Classic Beauty

The story of this apartment begins in the 1920s when the building in which it is found was first constructed. At that time the building was rather grand, not just the tallest in Valletta, but the only one with a lift, as well as a uniformed concierge. During the Second World War, however, it was hit by a bomb, and in the decades that followed never regained its former glory.
By the time Reuben Lautier bought the sixth-floor apartment in the mid-noughties all that remained of the original structure were the walls and the high ceilings. ‘I loved it because it was full of light and had character but the apartment had been butchered,’ says Reuben. ‘The original floor and apertures had been removed, the floor stopped short of the balcony and the bathroom was tacky.’ Reuben immediately replaced the ugly aluminium window frames with timber but then turned the lock and left the property until time and resources allowed him to return.
This did not occur for nine years – in that time Reuben opened his own architectural office and bespoke natural stone workshop; and Valletta once shunned as a place to live, became one of Malta’s most sought-after addresses as the character of the capital and the worth of its historic homes began to be fully appreciated.
Reuben, having worked out of the Valletta offices of architects Architecture Project for six years, had come to love the area and had been searching for a home in the city for two years. ‘In Valletta, you feel like you belong, it has a sense of place that’s defined by the urban fabric and the fortification walls,’ he says. ‘It’s a small city but with a lot of character and you can connect to it. In the morning you see people opening their shops or having coffee; you hear the church bells… It makes for a very nice lifestyle and transcends a sense of community.’
It was 2014 when he finally set about transforming the 130 square metre space into the stylish property you see today, the combination of beautiful materials, a sharp eye for balance and attention to detail creating a home that feels modern while remembering its past. ‘I wanted it to have that Parisian mood while remaining contextual to the city and also the style of the building,’ says Reuben. ‘When you walk in now you see the panelling, the thickness of the walls, that give a sense of proportion and space. I also wanted the apartment to feel calm, a place where your brain doesn’t scatter. Architecture should be about peacefulness.’
Reuben began by reconfiguring the space, pulling down interior walls and forsaking a second bedroom to create an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area with a separate bedroom, bathroom and shower room. In so doing he opened the apartment up to the light for the entire day – the sun begins in the bedroom in the morning before tracking round to the main living area in the afternoon.
With the space as he wanted it, Reuben turned his attention to the floor. The ugly 1980s terrazzo was quickly despatched and the floor dug out before pouring in a screed and insulation. Then he had under-floor heating installed – run on electricity, it is not an inexpensive option ‘but it gives a very pleasant velvety heat especially with stone floors,’ he says. The stone is a lovely Gioia Miele marble from Carrara that defines the main living space, extending from the entrance hallway into the living and dining areas and kitchen. ‘I like its history and material structure,’ says Reuben of the Italian marble that has been used since Roman times. It is key to giving the apartment its tranquil and expansive mood – the slabs are large and book-matched so the veins seamlessly meet to create a complete and unbroken pattern.
The apartment’s heritage is celebrated as soon as you enter, the hallway hallway walls and doors decorated with panelling made from tulip wood and then painted in the same offwhite as the walls to create an understated look. In the living room Reuben exposed the walls before painting them, again for subtle decoration as the original stone can still just be seen. This allows the stunning mantelpiece, its detailed pattern reflecting the age of the apartment, to take centre stage. Made from white marble from Carrara, it was designed and made by Reuben, taking a year from conception to finish. ‘I love fireplaces and originally there would have been a fireplace here,’ he says.
The three floor-to-ceiling units, finished with black/ grey tadelakt and black glass doors, fill the wall behind the sofa and are a clever piece of interior architecture. ‘They invert the rhythm of the three windows across the room,’ explains Reuben, so giving the room a pleasing sense of balance. ‘And the glass doors reflect what’s in front of them, giving more depth and a certain amount of layering.’ These units are also practical – the one by the window houses the washing machine and dryer, the middle one gives extra storage while behind the last is a guest toilet.
Between these concealed storage units is the entrance to the bedroom, the change in living space marked by a step made of teak, which continues as the flooring beyond. ‘This flooring felt relevant to the classic style of the apartment,’ says Reuben. In the bedroom, Reuben removed the door that led to the balcony, exposing the original arch and at the same brightening the room and giving it a better sense of proportion.
A labour of love, the work took almost two years to complete but it was worth it. Today the apartment is a deeply relaxing place to be. From his balcony Reuben looks over Valletta, leaning over the original wrought iron facade, the landscape of interlocking roofs reminding him of Cubist paintings, the life and community of the re-energised capital going on below him.