The challenge of making this 400-year-old property in Gharghur a modern home was finding a way to link the rooms so living in it did not mean a constant switching from inside to out. ‘When we bought it none of the rooms were connected,’ says the homeowner. ‘To reach the upstairs you had to cross the central courtyard and take the external stairs. Our brief to the architect was to make the house more ergonomic, to give it flow, and not have to go out in the rain to reach the bedroom!’
The building, which the homeowners believe housed the first bakery in the village, was dark, humid and in a dilapidated state, with a bathroom built in the central courtyard. ‘When we saw it, the property was a complete disaster but we could see that it had so much potential with many beautiful features such as the arabesque lines of the courtyard, and the original birthing room with its two arches and the niche in the wall for the statue of a saint,’ says the homeowner. ‘While we wanted the house to be modern, and whiter and brighter, we were clear that we wanted to keep the traditional elements.’
The task of transforming the rundown building was given to Forward Architects. ‘A lot of thought went into each detail,’ says architect Daine Pranaityte Micallef. ‘We were limited in what we could do because of regulations but we were still able to create an internal spiral inside, making it possible to use all the areas without going outside. We also added a master bedroom at the back of the property, a cosy living space overlooking the central courtyard, and a roof study. We also eliminated odd structures in the courtyard, and reinstated its original shape. All this was done in a subtle way, so the new additions would complement and blend in.’
The old rubble walls at ground level were treated for humidity and plastered and then painted white. ‘We wanted a clean look, however we left some stone details exposed, for example the stone arch in the kitchen, to highlight the nice texture of the original walls,’ says Daine.
Also retained were the many little niches throughout the house which ensure its history and identity are evident.
In the kitchen, however, the architects installed a double lining – creating a false wall within the room, leaving a space in between the two walls for the air to circulate. ‘The state of the walls was very bad – they were uneven and with soil in between so plastering them would have used a lot of plaster and it would have been too thick. A double lining gave us the perfect wall,’ says Daine.
The spiral stairs that connects the downstairs living space to the level above is a head-turner, snaking its way between the floors. ‘It’s a take on the garigor staircase but instead is constructed of steel in a raw lacquered finish with a gypsum plaster railing,’ says Daine.
Upstairs, the architects created two new rooms, one a stylish but comfortable living room, the other a master bedroom and bathroom. A careful palette of materials has been used throughout, the choice complementing the age of the house but at the same time, ensuring a contemporary feel and a real sense of comfort.
The homeowners’ work takes them overseas for months at a time. ‘But when we return it feels like home,’ they say. ‘We have put a lot of our heart into it.’