Published in HOMEWORKS ISSUE 71
Marble, concrete, glass, steel, light, lots of light, and incredible special understanding is what makes this three-dimensional home so tremendous.
Homeowners Joanna Delia and Henry Peterson wanted to continue living in Valletta and viewed 24 properties before they saw this one.
Joanna ‘When I saw it, I said, “Exactly like this – except one metre wider!” The more I discovered about the space though, the more I was convinced that we could make it work. When I was exploring the house, I climbed on top of the living room (which was originally the washroom) amidst the rubble, mould and grit. That’s when I found the sea view, which was probably what swayed the final decision to go for the house.’
When Joanna called Simon Grech (according to Joanna, ‘the best architect in the world’) the architect found a very dark space to contend with. There were six rooms, one leading in to the other, all pitch black. The ceiling was collapsing. The walls were green with mould, and there was an abundance of pigeon excretion throughout.
A permit already granted for another floor acquiesced the architects with a realistic opportunity to consider space and light from the beginning. The search for as much light as possible became the inspiration point for the architects, and the solution came in the form of the indoor open courtyard concept. By working around this idea, an 11-metre high infusion of light was born.
Concrete beams became the key to both the structure and the design scheme, echoed by concrete details in the form of worktops, display units and furniture. The suspended steel structure staircase ties in the three floors both functionally and aesthetically, casting shadow lines across an expanse of white wall, mirroring the linear concrete beams.
The architects created spaces over the three floors tailored to the couple’s lifestyle, each with a specific feature; the roof terrace with a view and small pool, the sunny mezzanine with the advantage of light and height, a flexible dining area that allows for an open view of different internal spaces, an elevated kitchen with a stunningly lit onyx piece, and a more refined lounge characterised by textured marble underfoot.
The open courtyard inspired space between these floors, promoting a flow of physical and visual communication. “We communicate from everywhere in the house. We speak to each other from totally different areas and we check on the kids just by looking down. The openness of the space allows for three-dimensional living that you couldn’t get in a house unless it was totally open plan. The only rooms that are closed off are the spare bedrooms for guest privacy.’
While the architecture is undeniably of a stellar standard and referred to by other architects as “evolved” and “laying the groundwork for amazing things to come”, the character brought to it by Joanna’s innate visual culture and love of raw, real materials crystallises the overall effect.
‘Once you have the function down, the only other thing that should matter is art. It’s a snapshot of our generation. It’s what makes a place contemporary. In one glance, you’re given an emotional experience, a memory.’
As a result of Joanna’s profession (she’s a doctor), she was trained to be scientific and pragmatic, ‘but I like to surround myself with the illogical and unnecessary. A house without art is useless. It’s not just the art – it’s all the furniture and pieces too. I don’t understand the point of things without stories. I’d say we get about 75% of our things from flea markets locally and abroad, while 25% of the furniture is bought from designer shops.’
The homeowner prefers bringing in any sense of colour through raw materials. 'Simple is easier to digest. I like timeless, new classic things - things that won't ever date. All you need is simple forms and quality materials. I'm not an expert at mixing materials, but I find that if they are real, it's hard to get it wrong.'
There are too many elements of this to mention, but the most notable instances would have to be the onyx slab dividing the kitchen from the dining area, the concrete beams, the steel in the staircase throughout, the glass flooring amongst different levels, and the Maltese tiles in the lower level spa space.
The stainless steel and concrete kitchen is significantly distinct. 'In my first apartment kitchen everything was really well hidden, which in retrospect is silly because it was only designed that way to appear clutter-less. It was totally non-functional for me. When I thought about designing this kitchen, I wanted to exaggerate the ease of getting things. I wanted a one-person kitchen where I could stand there and, like an octopus, reach out for things from one rooted spot. This is what we achieved - now it's like an open pantry and we love it.'
'It's hard to truly understand a space unless you live in it. We saved a lot of money in the beginning by living here while the work was being done. As a result of that time, we really digested what we wanted and what we didn't. Now, spend most of your time on the upstairs terrace enjoying the view that brought us here in the first place.'