On seeing this Birkirkara house for the first time, Architect Bernard Vella says, ‘It was the kind of place that you could immediately see working. It had a history to it, great proportions and the line of sight went straight through from the entrance doorway to the garden.’
Originally one of the oldest palazzos in Birkirkara, the property was later subdivided into three residences. The homeowners purchased one of these portions with its garden, including two big rooms at the ground floor level (now the entrance and dining room) and the other two above them on the first floor (now the master bedroom and dressing/ensuite bathroom).
Once purchased, the architect was free to realise the interpretation of his vision: ‘‘Inside the property is a huge contrast to the busy road outside; once the door is closed, the roaring instantly switches to peaceful tranquillity. I wanted to emphasise that. I didn’t want anything forced for the interior, but rather something contextual. I wanted it to be Mediterranean and contemporary without departing from its history. I strove to strike that balance between old and young, so there would be a relationship between them. It was of consequential importance to integrate the garden with the interior without the over-usage of glass. I wanted the garden to be a discovery, yet at the same time easily and seamlessly.’
‘ There was the potential for total comfort and functionality here, so it was a matter of working out a way to achieve them both.’
This was achieved primarily through the architect’s attention to the design of the back extension to allow the palazzo’s back elevation to remain visible and continuous with the rest of the neighbouring elevation so that you could still feel its presence. It was also the case with the garden wall (eventually becoming the only masonry wall left in stone), which was why the architect opted to leave it bare inside the extension. This way, the original palazzo’s components were retained and can be felt in the house, still speaking their part of the story.
Further, the flooring material (concrete outside and polished concrete inside) contributed to the seamless overall effect. The external flooring also needed a gradient to meet the profiles of the large sliding glass doors flawlessly.
With the basic cube shape of the kitchen/living area, the different natural light sources left a dark patch over the kitchen; this was opened up with a skylight so that light now spills into the room evenly.
The upstairs rooms were one of the architect’s biggest dilemmas: ‘The bedrooms were two huge rooms that I loved, but the challenge lay in creating the walk-in ensuite and dressing area without affecting the proportions of the master bedroom. There was the potential for total comfort and functionality here, so it was a matter of working out a way to achieve them both.’
The solution came through cladding a bathroom wall in mirror, which makes it appear as if it’s not there. Now, with its polished Maltese tiled floor, free-standing bath and extensive wardrobe, this bathroom offers a chic dressing room feel. Light rushes in from the two large apertures – one facing the street, the other the garden – to cast a play of light over the room, offering spaciousness and movement. The wardrobe gives the bathroom warmth and allows the flooring to continue underneath and between its steel legs. This, alongside the floor’s reflection in the mirror, makes the items in the room appear as if they’re floating, and with the room’s simple materials and colours, the tiles take centre stage.
The timber apertures were all replaced with Iroko wood painted in a muted grey-green colour, while the sliding door aluminium frames are in the same colour, adding to the overall earthy feel to the house. Further to the colour scheme, all wood found at ground level is varnished in matte to offer the illusion that it’s unvarnished. The concrete flooring and natural stone wall give the interiors a natural look.
This Birkirkara home is an architectural feat, forging a special relationship between old and young, indoor and outdoor. Architect Bernard Vella realised his initial vision of an easy and seamless, contextual Mediterranean haven within a busy village core. Consequently, the homeowners live in a reposeful dwelling complete with all the comforts of a true home with no chance of forgetting its incredible past.