Light And Shade

Sarah Micallef - 24th June 2017

Architects Melissa Giordimaina, Kurt Vella and Mark Abela, who make up architecture firm MMK, share their passion for design and one of their prized projects.

“The land belonged to my family, and I built the block myself,” Melissa explains as she walks me through the layout of this wonderful duplex penthouse in Xemxija. “I was just starting out in my career when I began working on it, and I wanted to do something that was exclusively mine. It was difficult because when you have no boundaries or limits, apart from budget, it can be a bit maddening!”

The project took around five years to complete, she tells me. Being her own, Melissa had the luxury of time, which she used to deliberate on ideas, weigh up options, and even take a few breaks to focus on other things. “I go through phases in my likes and tastes, so when I’m having trouble making a decision, I give it time,” she says.

While a few of her ideas changed over the project’s progression, Melissa’s main priority for the penthouse remained constant: “my idea was not to have as many rooms as possible – I wanted it to be open, and for everything to be connected.”

And that it certainly is. As you walk in, you find yourself in the kitchen, overlooking beautiful views of the Pwales Valley below. To the right lies a double volume where you’ll find the living room, which enjoys a great deal of natural light, thanks to a skylight. Further in, there’s a small bedroom featuring a simple yet striking split window. On the right, between the wardrobe and the staircase, are the bathroom and the laundry room, and up the stairs, a study overlooks the double volume. The same unit that extends upwards against the staircase morphs into an elegant desk. Finally, the main bedroom and terrace sit at the very top, overlooking the valley.

             

“You can see the majority of the house from the double volume, and that’s really what I wanted – for it to be one whole, connected space,” Melissa explains, adding that the natural light was also another essential factor. “I wanted as much light as possible, but it was also important for me to be able to shut it off if I wanted to, like in the morning, for example – so we created blinds for the skylight.”

The main defining features of the space, according to the architects, are the sense of space thanks to the high ceilings, and the materials used, most of which are natural. “We used oak, concrete on the ceilings and floors, and different marbles including bardiglio in the bedroom and travertine in the bathroom.”

And while the design makes use of simple shapes and clean lines, the space looks anything but stark. Asked how she would describe the design style, Melissa states that above all, it’s easy – easy to live in and maintain. “Most people think that contemporary or modern is minimal, but it’s not. The simple lines and clean aesthetic are softened by fabrics including a linen curtain and a fabric-cladded wall in the study. And while concrete is hard as a finish, it doesn’t have a single polish or solid colour, which means it’s not cold. The wood also helps to add warmth, as does the natural light,” she explains.

And because the majority of the elements within the space are custom-made, the penthouse boasts ample storage space – a feature which combines aesthetic appeal and practical usage of space. “When there are very few loose items, you gain a lot of space. Under the stairs, for example, I have a closet. And the fact that the bedroom door slides into the wardrobe saves even more space,” Melissa continues.

And as with every large-scale project, the process doesn’t come without its challenges. According to the architects, the most challenging part of the project was finding the right people to carry out Melissa’s vision, without shortcuts or taking the easy way out. “Trying to get people to do exactly what I wanted and to stick to the details was not easy, but once you find the right people, it works out well. One of the toughest things to coordinate was overlapping trades – for the kitchen for example, there are the services, marble, timber and stainless steel,” she says. Indeed, as partner Kurt chimes in, “the simpler the interior looks, the more work is generally involved.”

Yet while issues did crop up and parts of the process did prove challenging, the architects’ persistence ensured that everything was carried out according to plan. Today, one of Melissa’s favourite elements is the skylight, particularly the effect it has in changing the room below. “The shadows move across the wall throughout the day, so it always looks different.”

And as the team at MMK Studio gets busy with a number of residential buildings in progress, for which they offer a full service from architecture to interiors, the penthouse serves as a very personal feather in their cap, and, if it’s anything to go by, a sure-fire sign of interesting things to come.

View the full feature in the latest edition of the Commercial Courier


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