Tucked just 100m from the church in the quiet village of Kercem, and so within easy reach of a butcher, baker and a pharmacy, and only a mile from Victoria, there’s a hidden gem of a house that combines a magnificent mill room with a grand salon that might grace the finest Maltese townhouse. It’s a winning combination.
Entering from the street, through an entranceway with an unusual crossed arch ceiling, you are greeted by blue sky over a green-bedecked wall across a garden courtyard.
It’s a bright welcoming space, wrapped in bougainvillea galore, an irregular shape adding character and interest. Protected from the elements, as the wind rustles the palms trees beyond, this private courtyard feels like a sanctuary.
In the courtyard external stairs rise to the right and, to the left, the house unfolds along the left hand side: first there’s a square bedroom with simple traditional arches and features which offers a versatile downstairs room, beyond which an impressive main living space has plenty of space for sofas as well as a dining area on the far side under a double width arch with a deep stone shelf above.
This mill room dates back two or even three hundred years: here donkeys once ground flour, and stone troughs along the whole length of the left hand wall were likely once used for storing grain. Look carefully, and you can see an old iron pulley hanging discreetly in a corner and a series of ancient Maltese circular motifs carved into the stone arch alongside – they may have been a builder’s mark or something more significant and it is fascinating to speculate on their hidden meaning.
Today the room has a baronial feel with dark wood and touches of ironwork: tall wide doors open onto the garden courtyard and subtle contemporary up- and down-lighters complement an elegant metalwork chandelier, a centrepiece that casts a soft light onto lovely old flag stones. This same stylish blend of up-to-date interior design with the traditional features is also found through the double doors into the kitchen: here, beneath high ceilings which add to the sense of space, you’ll find modern appliances and a second dining area.
On the far side of the kitchen, there’s a second external space with a distinctly different feel from the garden courtyard. The former, in which you’d never believe you were in the heart of a village if you hadn’t just stepped in from the street, evokes old Malta: there are high walls, iron lanterns, feeding troughs and old cartwheels, one of which has been made into a bespoke table on a heavy stone base. Below the courtyard lies a large bell-shaped hand cut well. The second, in contrast, is a modern pool area with a smart fairy-lit roofed ‘beach-hut’ gazebo for outside dining. There is also plenty of room for loungers beside the orange tree that grows against the old rubble wall on the property’s furthest boundary. Standing here there’s a beautiful green, gold and brown view sweeping down over characterful scattered rooftops towards the remarkably tall dome of Xewkija church which stands proud against the horizon.
Upstairs can be reached either from the external staircase in the garden courtyard or from the living room where, tucked in one corner an unobtrusive set of steps curves up to the bedrooms above.
The staircase may be unobtrusive but the Wow Factor on reaching the top is decidedly memorable: you enter an upper lounge that is steeped in gold from the light reflected by a golden floor of traditional tiles the colour of corn and the sun that streams in through two giant arched south-facing windows.
Here you can luxuriate in the sense of being on a glorious sun-soaked island whatever the weather and in the winter you can warm your toes by the small iron wood-fire stove as you gaze out, on a clear night, to the lights of Malta in the far distance.
The impact of the sun lounge is equalled on entering the Master Bedroom at the front of the house. With light streaking in from three sides and large votive niches, this large chamber has the feeling and dimensions of the grand salon of a town house and double doors open onto a carved stone balcony overlooking the street. Beneath dark wood beams across a double-height ceiling, the old Maltese floor tiles are an extraordinary riot of curves and loops, a party of petals and flowers amongst which butterflies flutter. It’s an almost kaleidoscopic explosion of reds, oranges, mid- and olive-greens against gold and the imagination can wander, to the Amazon or Alice’s Wonderland. It’s a magical contrast to the sophistication of the organic palette that runs through the ground floor décor and the top-of-the-range bathrooms.
There are two upstairs bathrooms which lie between the three upstairs bedrooms in an alternate Jack-and-Jill arrangement: no one will ever need to go outside in their pyjamas in this house. The central bedroom has pleasing square dimensions, beautiful detailing and a surprising amount of storage whilst the bedroom at the back of the house also has traditional tiles.These are very different in colour scheme and mood to those seen elsewhere in the house: the floor is a regimented pattern of warms reds, pale yellow and brown that pick up the hues of the golden stone and dark wood beams.
The upper storey, behind the ‘sun’ lounge and alongside the third bedroom, also includes an outdoor space, a private terrace with contemporary rough-hewn rustic furniture. This terrace, edged with palm trees on both open sides, manages to be sheltered whilst offering a 180-degree view towards the villages to the east of Kercem. From here you can see the Festa fireworks on the feasts of San Georg and Santa Marija in Victoria and the village celebrations in Kercem, Santa Lucija, Fontana and Sannat!
And just in case this house hasn’t already captured your heart with smart style, and bright bold character, there’s a final piece of magic: the puzzle of how to reach the roof from which you feel as if you could reach across and almost touch the red roof of Kercem church. Crack the mystery and you’ll be rewarded with a secret staircase and hidden room that could be lifted from the pages of a Famous Five story!