Francis opened his doors exclusively to House & Garden last summer. Features Director David Nicholls has written beautifully about Francis and his work, offering a wonderful insight into Francis's life in both London and Malta.
Thank you to everyone involved including Yana Peel, Veronica de Bono, Kane Cali, Marina Portomaso, Matt Vella, Michela Moro, Suzanne and Christopher Sharpe, Alan Journo and David Gill. Special thanks to David Nicholls and Hatta Byng and the wonderful photographer John Laurie.
We hope you all enjoy reading it.
House & Garden (June Issue) Out Now.
Saturday morning spent playing backgammon on a Sunseeker yacht and sunset drinks on a well-appointed roof terrace score highly on the list of dream scenarios for a magazine lifestyle photo shoot. And as with so much that the designer Francis Sultana puts his mind to, his choice of settings does not disappoint in providing what is required for several pages of gloss and glamour. But while a picture reputedly is worth a thousand words, it rarely tells the full story. The past couple of years have been a difficult time for Francis, who lost his mother and
his close friend and collaborator Zaha Hadid within 12 months of each other. Both losses affected him deeply. Francis grew up on Gozo, a small island in the Maltese archipelago. ‘I think we go through different chapters in our lives,’ he says. ‘I moved away from Malta because, at
the time, there was nothing there that excited me.’ Nostalgically, he recalls how poring over magazines like House & Garden provided him with a sense of escapism. ‘Growing up in a tiny place, magazines like this were windows for seeing what’s going on, what’s new and what’s good.’ Francis was 19 when he left for London, where he began working at the gallery of David Gill on Fulham Road. ‘I was so lucky to meet great mentors like David at an early stage in my life,’ he says. ‘I didn’t have a proper design education: I just got to work.’ He is now artistic director of David Gill Gallery and oversees the creative content of the collections it develops with designers and artists including Mattia Bonetti, the Campana brothers and Gaetano
Pesce. Francis also set up his own interior-design business in 2009 and, shortly after that, launched the Francis Sultana furniture collection. His new office and studio are above the gallery, which has since relocated to St James’s. There is an inevitable cross-pollination between the two businesses: Francis often commissions the artists on David Gill Gallery’s roster to create one-off pieces for his interior-design projects, and sometimes these designs
become the starting point for new gallery collections. Despite his focus on London, Francis has always maintained a strong connection with his country of birth, not least because that is where his mother remained. At least once a month he would visit her, staying in the Gozo
house where he was raised and which he later decorated so beautifully for her. ‘Since she passed away, though, I realised that I needed to have new reasons to go back to Malta,’ he says. Some of these reasons he has discovered; others he is working hard to create. Malta is in the midst of a period of great change, most visibly in its capital city Valletta, where there is a number of government-funded and private regeneration projects.
The former are partly in preparation for the city’s year-long celebrations as European Capital of Culture, which begins in January 2018. The Renzo Piano designed City Gate sets an exciting new tone for the city. It seems there is not a house in Valletta that is not covered in scaffolding or has builders scuttling in and out. Until a year ago, this included the house that Francis
and David bought in 2006. Built for a Spanish knight, it had been left empty since the Forties. The couple were in no rush to renovate it immediately; such an idea would have been impossible in Valletta anyway, according to Francis: ‘I moved in when the builders were still there. In Malta, that’s what you do to get them to move out.’ It took about seven years in all for the house to be habitable. With the house now nearly finished – or as finished as an
interior designer’s home can ever be – Francis has started spending more time in Malta again. And with this new house has come an extended circle of friends. He discovered
that the house next door was owned by his childhood friend, long since ordained as a Catholic priest, who is also a talented artist and art restorer. Across the narrow street and down a bit is the RCA-educated glass artist Kane Cali. ‘I like the fact there are all these artistic things
going on in the street. And it’s very neighbourly,’ Francis says. He lowers his voice conspiratorially and reveals that a new candle maker is moving in soon. (This may not portend
well for the leather-and-tobacco-scented ‘Ernesto’ candle by Cire Trudon that Francis has burned for years.) ‘The Malta connection is going to grow more for me over
the next two years,’ Francis says. In particular, there will be a refocusing of some of his philanthropic work. In London, he sits on the Victoria & Albert Museum’s development
advisory board, alongside the likes of former Christie’s director Amin Jaffer and the Belgian financier Pierre Lagrange. After eight years on the board of the NSPCC, he has stepped back to serve as an advisor. ‘It’s allowed me to free up some time to take on more cultural
work in Malta,’ he says. Part of this includes hosting a reception at the Malta Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale in May, and there are plans for a series of arts initiatives that make use of his vast network of contacts in London. ‘Malta has always had such a strong connection
to the UK and I’m in a good position to build bridges between the two,’ he explains.
If you get the sense that Francis is driven, and that he lives life at a dizzyingly fast pace, you would not be wrong. ‘Sometimes I feel as though I can see myself in front of me, because I’m already off doing the next thing.’ But, even when he is working, he says that the time he
spends in Malta is different to that spent in London. ‘I’m not so hard on myself here. I don’t wake up and immediately do two hours’ work on my laptop. And I’m really
finding time for me.’ The roof terrace on Francis’s house in Valletta is indeed the scene of many fabulous evenings, where both friends and drinks fizz and sparkle. But it is early in the mornings that Francis likes to creep up here, on his own with a cup of coffee. ‘I sit and do nothing. I’ll look out towards the harbour and see what ship might be coming in or
leaving; I feel the sun on my skin and my mind travels. Some of us function better when we have lots to do, butI’ve learnt to know when I have to switch off ’