Wed. May 29th, 2024

Inside interior designer Francis Sultana’s homeRachael Smith

Tucked between centuries-old limestone houses on one of Valletta’s narrow roads, set high on a hill with views stretching down to the city’s busy harbour, there is no hint of the oasis that awaits behind the large, handsome door leading to the British interior designer Francis Sultana’s Maltese hideaway which he shares with his partner, the gallerist David Gill. ‘It is like coming into another world,’ he enthuses. ‘Outside is a bright, bustling city, but inside is my sanctuary.’

the home of francis sultana in valletta maltaphotography by rachael smithcontact antonia deeson antoniadeesonanddeesoncom

Rachael Smith

With its towering ceilings, winding limestone staircase and fantastic proportions, the five-storey former palazzo, built for the Maltese knight Francesco de Torres, was ‘a baroque masterpiece but hadn’t been lived in since Valletta was heavily bombed in World War II,’ Sultana explains.

Bought in 2006, it has taken the designer over 15 years to restore, staying true to the building’s historical narrative – ‘working with local craftspeople to save or recreate heritage-listed elements like carvings and beams,’ he explains – while adding a modern sensibility to its layout and interiors.

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith living room

Rachael Smith

Stone tiles designed by Sultana, inspired by ‘a pattern based on historical details I’ve seen around Malta,’ replaced a rough concrete floor in the entrance hall and courtyard. An internal staircase, snaking like a thin ribbon from the public rooms up to the principal suite and connecting with the new roof extension, was built in pieces in the UK and shipped to the island, because ‘I had trouble finding someone in Malta to understand how to build it in steel,’ he recalls.

Although it certainly feels grand on first impression – thanks to the couple’s additions of a basement swimming pool and a two-level roof terrace which takes in the breathtaking views of Valletta’s rooflines and the Grand Harbour – ‘it is actually very human in its scale,’ argues Sultana.

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith roof terrace

Rachael Smith

‘It was built for one man, and you can sense that in the way it feels intimate to me, more like a townhouse than a palazzo. It was so cleverly designed, because being built around a central courtyard brings a coolness to the house in the summer, and in winter it feels very protected.’

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith courtyard

Rachael Smith

Every room throughout was refurbished and redecorated, including the main salon where the beams of its almost eight-metre-high ceiling were painted by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren. A pistachio-hued kitchen and marble-clad bathrooms were added, and a set of rooms, once belonging to the knight’s concubine, became a mezzanine-level guest bedroom.

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith kitchen

Rachael Smith

Gilded Maltese crosses and towers amplify the richness of the dining room’s peacock blue-painted walls, (inspired by the interiors of the city’s St John’s Co-Cathedral, whose walls are also graced with magnificent Caravaggios).

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith dining room

Rachael Smith

Many of Gozo-born Sultanas’s own designs, from sofas to tables, desks and chairs, jostle in the mix of ancient, antique and modern, the style imbued with hints of orientalism to echo the eclecticism of Malta’s own historical collision of cultures and inhabitants, from the Phoenicians and Romans to the Sicilians, French and British.

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith

Rachael Smith

The designer, who founded his own studio in 2009 and is also artistic director and CEO of David Gill Gallery in London, relished imbuing every space with provocative but playful design. ‘The Jason Rhoades neon hanging in the stairwell disturbed a lot of people when they first came to visit,’ Sultana recalls.

‘They thought, “What is this? It’s ugly, with all these cables hanging down”, but then they would have drinks at my dining table, and leave saying,“Oh, it’s a bit like a disco, I get it now”,’ he laughs. ‘They could see the value because actually art should be discussed. It should be a bit controversial and invite conversation.’

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith bedroom

Rachael Smith

The house has given Sultana the chance to push favourite artists to create dynamic pieces, and at every turn something unexpected catches the eye. ‘David and I are passionate about championing and commissioning contemporary art,’ says the designer, appointed ambassador for culture for Malta in 2018 and a key proponent in the opening this autumn of MICAS, Malta’s first, highly anticipated contemporary art museum.

‘We live in the present, not the past. I truly believe contemporary art can fit into a historical home if it’s done with conviction,’ says the sought-after designer, who is currently working on houses and hotels around the world, including Oetker’s recently opened Hotel La Palma on Capri.

the home of francis sultana in valletta malta photography by rachael smith library

Rachael Smith

Each work resonates with a different narrative, according to the artist, Sultana enthuses, whether that is pieces such as the sensuously formed bright red-lacquered console and butter-yellow coffee table by Paris-based designer Mattia Bonetti in the salon, the bespoke rugs by Galerie Diurne on many of the floors or a limited-edition triptych of Francis Bacon’s macabre portraits hanging on the library’s walls.

‘This is the point of the house. It evolves as layers are added overtime, where everything has a meaning,’ Sultana adds. ‘It’s about being surrounded by all the things that inspire us and make us feel at home.’


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