“I am the Editor of People’s Homes…”
A journey from Gozo to London has seen Francis Sultana rise to work with some of the world’s biggest art collectors
When interior designer Francis Sultana was growing up on the tiny island of Gozo, a career in London or New York seemed a very distant possibility. With just a few old copies of House & Garden and World of Interiors to spark his imagination, Francis dreamt of going to London to work. Without any local art schools or colleges to help him pursue his dream, Francis, in typical style, simply set about teaching himself. Through books and the local library he learnt about the history of art and design, the great decorators and style originators. It is this strong historical knowledge, a real understanding of where design comes from that lies at the heart of everything that Francis does.
“Still to this day,” says Francis, “my most favoured interiors are those from the Art Deco period, especially Paris. The work of designers like Eugene Printz and Jean Dunand, who were so seminal in creating that aesthetic, is as fresh and contemporary today as it was back then, still as synonymous with what we consider to be elegant and stylish. The shapes and silhouettes that they used, the curved line and the juxtaposition with the straight line and the diagonal, the use of noble materials such as bronze, lacquer and marquetry, as well as iconic pieces such as day beds, stools and cabinets were looks that they created but they are still ideas that are as much in demand by my clients today as they ever have been.”
Having taught himself as much as was possible, at the age of 19 Francis went to live with family in London and followed his dream, quickly finding himself at the heart of London’s exciting world of avant-garde, working for an exciting young gallerist named David Gill. Gill had just opened his own space on London’s Fulham Road, where he had begun blurring the boundaries between art and design to the delight of collectors such as David Milinaric. Gill’s eye, able to show the work of sculptor Donald Judd at one moment and then the vintage fashion of Dior and Chanel the next, set the gallery apart. Together Gill with the support of Francis, created an aesthetic that is now known the world over. Francis is now the CEO of the gallery, and has launched work by the late Zaha Hadid as well as helping launch the careers of household names such as Tom Dixon and Grayson Perry.
Despite his success with the gallery, Francis’s own dream of working on his own furniture and interior designs finally came to fruition in 2009 when he set up his own interior design consultancy. Nearly ten years later Francis Sultana counts many of the world’s biggest art collectors as clients, with projects running throughout Europe and the USA. Some of his first furniture projects were for singer Annie Lennox and Lord Jacob Rothschild. The consultancy now operates from a 2,600sq ft space in St James’s, with a team of young designers working under Sultana’s direction. Just last week Francis was the only British designer invited to show in Paris as part of AD Collections, he is also one of the few British designers to be featured in Architectural Digest’s prestigious AD100 – a list of the most influential people in design and interiors, in the world. He has also been cited by Wallpaper magazine as one of the Top 20 Interior Designers of the world and regularly appears in House & Garden and World of Interiors as one of the UK’s most glamorous designers.
Despite his success around the world, Francis has never forgotten where he came from, nor has his home country of Malta forgotten one of its most successful exports. This year Francis is being honoured with an exciting new role at the heart of the forthcoming cultural celebrations as Valetta, the capital of Malta takes on the mantel of European Capital of Culture in 2018. Francis will also be supporting Malta as the country creates a pavilion for the biennale in Venice in May. This is the first time Malta has participated on anything like this scale since 1959 as Malta makes it mark on the international arts scene. “It seems funny to me how far away London or New York seemed to me back then,” Francis muses. “I now spend half my life on a plane between the two cities. Things have changed so much since for me. I am lucky enough to own a wonderful old baroque house in Valetta now and when you walk around the city, you really see how Malta is now attracting major architects and artists that not only call Malta home, but in terms of the types of commissions that are coming to the island in the buildings that are being erected such as the Renzo Piano City Gate project. I feel that Malta and I have both been on a journey over the past 30 years and it is so exciting to be part of the celebrations as Valetta becomes City of Culture and its is why I am delighted to be hosting the reception for the Malta pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale on behalf of my nation.”
Closer to home however, Francis is working on his latest furniture collection, entitled Narmina, which will launch during London Design Festival this September. “We are in talks to do something exciting for this year’s event, the collection is looking very strong so we need to find a suitable space in which to show – I am really looking forward to it.” He is also about to begin work on decorating his own new London apartment. The apartment is located in the heart of the West End, in a building that was once home to Lord Byron and Lord Gladstone as well as former American socialite and Editor-in-Chief of Flair Magazine, Fleur Cowles. “It will be fun to work on to work on it, both honouring the history of the space yet also creating something that is relevant to me,” says Francis. “I always say that I am an “editor” of people’s homes and that is still the case in my own home.” He continues, “however I do also get to try out new ideas and work with new artisans I have discovered, pushing them to create, using myself as my own mood board, if you like. I love working with my clients, they are such incredible women and men, very clever and very inspired in their taste, however it is always fun to be your own client for a change and I cannot wait to get started.”
Portrait of Francis by Billal Taright