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Living space

Architect Ivan Cachia tells Ramona Depares how he combined form, function and style by creating interactive components in this luxury apartment. His job was essentially to set the backdrop for changing moods.

When architect Ivan Cachia was approached to work on a Sliema apartment, his vision was clear: to create a flexible, cost–effective, upmarket residence for the owner; in layman’s terms, a series of interactive spaces, which would initially work out as a bachelor’s pad, but could develop into a residence for a young couple and, eventually, even a young family.

Set against a very particular backdrop in the core of Sliema, the relatively small, two-bedroomed apartment was built in the early 1960s. When Ivan first started working on the brief, the building itself was in dire need of maintenance. However, its central location and the fact that it is surrounded by major new developments without actually forming part of any made it a potentially sound investment.

“The apartment is a corner property, with significant open spaces on both roads. It also enjoys views into one of the major developments that would later develop as one of the components of the end product. The scenario was challenging, but it guaranteed a stimulating renovation project. The client’s aim was to refurbish this space into a residence for his use, with the intention of renting it out when he moves on.”

With this in mind, Ivan focused on achieving a balanced use of space for the interior spatial planning. The existing layout consisted of an arrangement of disorderly spaces, with limited balance and functionality; the three-bedroom layout was not functioning properly, to the extent that the living spaces were very limited and disjointed.

“The immediate focus was to re-model the existing space to define one the client would call his own and could interact with. In a sense, the obvious approach was to work with open spaces. However, this meant we needed to design the components of this space to achieve function without jeopardising aesthetics. Our design approach had to cleverly conceal the obvious, while maintaining function. To give one example, we installed a black glass hob on a black glass counter top on the island. Unless in use, the hob is i­nvisible.”

Ivan decided to do away with the third bedroom and work with a single bathroom. This allowed him to create a living space that would comfortably accommodate the occupants. The only worry was that a single bathroom for four people might not have been practical on a daily basis.

“Because of this, the design of the individual components of the apartment were developed further to create more flexibility and to allow us to promote this design philosophy in a more justifiable manner. We located the water closet in a separate cubicle from the bathroom; it allowed us to incorporate the bathroom in an otherwise limited area.”

This also enabled Ivan to introduce further wardrobe storage in the bathroom, thus utilising the circulation areas more efficiently. Access to the main bedroom is in fact away from the living areas. Similarly, to minimise the influence of the kitchen on the open-plan living and dining areas, this particular component was designed to read as wall cladding – there are no projecting handles, no unnecessary motifs, but a straightforward, simple, yet functional approach.

Lighting choices were also made with this whole flexible motif in mind; light is used to accentuate the different interaction between the different spaces, creating diversification in what is considered to be a small space.

“For example, rather than illuminating the volume of the corridor, the floor was highlighted, using low-level wall lights to direct you into the living space. It takes over with a series of soffit recessed light that focuses on specific areas and uses. The same approach was adopted in the sleeping areas.”

Although it might sound highly edgy, the beauty of this design is that it was created precisely with the idea of maximising function without impairing aesthetics. In a sense, Ivan explains, this is independent of the styling of an interior space and if managed properly can bring together form, function and style.

“Private residences are a lifestyle. You put together a space that you can define as your own and that will work around your needs. It is all about establishing a mood where you feel comfortable and calm.”

...Which means that although works on the apartment are officially complete, the project is never considered finished. It is the client’s needs that set the mood – and the mood can, of course, change from time to time. But in the meantime, the backdrop has been set.

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