade ago. ‘I consider both countries to be home,’ he says.
The facade does not reveal too much as to what lies behind the freshly painted walls, but there is a hint of what is in store; a plaque attached to the wall with the name ‘Candle House’ is prominently displayed, and the finish on all the apertures is immaculate. A peek through the lavender-blue front door, uncovers an antiporta; with panels of intricately engraved glass, translucent enough to be able to detect an inner space filled with light, it is immediately inviting and enticing.
From the entrance hall one can see a a study, courtyard, passageway, and kitchen entrance.
The courtyard is the immediate focal point – all rooms on both floors are connected to it. ‘I love to have my morning coffees here,’ says Marius, ‘surrounded by the scents from the herbs and flowers’. In the centre of the courtyard stands an olive tree which represents his wife, Nirvana, who died of cancer seven years ago. ‘It was given to us when Nirvana had passed,’ says Marius who has two sons Sam and Noah. ‘I couldn’t think of a better place to plant it other than in the heart of the house.’
The tranquillity here is palpable, made all the more enchanting by the mashrabiya, an external screen that provides privacy and ventilation and is a fixture in traditional Arabian architecture. The proximity of his neighbour’s property that overlooks the courtyard meant finding a solution that would create privacy without building a wall that would block light and air from entering into their home. The answer was the mashrabiya that is two and a half metres wide by seven metres high, made of thick aluminium that is laser cut and designed to appear as one piece. Crafted in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, it was shipped to Malta. ‘I wanted to have a Middle Eastern touch, it represents part of who I am,’ says Marius.
The ‘Candle House’ is at once homely and bold. In the dining area, there’s an enormous table, one of many pieces created in India, flanked by shelving that runs floor to ceiling and filled with books and much treasured ceramic pieces created by Marius’s mother. The room basks in the sunlight and boasts a three-metre-high fixed glass window that looks out onto the back garden. Replacing the existing small window with this contemporary aperture was a challenge – doorways had to be widened and solid ramps built to allow sophisticated machinery to carry in the glass. Bringing it in from the street took about five hours, and the first time it was attempted, the glass broke and the window had to be re-manufactured.
Water and electricity utilities were put in new and the house now also has optimal functionality with smart lighting, electric shades, bespoke audiovisual systems, and all-round integrated wi-fi connectivity.
Despite completing the extensive works on the property in record time, there’s still more to be done. Marius plans to transform the basement, located six metres underground in what once was an air-raid shelter, so it offers yet another experience, adding a jacuzzi, steam room and wine cellar. ‘I don’t think that with a place like this you can ever say that you are done, however, I believe a house is to be lived in, not to be enslaved by,’ he says. ‘I managed to get the bulk of the work done in a short period so that I can now enjoy it more than I need to work for it.’
The stone of the facade was cleaned while the lower section was plastered and painted. All apertures were renovated and painted blue. The niche has yet to be renovated and is still in its original state including surround lamps
The original handsome door knocker remains
An inner, scented sanctuary of herbs and flowers that are planted around the olive tree that is in memory of Marius's late wife
The pool has been raised above the level of the main outdoor courtyard, creating a more interesting perspective, as well as taking it out of sight from the lower levels
Outdoor Stairs / Cement Shuttering
Cement shuttering shows off the workmanship of this building technique, emulating a typical outdoor staircase of a Maltese farmhouse using concrete and wood
The tranquil courtyard
The alcove area beneath the stairs acts as a wood store for the outdoor fire pit
The dining table is custom made using solid mango wood, the warm tones of the wood complemented by the neutral furniture surrounding it
The floor to ceiling shelving is also made of mango wood. Along with the table, it took two months to have it made in India and then shipped to Malta
The dining area looks out on to the back garden through the contemporary aperture that was such a challenge to install
Marius doesn't like TVs so he installed a projector. 'It's like a little cinema,' he says. The furniture belonging to the previous owner has been retained
Pops of vibrant red add energy and warmth to the space
The space has a minimalist, uncluttered mood
The kitchen cupboards belonging to the previous owner have been kept with a new countertop and island added, along with new light fittings. The beautiful original floor tiles have been restored and polished
Simple and clean, this hallway frames the light coming in from the window and onto the flagstone flooring
The stone carvings and entrance hall, together with the antiporta, were restored to their original state
Another view of the entrance hall
As with the downstairs hallway, the detailing is clean and light
The front door of an Indian house was upcycled to a wardrobe, custom made in Dubai.
This is the biggest room in the house. 'Even though the furniture is big, there is still plenty of space,' says Marius. 'I like the high ceiling and the balcony'
Most of the fittings were inherited from the previous owner, Marius only changed the faucets and light fittings.
This detail was influenced by the traditional Arabic architectural fixture, a mashrabiya, an external windows that offers privacy while allowing light and air to flow through. Here, the detailed pattern was kept open for the light to pass through to the shaft. It was built in the UAE and shipped to Malta in three parts
The office was designed to create a cosy feel – a quiet space. The wall to wall bookshelf was designed and custom made by a local carpenter. The chairs are imported from Dubai
The lowere section of the wall is plastered to emphasise the ceiling which is made of six-inch 'xorok'
The courtyard at dusk
The open-plan living and dining space at dusk
The dining area at night
The pool in the evening
Pool by night
The pool area comes alive at night with lighting gels emphasising architectural detailing
The pool is located on the upper tier, above the line of sight of this stepped terrace area, giving character and greater depth
The outdoor space at night
Another view of the outdoor space at night
At night, the interior glows through the large window