Perhaps it comes a surprise that a well-known interior designer based in London, who has designed furniture for Annie Lennox and Madonna, traces his origins to Gozo. From an early age, Francis Sultana was drawn to magazines like House & Garden and World of Interiors. He moved to London when he was 19 and was fortunate soon after to find employment with David Gill, who was then rapidly establishing himself as one of the most avant-garde gallerists in Europe. His London gallery attracted designers and artists like Grayson Perry, collectors like Lord Rothschild, and interior designer David Mlinaric.
Francis learnt from the best in the business and soon began working on collections with people who had been his idols, like Garouste & Bonetti. He admits feeling lucky finding himself surrounded by the very best, and it was the quickest way to learn his craft. In 2009 he set up his own interior design studio and has been going from strength to strength ever since. In 2011, he began designing furniture and he is now happy to have clients from all over the world.
Eve: You’re a well-known interior designer based in London. But your roots are Maltese. What made you leave Malta and settle your career in London?
Francis Sultana: I have never lost my Maltese/Gozitan roots – my mother lived in Gozo until she passed away three years ago, and so I would come back to see her. And then in 2008, I decided to buy a house in Valletta. It was run down and needed over ten years’ worth of work lavished on it. Now I am very excited that I have a home back in Malta to call my own.
When I was 19, there was no other option for me than to leave for a city like London to pursue my dreams of a career. However, things are changing positively in Malta and with such rapidity – it is firmly putting itself on the European map together with events like Valletta 2018. This is one of the reasons I decided to get involved with MICAS – the new space for contemporary art with a design annexe which will open in 2021. MICAS will offer our young people access to exhibitions and lectures, artists and designers and international alignments with other global cultural institutions, so they can be inspired and boost our cultural and creative industries.
Eve: Recently you have been announced as Ambassador of Culture for Malta. How do you feel about this honour?
FS: To have been honoured in this way is one of the proudest moments of my life so far. I have had some incredible highlights to my career, working with icons like Zaha Hadid, and to be recognised by my home country is just the most wonderful thing. I have been working tirelessly to support and promote Malta for some time now and this cements my sense of duty to all matters cultural for Malta.
Eve: What’s the hardest part about being an interior designer and what’s the best?
FS: The clients – and the clients. I have to be at the top of my game every day. I also love discovering new artists, designers and craftsmen – it is something I feel passionate about, ensuring our creative talents and crafts skills are not left to disappear. Being an interior designer means I can support these artists and artisans, keeping their art and design alive for future generations.
Eve: Your work has a strong international client base covering Europe, Russia, USA and Asia. How would you describe your own development as an artist?
FS: I tend to look to the past, to eras that have had the most longevity for my inspiration. What is classic and enduring from the turn of the last century, like Art Deco, must have something essential about it to make it remain so current. I don’t like fleeting trends; I like to know that an interior or piece of furniture that I have designed will remain au courant for as long as possible. If what you design has a classic sense of style then it doesn’t matter if you are in Europe or in the United States, it will still be relevant and will still appeal to its audience.
Eve: What do you enjoy doing during your time off?
FS: Getting off the plane at Malta International Airport and driving back to Valletta, sitting on my roof terrace with a glass of something chilled, and gazing over towards the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities, listening to the sounds of Valletta, the church bells. Nothing can beat it.