The Candle House

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.

The living room and the outdoor space were given a complete makeover, and within the courtyard is a plunge pool, new trees and a fire pit, all of which offer different experiences inside and out, across the seasons. An outdoor staircase also leads to the bedrooms,

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.’