A mural artist and fine art painter, Frank Portelli is one of Malta’s most celebrated contemporary artists, with a career spanning over 60 years until his death in 2004. Among the greatest highlights of his art career was his place among six Maltese artists who exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1958. But he’s just as well known for his interior design work, which was clearly informed by his creative eye.
As Portelli’s evolving artistic style morphed from Impressionism to Cubism to Constructivism, he infused such Maltese hot spots as the Whisky a Go-go, La Stella Band Club, the Dragut and Piali restaurants, and the sanctuary of St. Therese of Lisieux with his love for moody color palettes, clean lines, and blocky shapes.
The post-war modernist also designed his own live-work space in Attard, an ancient city nestled within the center of Malta’s main island. Architecture firm Valentino Architects just completed a retrofit of this space, which they call “La Serenissima,” aiming to preserve “the intentions of the artist’s design as a contemporary living space.” The result is an artist’s dream, bright and modern with high ceilings and plenty of windows to let all-important sunlight deep within the living quarters.
Preserving a Sense of History
The original studio is defined by tall geometric windows and strong southwestern light, and Valentino Architects decided to focus on these elements in their new design. The reworked interiors follow the same north-south axis, placing private living spaces at the south and north with a small home office and conservatory at the intersection. At the south end, which gets the most light, they integrated 45-degree skylights and high windows.
Sliding glass doors lead from the kitchen to a covered outdoor space with a raised timber deck and new glass perimeter. The angled skylights above this deck were removed to give the space more exposure to the elements, allowing it to become an external terrace that’s shaded from the summer heat but still capable of being opened to cooling breezes. The deck steps down into the living room to double as interior seating.
This cleverly converted outdoor space also acts as one big sunlight collector. The light bounces off the new brushed concrete flooring, pale countertops, and white walls and ceilings, further transmitted into the apartment by interior windows and glazing. Additional new elements like angular floor mosaics, sharply arched entryways, and a sculptural staircase recall the strong dynamic lines of Portelli’s paintings.
“Throughout the apartment, Portelli’s collection of midcentury furniture and lighting have been restored and integrated into the decor, his original plywood pinup board kept hung in the kitchen,” say the architects. “At the northernmost end of the plan, a bedroom and bathroom flank a central, floor-to-ceiling triangular window. A sliding door provides the option for closing off these rooms for privacy, whilst allowing the central sight-line to remain uninterrupted while open.”
About Valentino Architects
Based in Valetta, Malta, Valentino Architects is a design-led architecture studio with projects spanning residential, retail, and commercial sectors, with an emphasis on tailored solutions. “Our work is a study in form, proportion, detailing, and texture, characterized by an economy of scale, color, and material,” they say. “We have built a design approach that prioritizes collaboration and is driven by social, environmental, and urban impact.”