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Living it up High-end hotel


Design & Living


Challenging the awkward Finding solutions in customised design



Design & Living




THE PROJECT 10 Less is More Compact and convenient 18 Customise, Camouflage and Create Working around design challenges BUILDING A BUSINESS 26 Make Yourself at Home Luxurious city life HOME DÉCOR 36 DOING IT UP: DO/DON’T Complete Living Wardrobe options for individual styles 38 TASTE Find Your Perfect Match Storage to showcase your personality 44 TRENDS & TIPS Layering Light Leave the actual lighting in the dark 46 ACCESSORIES A Soft Spot Sef Farrugia’s cushion collection ENVIRONMENT & HERITAGE 50 ONSHOW Set in Stone Fossils in limestone inspire art 52 PROJECT PEOPLE Saving Our Heritage Together Why rare panel paintings must survive 57 CONSERVATION CORNER Not Just Any Fruit Bowl The art of ceramics






InsteAD of a photo of me on this page, I’ve decided to place a picture of yet another beautiful building of historical or architectural relevance before it bites the dust. sadly, there will be no shortage of these; much unlike finding a decent image of myself, which always entails a frantic last-minute unsuccessful search on my phone. but it’s not just a matter of taking the easy way out, and of course, I’d much rather it wasn’t the case. I’d have preferred not to have felt that dagger in my heart when I drove past this house and saw its façade balancing precariously and the rest of it razed to the ground. I know nothing about this house and I’m not even going to do any research. I wouldn’t be able to tell when it was built, or its architectural style, importance and relevance. All I know is that those little window panes are enough to make me want it, and that if I had had the opportunity to get my hands on it, I wouldn’t have touched a thing, let alone demolished it. All I know is that, even without any background information and expert knowledge, I am innately aware of its beauty and that it should have been preserved and safeguarded. Driving past this site was heart-breaking and infuriating; it changed my mood in seconds; and continues to draw a very thick line between the maltese who appreciate even recent heritage, and those who are happiest bulldozing the

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country and making a buck – an infinitely larger group of philistines, with more power, and the backing of the authorities too. How have we come to this over the last few years? How have we ended up less educated and refined as a nation, when we are supposed to be progressing. It feels like we’re going back to being cavemen – except that our dwellings are high-rise flats instead. Give me that cave any day! the drive to my village across a valley and along a country road was one of the more pleasant scenarios to navigate and possibly one of the reasons why I chose to live where I do. but as you may have noticed, I have used the past tense. today, as I drive through this narrow road, I no longer see the majestic church dome watching over the village core and beyond. What I see is a towering, white wall in my face. not only is the sight of the church blocked on approaching the village, but it is also blocked by none other than a towering, white wall, which is so depressing that you almost wish the neighbours too would add another few floors above their houses at this point, just to try and make some ‘sense of it by covering it up. this sort of urban planning makes you wonder if there is any urban planning going on at all. And of course, we’re spilling relentlessly into the rural areas here, like a spreading cancer with no cure. I love the school run, much as I was warned against it, for a number of reasons, many of which are not relevant to this editorial. but one of these is the fact that, again, I drive mostly through country side, that I see green fields, hills, little farmhouses and rubble walls along the way. As we chat about the day ahead, every single morning, I daydream about getting my hands on one of these neat parcels of land, oases away from the engulfing urban jungle, and just owning a field – just a field. oh, the beauty of a field… every day, I get a good vibe as I let myself go with this dream. It’s a rare good

vibe that results from a drive through nature we are so starved of… but… that feeling quickly grinds to a bitter and abrupt halt every single day, when I suddenly meet yet another massive white wall, this time blocking out the view of mdina, or of mosta Dome, depending on where you are travelling from. every day, I have to face this head-on collision with a building that is more out of place than a fish out of water; a building whose proportions and position are so wrong that whoever allowed it must have made a conscious effort to do the worst thing possible. As with everything else in malta’s natural environment, I know that my days enjoying this scenic route are numbered. next to this building will crop up another, eating into the green fields, the hills, the little farmhouses, the rubble walls… And already along the road to school – chosen also because of its natural setting – is a plan to mar and scar everything with a petrol station. but hey, at least we can stop for our coffee – instead of go on a picnic! meanwhile, further down the road, malta’s unique rocks are being ruthlessly excavated to make way for a showroom. shame upon everyone involved in this, especially when they already have so much. I distinctly remember the brusque end to my happy thoughts along the school run when I saw concrete barriers being put in place here. I knew right there and then that this piece of untouched land was in the wrong hands. It’s probably the reason why I felt compelled to feature artist Wioletta Kulewska’s exhibition, inspired by the fossils embedded in maltese stone, in onshow on page 50. so yes, the first scholastic year is only halfway through, and the school run is becoming a road to nowhere. by the time I don’t have to do it anymore, we’d have most certainly gone back to the stone Age – and I mean that in the literal sense also. Apart from the construction taking over the country side, there won’t be any prehistory to speak of, let alone see – but hey, we would have progressed.


february 25, 2018 | Issue 19 | PlAces is a bi-monthly magazine | EXECUTIVE EDITOR fiona Galea Debono | PUBLISHER Allied newspapers ltd | PRODUCTION Allied newspapers ltd | PRINTING Progress Press ltd | DESIGN manuel schembri | ADVERTISING SALES Veronica Grech sant [2276 4333;]

this publication is being distributed as part of © 2018. All rights reserved. reproduction in whole, or in part, without written permission of the publishers, is prohibited.

februAry 2018 PLACES






Waste is an innate pet peeve for SO Galerie and Picture House director Joseph Gauci. And this has been effectively transposed into his interior design ideas, where he capitalises on every nook and cranny. Using space to the max is the inevitable future as homes in Malta are due to get tighter and tighter. And his own studio bachelor pad – which eventually accommodated a woman’s life and extensive wares more easily than the three-bedroom apartment the family later moved into – is a prime example of how this is done.

This studio apartment in the SO Galerie building in Birkirkara encapsulates what you term the “economy of space”. How, in concrete interior design terms, did you manage to be economical? The living space is just 55 square metres indoors, set on two levels. Every inch, every nook and cranny, has a use, and often, a double function. The front door, for instance, incorporates a library, whereas a wine rack, plus three other storage areas, are inbuilt within the stairway. A compact walk-in wardrobe is elevated, creating storage space beneath, accessible via a trapdoor, while the fridge and oven are also upped a foot to host drawers beneath each of them. There are many

examples of the sort and they can be found in any of my designs for both myself and my clients. Another question that was asked during the design process, especially since the outdoor terrace garden is sizeable, was: what can actually be housed outdoors and, in truth, need not be indoors, as is traditionally the case? This led to maximising the use of a tiny inner yard, which houses the shoe racks and dirty washing baskets – who wants these inside anyway? A ventilated roof was put in, while the washing machine, tumble dryer and freezer were also placed outdoors in a protected unit. This little yard also has two storage spaces beneath the flooring level.




And why? In our family, it was always a matter of living on a tight budget, so we were always taught to take care of every little bit we have. I guess this rolled over to the space factor too! It’s just an innate trait somehow: I do not waste and I make the utmost use of everything. The second reason would be a practical one, in that, generally, today, property is expensive and even excessively so, therefore, using space to the maximum would



be a logical conclusion. Having said that, as someone who is invited to enter many homes regularly, due to the nature of my work, I mostly find exactly the opposite. Using space to the max is the inevitable future as homes in Malta are due to get smaller and smaller. At what price? Honestly, I hardly think it made such a difference money-wise. Perhaps, what makes the difference is


the amount of thought you need to put behind a project. That certainly takes time. Whatever I do never starts by taking a look at the internet, or some form of literature for inspiration. So, if time is money, I then believe that what is going to be the costliest part is thinking it through properly. What do you consider to be the biggest space savers in the apartment? I do not feel I can pinpoint one area as it is a concept in its entirety, though as an example, you could take the fact that the dining-living area and the bedroom can transform into one single space just by swishing a curtain blind and closing the bed into the wall, making for ample entertainment space. You’d never know that a bedroom existed at all, giving this room a double function. It’s a true example of how less can be more and the proof lies in the fact that “a woman’s life” – and that can be quite considerable – fitted more easily into your one-bedroom gallery apartment than into a large three-bedroom space. Can you elaborate… The place was generally designed around the ‘me’ factor, with all the trappings of a single person, who collects art, travels, loves to read a lot and adores having his friends round. I was certainly not thinking about someone moving in with me. As it transpired, five years on, after a sequence of events, the functionality of the space received its ultimate challenge – a woman moved in! Several suitcases, full to the brim, plus boxes of all sorts followed… The nooks and crannies filled up, of course, and all those extra wardrobe gadgets [there are many of them] were soon weighed down with her items, but surprisingly enough, it all fitted quite easily. This use of space became more evident when, later, due to the arrival of an unexpected third family member, we decided to move into a new apartment with three bedrooms, a space that is more than double the area of this, and where, to actually fit everything, it was necessary to rent a garage for storage. The studio apartment also features the use of recycled materials.  Does this play a big part in Picture House, in who you are and what you do? And could you list some examples? Recycling, revamping, re-using are definite traits in me too. I love to make use of old things, or leftovers, and to give them another dimension, or lease of life. This can be seen in the stairway, first of all. It is made of solid American walnut wood, which, originally, was a number of unused picture frame strips. The library in the living area is another case. As the apartment was being built, I asked the builder to float an extra beam in the stairs headroom.







Hinged onto this and the wall behind it, I eventually created the library, totally made of leftover bamboo parquet. The outdoor table structure, also hosting a number of plants, would be another such example. It is also made of leftovers from the parquet flooring. The shelf holding the little TV in the dining area is one I found outside a computer shop skip and the little TV on it is an old 1990s version, which was on someone’s throw-away list and which we sprayed white before installation. Before starting the finishing of the space, I also dismantled a makeshift apartment [two floors below], where I had been living for four years. Any solid and composite woods used in its makeshift structure were all re-used in my new home. Apartments are probably shrinking in size as developers may want to make the most out of their space. But do people really know how to maximise on these limitations when it comes to interior design etc‌? Where, in your opinion, is most space lost in homes and would you have any tips? Living spaces that are accessible to people starting out in life are getting smaller and smaller indeed, and truth be told, we have yet to reach the 25-square-metre home found in other European cities. Probably, the initial problem with contemporary Maltese living spaces lay in the shape of plots of land used for houses and of the apartments that eventually replaced them, while retaining the same shape. They are often relatively long and narrow, requiring the need for a corridor, which uses up considerable space. Turning this into a living area is one of the biggest challenges. Another badly used space, where apartments are concerned, is the common area. It is often empty and unused, uninteresting and dull, while it could provide for organised lock-up storage, or even an interesting art display, welcoming people into their homes. The common areas should be seen as an extension of a home and kept interesting and made use of with discipline. However, to keep it even simpler, the spaces above wardrobes, above the fridge and, generally, between the furniture and the ceiling can be used, but rarely are. Today, there are also many gadgets that provide for ease of access. We are slowly but surely heading for a time where, for many, even the space in a service shaft, or any other place that is normally deemed to be difficult to access, may be considered for a shelf or two to be installed for storage requirements‌







Design challenges can always be overcome by customised joinery and thinking outside the box – or in this case, an awkward central shaft that created an eyesore in this Mellieħa apartment.




The main feature of this somewhat odd and challenging mellieħa apartment is the cladding round the central shaft to completely and cleverly disguise it and also give it a function. it was a matter of aesthetics, but not only‌ for the interior designers from Loft, and Domestica, which executed the vision, responsible for all the joinery, including cladding, doors and furniture to ensure a seamless style throughout. On entering the apartment, one was immediately faced with the unusual central shaft, around which the rest of the rooms are located. This was considered an eyesore and had to be camouflaged. The four sides of the shaft were, therefore, clad in solid pine sheets. These were burnt and each one was then hand-scraped to soften the black burn and open up the wood pores to give the whole space not only a warm feeling, but also a sense of continuity, uniformity and cohesion. each side has a function, with the entry point featuring a painting and the front part incorporating a table and bench, while the window onto the shaft is disguised by wooden blinds.


PLACES February 2018






Around the corner, a ‘tunnel’ was created in which the kitchen appliances have been incorporated, making the area both functional and aesthetically pleasing, while continuing to overcome the design challenges the central shaft created. Its fourth wall is onto the living room, where the cladding and joinery continue into the TV unit and complete the seamlessness of the space. Domestica managing director, Chris Vassallo Cesareo, describes the project as an interesting challenge and a clever solution. With custom-designed woodwork, any problems, eyesores and inconsistencies, even in terms of architecture, can not only be rectified, but also transformed into the most prominent and eye-catching features of a space, bringing it all together and turning an interior design challenge into a statement.







Make yourself at home It’s been five years in the making, and it has finally opened its doors… onto a magnificent courtyard and 18 rooms, bringing luxury living into the capital city. 66, St Paul’s Street, is an address to look up and look into. WHEN PIERO and Emma Vernacchia moved to Malta 10 years ago, they never thought they’d end up in the hospitality business, running their own boutique hotel. But the day they walked into 66, St Paul’s Street, they had a vision for the stunning Valletta property and have since surmounted countless obstacles to realise their dream. They had seen about 20 properties, but unsurprisingly, this was the one, with its wellpreserved and spacious cellar and a courtyard full of character being the major selling points.

Today, what was once a semi-renovated and mostly dilapidated building, dating back to the 17th century, has been injected with a new lease of life and aims to offer quality service and to be a cut above. It’s been a marathon mission for the couple, Emma and Piero, English and Italian respectively, who have built their dream in Malta. They are exhausted, but satisfied and eager to get the ball rolling and welcome their first guests. Piero had a hands-on approach to the project management, while Emma, who claims she only




“dabbles” in interior decoration, got involved in the overall design, in particular colour schemes and the general tone, in collaboration with Loft. Together with lighting by Light Design Solutions, the end result is exquisitely elegant. Many items were sourced from overseas, but the project also involved several local artisans and a family of carpenters, Emma points out. It was a stay at the Portrait Suites in Rome, inspired by the creative genius of one of the fathers of Italian fashion, Salvatore Ferragamo, that got the couple thinking they wanted to replicate that personalised service and intimate setting in Malta. They were blown away by it and wanted to instill a feeling of home – albeit a more luxurious version – in their own boutique hotel. 66, St Paul’s Street is one of the larger properties by Valletta standards and its sizeable footprint is considered to be an advantage, allowing for two unique amenities – the spa and the pool area – for winter and summer respectively. When the Vernacchias stepped into 66, they decided to retain as much of the original features as possible, including the windows. But probably one of the most appealing touches is the original flooring. The existing Maltese tiles and flagstones, cracks and all, have been left ‘intact’ and used to inspire and guide the colour schemes and styles of the rooms. While most decorators would feel the need to replace the broken ones, Emma maintains “it would have been a shame to rip them out”. And indeed, they add charm, a







The meeting room.

feeling of authenticity and a splash of colour to the more neutral tones of the soft furnishings. “My idea was not to decorate 66 like a hotel; I wanted it to feel more like a home,” says Emma, describing it as neither modern, nor old-fashioned, but “classic contemporary” in look and feel. “It’s not avant-garde. And the style is soft, not harsh… You could say I’m more conservative and I play safe, even in the way I dress, but this is not boring; it feels fresh and is quite stylish,” she says, sitting in the meeting room, which epitomises all that, with its eye-catching wallpaper feature, round table and chic yet warm touches. “We’ve also used as many Maltese icons as possible,” says the lady from Lancashire, pointing out the shutters on the heavy-duty doors, reminiscent of local joinery. Emma went that extra mile to ensure everything was top of the range, from 500-thread-count bed linen to the same high-end mattresses found at The Savoy, which she first tried and tested; the Lancashire-made, ethically-sourced Hungarian goose down duvets; and great towels – touches that mean a lot to her and make all the difference. The rooms have a common thread running through them, both in terms of colour schemes



and the “luxury finish”. Each one is equipped with an espresso machine, and the top-end suites offer a good whiskey, but the quality is also tangible in the use of marble and high-grade faucets in the bathrooms, complete with Molton Brown toiletries and walk-in power showers. The bathroom inspiration came from a trip to Boston and a visit to a store called Restoration Hardware... Emma carried their brochures around with her for months!

A Deluxe Harbour View room.

The sixth-floor Penthouse Suite.




The duplex Grand Suite in the piano nobile.




The accommodation ranges from the piano nobile duplex, overlooking St Paul’s Street and its architectural views from the restored Maltese balcony, to the penthouse suite on the sixth floor, and the harbour view rooms, all with priceless, unobstructed and unique vistas of the Three Cities, and windows that literally frame Fort St Angelo. Then there are the deluxe rooms, with internal balconies enclosed in wooden trelliswork for both privacy and design purposes that add even more interest to the courtyard beneath.

Covered by a retractable glass roof that can be left open in more clement weather, the courtyard stonework is illuminated by outdoor chandeliers sourced from the US, and it is the ideal spot to gaze up at the sky, or watch the world go by. It also incorporates a statement sinuous staircase, which had to be built from scratch, and is another important feature. A contemporary interpretation on the original footprint, it has replaced a lift shaft that was built by the previous owner, an Englishman who was in the process of turning the property into a modern art gallery and left the space unfinished. Then there’s also the huge, pristine cellar, which will accommodate a spa; while the fourth floor is entirely dedicated to the pool area, with lounge and bar, complete with Vincent Sheppard sunbeds and bar stools and smart logoed towels – all lined up to be used after a swim. Back in early 2013, when the Vernacchias purchased the property, they were motivated by a government scheme to incentivise the renovation and conversion of old Valletta buildings into boutique hotels. But by the time they got going, the government had changed, the scheme fell by the wayside and they had wasted time and money applying for it. “It fell apart and no funding ever came out of it,” says Emma. But the couple plodded on, facing the constraints and obstacles of development in Valletta, which does not allow for the use of heavy machinery and requires the workers to use hand chisels and hammers. Tackling all this was no mean feat, and works in Valletta’s narrow streets, which often needed to be closed, involved headaches. But the Vernacchias did not give up. “We wanted to create the five-star of the boutique hotels, and anyone who knows quality will recognise it,” Emma says in between sampling a home-made granola as the breakfast menu is fine-tuned. But it’s a level of high-end that isn’t intimidating and draws you in… That feeling of home starts at the reception, a working office, encased in glass, which guests can enter to check in. There’s no standing behind a desk – no barriers; they can just sit back in their “comfort zone” and enjoy a welcome drink when they arrive… They can make themselves at home.




Complete living Antonella Riotto, interior architect from Fino Interior Design Studio, offers complete bedroom options to suit everyone’s own individual style. It’s all about the personal touch in interiors these days – and even in the way you store your own clothes. In today’s world, the sanctity of our home is becoming ever more important, and the need to rest, relax and restore our energy levels in this space is vital if we are to connect successfully with the outside world. We are also feeling more and more the need to value quality time with the family and enjoy the peace and freedom of our own home. The place we live in should enable us to fulfill our ambitions of complete living. All rooms in a modern-day home should assist us to accomplish this aim, but probably the most important one in this respect is the bedroom, which can offer comfort, relaxation, peace and refuge in a troubled world.



There are many exciting choices available and many opportunities to explore bedroom furnishings that fit in with your own personal lifestyle: from free-standing to fitted, or walk-in bedroom furniture, these are the three main options available. As with any project, probably the best way to start is to settle upon your main criteria, for example, deciding on the best use of the space available, a personal colour scheme, materials, be they wood, metal, or a combination of both, the choice of soft furnishings complementing bed linen and so on, to achieve a complete feel and look for this very important room. It all lies in bringing the various elements together in keeping with your own unique and personal style.

A very sensible starting point can be to contact either an interior designer or a reputable retailer, who works with experienced design consultants capable of achieving the highest standards of expression for each part of your personal bedroom solution. A detailed plan of the room should include all measurements, floor space, door and window positions, sizes and styles, opening operations e.g. inward, outward, vertical, or horizontal, ceiling heights, positioning of electrical sockets, electrical fittings and light fittings. The more detail provided initially, the less room there is for error. Attention to providing accurate information at the outset also allows for an easier, quicker and more effective transformation of what could potentially be the most peaceful and restful room in your home. Built-in wardrobes can be fitted into virtually every space with very great effect. One of the main features of this type of furniture is that the


doors are sliding or hinged according to taste and space. This ensures your clothes are protected from dust and the possibility of becoming susceptible to smell. A built-in wardrobe is usually modular and can be easily customised in terms of height, width and depth to make the very best use of the space available. Especially beneficial when confronted with asymmetrical shapes, e.g. roof spaces under stair spaces and alcoves, they are very versatile, and thanks to the range of designs, finishes, handles, accessory fittings etc‌, they can easily enhance any style of bedroom. They usually incorporate a wide range of internal fittings, enabling you to separate and divide the various storage areas to great effect, and can easily be dismantled and reinstalled into an alternative setting. Walk-in wardrobes, on the other hand, enable you to literally walk

through the generated storage spaces. By definition, they utilise more space, but obviously, as a result, they accommodate more clothing more accessories and, of course, that ever-expanding shoe collection. All the space at your disposal, from top to bottom, can be used, and extremely interesting storage areas can be created, once again, thanks to the many varied fittings on offer, such as drawers and pull-up, pull-down accessories. The walk-in wardrobe structure can make use of side panels and racks that are fitted directly onto the wall with the use of metal bars, thereby having no sides and allowing for the maximisation of the total space available. Walk-in wardrobes are, therefore, usually preferred for spacious areas and rooms that present no limits in terms of space. The potential in these cases for improved design choices and the creation of your dream bedroom increases quite dramatically. Fitted furniture is tailored to your needs and to your home, so you can quite easily transform any space into a luxurious living environment. A point to bear in mind, whichever option you choose, is to select if possible the best quality materials to ensure your bedroom gives you a maximum return on your investment. WWW.FINO.COM.MT






FIND YOUR PERFECT MATCH Interiors are increasingly becoming a reflection of who we are – and so they should be. And even storage, a necessity in today’s day and age, should showcase your own personality. Emma Mercieca Cristiano from BoConcept Malta shows how to find the perfect match for various individual traits. INTERIORS are increasingly becoming a reflection of who we are as individuals, with more and more people seeking to show their creativity and express their individuality through their interior choices. And that’s exactly what it should be like. Your home should be entirely your own space. Given the limited square footage of properties on our little island, storage takes on an even more important role in any space as we strive to keep a clutter-free, streamlined and coordinated look, and yet it should be sturdy and functional enough to hold as much or as little as we need. But that’s not all it should do. For any storage system to look refreshed and exciting – be it a media unit, a sideboard, display cabinet, wall-to-wall library, or free-standing shelving – it should also showcase your personality. Here’s how: FOR THE INQUISITIVE TYPES If your thirst for knowledge can’t be satisfied by a device in your pocket and you need to feel paper on your fingers, then a modern,





TO CREATE SPONTANEITY IN A SYMMETRICAL UNIT, ADD TALL AND DRAPING PLANTS AND WORK WITH A MIXTURE OF MATERIALS AND TONES open, wall-mounted solution that turns your wall into an elegant frame for the things you love is exactly what you need. Books make any space homely and unique – no one has the same collection as you and your titles give visitors an eye into your values, passions and interests. • Think how you use your books and consider how big your collection is. Arrange by size, or colour, by author, or genre, or use no system at all! • Store vertically, or horizontally, leave some shelves empty, or assign them to artworks, ceramics, or plants. Letting leaves grow beyond their shelves is also pretty. • Consider your natural light source if you have one, as direct sunlight can fade your book covers. • Add a welcoming chair and a soft light to create your little reading nook. FOR THE ADVENTUROUS TYPES If you own ceramics from a particular studio, books bought in various countries, mementos from different markets, then you need a home for all the things that remind you of your wonderful memories made away from home. You like to surround yourself with rich, spicy tones



and the warmth of wood and plants. Go for a system with units in warm walnut wood that combines both open fronts and concealed compartments in a customisable size to showcase what you love and hide what needs to be hidden. • The magic of this storage type lies in the contrast – the uniformity of the storage unit versus natural styling. • To create spontaneity in a symmetrical unit, add tall and draping plants and work with a mixture of materials and tones. • Mix your woods – on your unit, flooring and accessories – to intensify the warmth and add an organic feel. • Strike a visual balance through space and light. FOR THE PRIVATE TYPES If you feel that privacy is not an outdated notion and sharing your meal, your vacation and your family snaps on social media is not your cup of tea, then a concealed, modular storage system in a dark palette is what you need. • A dark palette can still be expressive – through dark tones, you can create intimacy, luxury and a warm atmosphere. Avoid using one solid colour, and play with



contrasts, tonal gradients and textures such as marble and concrete. • Have only a few items on display – allow focal points to draw the eye, such as light grey ceramics, or concrete accessories. FOR THE SYSTEMATIC TYPES If you appreciate efficiency and completed to-do lists, then a systematic storage unit is what you need. This type of storage is minimalist and has Danish, functional design at its core. Go for a sleek look in oak, or some minimal metal shelves for instant accessibility. • Choose three neutral tones throughout the room and echo them on surfaces, accessories and furniture. • Choose simple pieces in your unit to blend into your space, and have functional pieces displayed, such as dinnerware, for easy, quick access. • Experiment with asymmetry to balance the orderliness of this systematic look. • Play with light – such as a gloss floor, reflecting the soft matt of a white wall. FOR THE ECLECTIC TYPES You love the freedom of not having to choose between minimalist, industrial, or Scandinavian styles because you


love all three. You love the way these three can be seamlessly combined. You enjoy learning, and you love going your own way. Go for a bookcase in a timeless colour that can be hung vertically, or horizontally, and hang more than one together. • Leave space – you don’t need to fill every space in your bookcase. Put emphasis on your carefully-selected collectibles. • Give a chic expression by adding a few reflective and translucent surfaces such as mirrors, brass and coloured glass. • Add colour, but create cohesion by dispersing hues across the room – for example, picking a tone from the rug and extending it onto a hanging art piece. FOR THE CULTURED TYPES You like a mix of old and new. When it comes to artistic styles, you like baroque, neoclassical, cubism, and a touch of 21st-century Scandinavian. And you feel that art deserves uninterrupted time and a permanent home – yours. When it comes to storage, go for a minimal look that gives your items maximum attention. Durable steel shelves ensure strength to display heavy books, a sculpture, or plant pots. • The home gallery wall can be used for sculptural art and collectible ceramics to add depth to any wall.







• Don’t cram art pieces, or sculptures – give them the space they deserve, free from the shadows of other pieces. • If you have an armchair underneath your gallery shelves, take its size, proximity, colour and style into consideration when arranging your shelves. • Mix things up – pair classical with modern and play with asymmetry. FOR THE MINIMALISTIC TYPES If you live a colourful life, but find pleasure in simple elements with little embellishment, brevity of lines, clean silhouettes and stripped palettes, then minimalist storage in matt white with closed compartments is what you need. • Seek balance of colour and material and learn how to distinguish between excess and necessity. • Clear everything, except the essential furniture, then re-introduce your carefully selected pieces. • Use texture as an accent and arrange so that light and shadow add character and detail to your space. • Choose smarter furniture – with cleverly integrated storage, you can store bedding and out-of-season clothes in an under-bed compartment, or put magazines and remote controls in your sofa’s armrest.



EXPERIMENT WITH BOX ARRANGEMENTS TO GET A PERSONAL LOOK AND ADD CHARACTER TO A ROOM. STORING COLLECTIBLES BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE COMPARTMENTS ADDS DIMENSION TO THE ROOM FOR THE ENTHUSIASTIC TYPES If you are torn between restraint and the indulgence of an avid collector, then you need a storage match that is functional yet sculptural, with an artistic backdrop for the things you love, and ideally, vibrant colours that reflect the passion in your personality. Go for flexible storage solutions that can be mounted in any preferred configuration and in a strong steel – this creates a minimal look for the items stored in them to take centre stage. • Balance fresh tones with warm shades – you can go for asymmetry in the wall storage system and a bold, colour-block theme. • Experiment with box arrangements to get a personal look and add character to a room. Storing collectibles both in and out of the compartments adds dimension to the room. • Tie your look together by using one base tone throughout the room. For example, if you are using black boxes as your storage, use black in other pieces such as in a rug, or art piece.


LAYERING LIGHT Good lighting draws attention not to itself but to the other design aspects of the environment. It can make or break the ambience of a house, so it pays to get it right. Petra Marie Cutajar from Light Design Solutions has the‌ solution. ONLY WHEN the decoration of a room is complete does it become obvious the lighting has not been correctly executed. So, it pays to invest some time in this while doing up a space. Lighting is, after all, a powerful and versatile design tool that can be used in many ways to enhance interiors and bring a home to life. The right lighting can provide a sense of drama, creating pools of focus around furniture, architectural features, walls and floors. It is common for lighting to be placed at the bottom of the list and not given priority, but the ideal time to plan a lighting scheme is right at the start of the home renovation, or new build; at the same time that the plumbing is being thought out. Before planning the lighting, it is essential to make a decision about the layout of the furniture. It is better and less expensive in the long run to provide for this early on, rather than trying to put it right once the scheme is complete. The lighting budget too should be comparable to the other main design elements of the project.



Variety is important to create interest, so try to employ several lighting effects just as you would do when choosing a mix of textures and colours for a decoration scheme. Home owners need to learn something about lighting design as well, so they will not be lost when making important decisions about the living spaces they will be spending most of their time in.

THE LIGHTING BUDGET TOO SHOULD BE COMPARABLE TO THE OTHER MAIN DESIGN ELEMENTS OF THE PROJECT In addition to being a functional necessity, providing light for practical purposes, lighting can be used to create zones and points of focus, to manipulate the dimensions of a space, to draw attention to an architectural feature, or to add a decorative element whether by creating pattern, or highlighting an interesting surface and providing a dramatic effect through the play of light and shadow.

Light has four specific duties: to provide decorative, accent, task, or ambient illumination. Filling a room with only table lamps to provide the main source of illumination is bad lighting design as it uses only one light function. The other three functions of illumination must also come into play. This is called light layering, where a number of light sources are blended together to create a comfortable, inviting and flexible environment. Lighting design is, indeed, successful when all four functions of light are combined with a room to create a fully usable and adaptable space.

ACCENT LIGHT is the directed illumination that highlights objects within an environment. The types of luminaires used are usually track lights and recessed adjustable fixtures, which focus the attention on artworks, sculptures, table tops etc‌

AMBIENT LIGHT is the soft general illumination that fills the volume of the room with a glow of light and softens the shadows. The luminaires used are opaque and indirect wall lights, floor lamps, indirect pendants and cove lighting, which provide a subtle general illumination, without drawing attention to the source.

TASK LIGHT provides illumination for performing workrelated activities. The best task light is located between your head and the work surface. The first things to consider are the various tasks that need to be performed within your home. This will determine the fixtures that are appropriate for the task to be carried out. An area that needs to be given great importance with regards to task lights is the kitchen.




A SOFT SPOT Are we addicted to cushions – the ultimate and easy accessory for our homes? How many could we possibly accumulate before we bury our beds and sofas? If you stumble upon textile and fashion designer Sef Farrugia’s first cushion collection, you may opt for yet another… SEF FARRUGIA has been designing fabrics, clothing and accessories for quite some time now, and this is her first foray into cushions. “It seemed to be a natural progression from designing clothing and accessories,” she says of the debut collection. “As a textile designer, you are constantly working with fabrics and looking for new ways of designing them in different contexts. A cushion was the first thing that came to mind.” The starting point of the process involves researching a subject that interests her, following which she starts drawing ideas for prints before moving onto developing concepts, sourcing trims, complementary fabrics etc… “Illustration is a big part of what I do, and throughout the years that I have been designing, I have always strived to come up with something fresh and, most of all, reinvent my way of working,” she says, always trying to incorporate all her roles – textiles and fashion designer and illustrator – in her brand. The whole process unfolds mostly in Sef’s studio, where ideas continue to evolve, so much so that she may end up



with a result that is totally different from what she had in mind at the beginning. That is, in fact, what Sef finds so enjoyable about the whole process. Her first cushion collection has been conceived as a development of her first clothing range, which was also her graduate work, Poppins, back in 2011. It is inspired by childhood films, set in the Edwardian/ Victorian era, where importing interiors and other objects from North Africa was quite a thing, she explains. This is why her collection includes elaborate details and motifs of tiles, gate designs etc… When Sef moved back to Malta after completing her studies in London, no one was designing printed fabrics to this extent and it seemed to catch people’s attention right away, she says. Her tile prints, as well as the chosen colour – sun-drenched saffron/mustard – ended up being instantly associated with her work. This became her signature brand colour, which is also why she used it in the cushion collection too.

I BELIEVE IT IS ALSO THE GRAPHIC, WHIMSICAL, TRIPPY QUALITIES IN MY PRINTS THAT SEEM TO LINGER ON, AS WELL AS MY WAY OF ILLUSTRATING “I believe it is also the graphic, whimsical, trippy qualities in my prints that seem to linger on, as well as my way of illustrating,” Sef adds about her signature style. We tend to keep on buying more and more cushions until there is no more space on our beds and sofas… Can we ever get enough? For Sef, changing a cushion can, in fact, completely change the way a sofa/bed looks. Perhaps, in that sense, buying cushions can be addictive, she admits Having said that, she also believes that investing in wellmade cushions, which really brings out one’s individuality, could mean no need to change them so often. “I am all for good-quality objects that last a lifetime,” she says, adding that moving cushions around is also fun. In this collection, Sef’s signature brand colour, sundrenched saffron/mustard, is again dominant and “that is also because I find it to be a good base colour to complement the chosen palette. “This colour was also prevalent in my very first clothing collection and it caught on, which is why it ended up as my brand colour.”

Sef’s cushions include lavish fringes, tassels and trims to finish them off. She has used silk satin crêpe and organic cotton twill, which have created an interesting contrast. The prints have been carefully selected to complement one another, with a play on scale and shapes. They come in small squares and rectangles, big ones and bolsters, but Sef has a soft spot for the latter, which remind her of her childhood because they always found their place on her sofa, as well as the small squares. Aesthetics are fundamental in Sef’s work and she is constantly seeking to create visuals that are pleasing to the eye. However, the manufacturing arm is just as important, she says, adding that a cushion also has a function and is purchased for practical reasons too. Sef is currently working on launching a new printed accessories collection in the near future, which will include silk scarves, ties and eye masks, as well as tote bags in organic cotton twill. Her biggest projects in the pipeline, though, are the launch of an e-commerce website, as well as the official opening of her shop space in “iconic” Rabat. INSTAGRAM: @SEFFARRUGIASHOP FACEBOOK: FACEBOOK.COM/OFFICIAL.SEF.FARRUGIA





Artist Wioletta Kulewska uses the patterns of marine fossils in Maltese limestone as a starting point for her explorations in paint and print reliefs. But there is more to her current exhibition than her works: these paintings are also a message about nature’s intrinsic originality, which has been constantly destroyed.

EmbEddEd is a collection of abstract, biomorphic paintings by Wioletta Kulewska, inspired by the marine fossil remains found inside maltese limestone. but with construction being practically out of control in malta, few would look at its stone the way she does, using it as inspiration for her art, and in fact, there is also a deeper message ‘embedded’ in her work. “This project has become very close to me somehow,” Kulewska admits. “I feel like this is an important exhibition for malta at the moment. my paintings are almost asking the viewer to look back in time, to stop for a moment and contemplate. “I want the audience to reflect on subjects like embodiment, resemblance


PLACES FEbruary 2018

and disappearance; to reflect on subjects like life, death, past and present, Earth’s natural phenomena, or simply the nature and interpretation of her originality in a unique way… “So yes, there is a hidden message in my current exhibition. my paintings are about nature’s intrinsic originality, which has been constantly destroyed.” In Embedded, Kulewska uses the patterns of marine fossils as a starting point for her explorations in paint and print reliefs. Since her works have so many hidden layers, she found Palazzo de La Salle in Valletta to be a perfect space for her show because of its rich history. “When you walk out of the gallery, you can find a lot of fossils embedded

in the natural limestone floor. They are everywhere around us,” she points out. “my paintings, although very contemporary, are also deeply embedded in maltese history just like a building itself. “From its greensand beaches to its coralline cliffs and the limestone used in the construction of its buildings, all the rock found in the maltese archipelago contains petrified lifeforms. Like an ancient fabric of memories, the prehistoric life recorded in maltese rock dates back some 35 million years,” says the Polish artist about her inspiration. It is, in fact, the vestiges of these prehistoric lifeforms that have inspired the series of meditations in oil – on fragility, the infinite and the sublime, she says. Painting in oils, using gold leaf and a technique of printing plaster sculpture directly onto the canvas, Kulewska recreates the elemental process of fossilisation.  The works included in this exhibition highlight Kulewska’s personal

interpretations. The contemporary shapes, use of colour and visual language are a stark and playful contrast to that which is embedded in the Maltese shores, she says. Kulewska has been living and working in Valletta since 2008, and as a foreign artist in Malta, she finds everything around her is an inspiration. Her process is rooted in the close forensic studio observation of natural phenomena, but she also employs a spontaneous method of on-the-spot figurative painting. “I paint a lot from observation and on the spot; then I develop these ideas and sketches further. Effectively, what I do is combine outdoor painting with studio practice. I often sit outside with my sketchbook. I’m hidden between the rocks, and I paint. It’s my favourite activity. “I love sketching people around the island doing things, and no one knows I’m painting them at that moment. It’s the most beautiful way of capturing the moment without taking a picture. I use paints instead.” Apart from an artist, Kulewska is also an interior and furniture designer, which is no surprise – many professional designers are also painters, including, for example, the great Francis Bacon.  However, Kulewska is trying to separate her design work from painting. “They are not related to each other. But since I have a strong background in design, somehow, my paintings could remind some people of my designs in terms of colour schemes, or ‘aesthetics’.

I cAn’T Truly ExprEss MysElF In THE dEsIgn FIEld In MAlTA “I’m trying to find time to do both, however, painting is a full-time job if you are taking it seriously. My relationship with painting is very different and much stronger,” she says. “I believe my design works are more painterly than my paintings are related to design. All my projects are playful and free because I’m an artist. This is how my mind works. I think in colour, shapes and textures.” It is quite clear where she feels most at home: “I was born to be a painter, but I also love design and I have a real passion for it. However, design as a profession has a lot of restrictions and it can be a real struggle sometimes. And because of that, it often doesn’t give me the same satisfaction painting does. “I can’t truly express myself in the design field in Malta. It’s quite sad that talented designers like me, who care about Maltese heritage and culture, don’t have a proper interior project in historical cities like Valletta. The heritage and beauty of the city is disappearing every day. Beautiful old façades and interiors have been replaced with cheap finishes and ugly shop fronts in many areas of the city,” she laments. “I can only truly imagine my job here as an interior designer if I can fully express myself and be creative and

playful; add hand-painted details to my projects, design lights, patterns and decorative elements etc… This is how this field used to be. “The interior designer was an artist, not a sales person, or self-taught decorator. There is some sort of misunderstanding about certain professions, or how an interior design project should be approached in historical cities like Valletta. There has to be magic in design like there has to be magic in painting. “I’m free when I paint, and when I paint I only think about painting – nothing else. I need to feel free to be able to create,” she insists, while trying to find the right balance in both professions… last year, Kulewska complemented her graduate studies with a course in painting in contemporary practice at the slade school of Fine Arts in london, where she plans to return this year. Meanwhile, she is currently developing some ideas for a more figurative body of work, but if you had any doubt where her heart lies, and where she feels most at home, “the most exciting bit of ‘news’ that I could give myself, personally, is that I will continue painting”. EMBEddEd, wHIcH curATEd By sAndrA ZAFFArEsE, Is on unTIl MArcH 1.

FEBruAry 2018 PLACES



Saving our heritage together 52


Restoration work on the Madonna of Grace altarpiece at St Mark’s Priory in Rabat may grind to a halt if funds are not raised. Conservator-restorer Erika Falzon unveils why these rare panel paintings are so important and deserve to survive. THE FOUR panel paintings at the Augustinian’s Convent in Rabat are among Malta’s most treasured medieval artefacts, very few of which have survived on the island. But apart from being important because of their rarity, they are also significant because of their aesthetic value and because they provide insight into artistic patronage and taste on the island prior to the Knights’ period. Moreover, they reflect the strong cultural ties that existed between Malta and Sicily in the late Middle Ages. Though produced at a time when the Renaissance had begun in Florence, these panel paintings, which can be assigned to the second quarter of the 15th century, reflect a lingering International Gothic tradition, and are the product of a Sicilian master, who had been influenced by trends evident in mainland Italy. It is for these reasons that the heritage and environment NGO, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, in collaboration with the Augustinians, undertook to restore the Madonna of Grace altarpiece some years back, the panels being in a poor state of conservation and the aim being to avoid their further deterioration. It engaged the services of conservator-restorer Erika Falzon, who is leading the project, together with a multidisciplinary team made up of art historian Martina Caruana, conservation scientists and wood specialists. “This is by far one of the most important projects I have worked on in terms of their uniqueness and beauty,” says Erika. Funding, however, remains one of the biggest challenges, despite the fact that many were happy to collaborate and understood the beauty of these works of art and how prestigious they are for Malta, she continues. The panels’ importance within the history of art in Malta has been especially highlighted since the 1940s, but the fact that they have been restored a number of times over their 580 years of existence is a sign that they were previously held in high regard, and that their preservation was of value to earlier generations, she explains. “When considering the extreme importance of these works, which is acknowledged by both local and foreign scholars of repute, and the fact that they underwent several interventions over the years, it is understandable that their conservationrestoration is very complex and delicate, requiring much careful study and the collaboration of a multidisciplinary team of specialists.” The art-historical research has, in fact, provided a general understanding of the four medieval panel paintings, which once formed part of a larger

composition, within the context of centuries of artistic activity at the Church and Convent of the Augustinians in Rabat and also within the context of contemporary production of devotional works for monastic establishments in Sicily. This research by Dr Caruana has complemented the work of specialist scientists and conservatorrestorers to support the latter in determining a suitable approach for the cleaning, restoration and eventual presentation of the four panels. “Careful scrutiny of the four panels themselves has revealed a stratification of different pictorial layers, which reflect the variegated history of the paintings, but which, understandably, do not survive in their entirety, rendering the project more complex. “Nonetheless, the comparative analysis of the Rabat paintings with other works attributed to the same artistic milieu, which have also undergone treatment since the 1970s, has supported the execution of cleaning tests and further scientific investigation as priority areas could be better determined,” she explains.

THE EXISTENCE OF A WORK OF THIS QUALITY, FROM AN ERA WHERE ALMOST NO ART HAS SURVIVED, IS REMARKABLE The project was divided into three phases, which included carrying out extensive scientific research in Malta and abroad to study the manufacturing technique used by the artist, the past interventions and the state of conservation of the panels. These investigations included data monitoring of the temperature, relative humidity of the room where they will be exposed and of the building, while specialised equipment, used practically for the first time worldwide, was brought over from Sicily for very detailed X-ray scans. Following the analysis of the scientific data, phase two of the project, which includes the actual conservation interventions, was planned out and began. Meanwhile, art-historical research continues to contribute to the conservation-restoration decisions that need to be taken in the cleaning and restoration phase of the four Rabat panels to ensure that their iconography and the way time has affected them can be duly valued. It is no exaggeration to say that the rediscovery of these surviving panels has strong parallels to the discovery of Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ in Dublin, in that the existence of a work of this quality, from an era where almost no art has survived, is remarkable.




Conservator-restorer Erika Falzon.

THE RESTORATION PROJECT GOES BEYOND MERELY SAVING THE ALTARPIECE; IT ALSO INVOLVES THE DISSEMINATION OF SPECIALISED CONSERVATION KNOWLEDGE THAT IS HAMPERED BY THE LIMITED NUMBER OF PANEL PAINTINGS. IN-DEPTH RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION OF THE TECHNIQUES AND MEDIA IS ALSO INVALUABLE Prof. Mario Buhagiar, former Head of the Department of History of Art at the University of Malta, had, in fact, described them as “one of the most important art treasures in Malta” due to the fine quality of the work in a country where so few pieces of medieval art are to be found. The restoration project goes beyond merely saving the altarpiece; it also involves the dissemination of specialised conservation knowledge that is hampered by the limited number of panel paintings. In-depth research and documentation of the techniques and media is also invaluable. These magnificent panels are housed in the Augustinian Fathers’ Priory, which incorporates the finest baroque cloister in Malta, built in 1739 by Andrea Belli, one of the most notable architects. The Priory is also home to an extensive library of over 30,000 volumes, some dating from the 1500s.



Not just any

fruit bowl


Ceramics are often overlooked in the art world, especially in Malta, but this should not be the case. They are not just a piece of fired clay; and the real artistic challenge lies in the glazes and glazing techniques. Connie Formosa, conservator at Recoop Ltd, is only too aware as she chronicles the life, times and restoration of a large fruit bowl by Italian Art Nouveau master Galileo Chini from the early 20th century.

IN 1896, the Tuscan aristocratic family, Ginori, sold their Doccia ceramic factory to the Richard company of Milan. Art Nouveau master Galileo Chini [1873–1956] was so enraged that, together with some fellow artists, he set up a small factory, L’Arte della Ceramica. Chini was inspired by the Renaissance masters like Botticelli, but he was also fascinated by the pre-Raphaelites, notably William Morris. He is credited with introducing Art Nouveau, popularly known as Liberty, in Italy. He also painted the frescoes for the King of Siam’s palace, as well as designing opera sets for his close friend Giacomo Puccini. In 1902, with his cousin, Chini set up his own studio in Mugello, specialising in ceramic vases with lustre decoration and rich colours. The pomegranate and the peacock, synonymous with the Arts and Crafts movement, are recurring themes. It is here in Mugello that this bowl was designed between 1906 and 1911 and produced between 1919 and 1925.

When Recoop Ltd received this fruit bowl, it was in a good condition, except for tree large breakages to the foot. The pieces had been reattached, but badly set, and as is often the case, with an excessive amount of glue that had yellowed badly. The first job was to test the adhesive to check what solvent could dissolve or soften it to be able to detach the pieces. The result was that two of them could be removed with acetone. However, the last piece could not, even after immersion over a longer period. This indicated that a twocomponent epoxy glue could have been used, which can sometimes prove impossible to remove without damaging the artefact. In this case, it was decided that the safest thing to do was to leave it as it was, and the



CONSERVATION CORNER Maker’s mark of the artist’s workshop – Fornaci San Lorenzo.

Galileo Chini in his studio.

Price sticker from Fornaci San Lorenzo.

n. tio va r e ns co er t f A

Removal of glue residual.


only solution was to remove the excess glue by scalpel. Around the edges of the fractures, small chips of glaze had been lost, so the missing pieces were filled with fine plaster, tooled and shaped to match the surrounding areas. After the right level had been reached, it was time to integrate the colours and textures of the glazes to match as much as possible, so that when the bowl is seen standing, the damage is not obvious.



Ceramics are often overlooked in the art world, especially in Malta, but this should not be the case. They are not just a piece of fired clay; and the real artistic challenge lies in the glazes and glazing techniques. Glazing techniques always were and still are a highly regarded art form in Japan, and so is the Islamic lustre ware, Hispano-Moresque, with its metallic glazes. When the Arts and Crafts movement started in Europe, it looked a lot towards the purity of Japanese arts and crafts and the shimmery glazes of Hispanic pottery. Today, Chini’s works fetch high prices, with a fruit bowl like this recently coming under the hammer for a considerable sum of money.

358, Naxxar Road, B’Kara BKR 9040, Malta Tel: (+356) 21441328 | Fax: (+356) 21447188

Places – Design & Living (February 2018)  
Places – Design & Living (February 2018)  

Issue 19