“So we have a deal.”
“We do. *insert virtual handshake here*”
“*Virtual handshake* from afar. 😊”
We have a deal sounded right about then to be the most beautiful 4 word phrase ever uttered, between my husband and a building contractor. Still a better love story than many I’ve read, to be honest. Perhaps because it took us MONTHS (25 of them) to even get here. At the beginning of all things.
We knew it would be a bumpy ride when we bought this old lady. We also know it’s far from over, that the ride is probably just about to begin now, with the first metaphorical spade to pierce the soil. But right now, at this very instant, we don’t really care. It’s nice to be able to celebrate the milestones, however small they are.
To No. 6, Devereux, a number and name that’s probably changed countless times since its first day, and one we plan on changing again, we’re just a blip along its centuries-old journey. Passed down from goat farmer, to goat farmer for hundreds of years, until it landed on the lap of an RAF pilot and then on ours, it has probably witnessed scenes and moments that would make Shakespeare’s beard curl in inspiration. A great siege, invaders from every corner of Europe, pillaging, world wars, until today, a little oasis off a main road in a small Mediterranean town.
To us though, it’s the symbol of a dream. It stands for everything we’ve ever imagined having – history, charm, beauty and peace, the kind of serenity that’s hard to come by in a landlocked dwelling and a landlocked town. We took it on, knowing exactly how much of a long-winded ride it was going to be, how much money we’d have to spend that we otherwise wouldn’t if we bought anything else of the same square metreage. Because sometimes, a house speaks to you the moment you step through. And this one sang.
Two years and a pandemic earlier…
What have we been up to in two years? The house witnessed probably around three or four global pandemics in its time and while we weren’t around for most of them, we were unfortunately swept off our feet by the last one, or rather, the very current one. So that in the last year, the house breathed what was probably one of its few quiet years, in which it could do whatever it absolutely wanted. The fiery Bougainvillea took over the courtyard while we made battle with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, who delayed decisions because of said pandemic. Weeds and flowers sprang through cracks in the stone pavement while our architects scratched their heads on ways they could please SCH while still retaining their plans. The little plunge pool turned a murky green (and God knows in what evolutionary stage the creatures that came into existence are in now) when we finally, finally got the approval we needed and the full permits were issued. The plot is afoot!
Forward Architects – Zoe and Michael in particular – did a tremendous job of sticking to their guns when SCH shot down, quite literally, almost every single amendment we proposed. Looking back, choosing them over a couple of other candidates we had met back in 2019, was probably one of the wisest decisions we took, though we wouldn’t know that until exactly a year later.
Back in 2019, two months before we were due to get married, Carl and I signed the final deeds to the house. It was a grumpy, wet day when the previous owner, an elderly but sprite English lady dropped the keys in the palm of my open hand with a warm, open smile.
“There are no dark corners in this house. We were happy here.” And I believed her. She and her husband, an ex-RAF pilot, had moved more than twenty years previously with young boys, today both living in England. The house was only put on the market after the husband died a year before and the house was too big for her to keep alone.
The search for a dream
We had been searching for a house of character and our only requirement was an outdoor area big enough for what we had in mind. I think we saw two or three houses, in Siggiewi, in Zurrieq and in Gharghur. All of them lovely, but all of them had that something. Siggiewi was gorgeous overall, with a lovely view of the parish church. It was also, however, out of our budget because it had been fully converted, which would be fine, had it not been for areas I would not have converted in exactly that same way, and the fact that the outdoors had not been worked on, involving us into costs that would have really blown our budget. Zurrieq was a tad too modern for our taste, though the views were incredible. Gharghur’s outside area was too small, and the price too steep in proportion. When Carl saw the house in Tarxien online, I scoffed.
“Every room leads to another. I don’t want that.”
Carl did what he always does in these situations: he ignored me and went for a viewing anyway. I remember his first description of the place.
“I think you should come see this. It’s a bit magical.”
You pull the m-word, and I’m hooked. It was indeed just that.
I knew the road where the house was in, I knew the alley, but I never knew it branched off, that there was another almost secret door and secret house there, though I guess I should have known. There’s a palm tree smack in the middle of the courtyard and you can hear it even before you get to the door, that familiar sound of leaves brushing against each other, reminiscent of the sound of waves perhaps. You see the open door and you get a glimpse and.. it’s not a house! It’s a garden! Isn’t it? You step through and you’re in a little tunnel, with a door on the left that leads into the house and then you’re outside again. The palm is there, swaying as it had for years before. Everywhere you look, it’s green or the golden colour of limestone, or it’s white where the stone was painted over, or blue for the small pool and the blue-painted door and windows of the left wing of the house. And it’s quiet in a way you wouldn’t think it would be, with neighbours on every side of you. And it lies in the shadow of the oldest church in Tarxien, the spires and dome a dark silhouette against the dying sun. And it really is just that – magical.
When the owner agreed to our offer, I started crying because I couldn’t believe I would one day call this home. And here we are, two years down the line, another step closer to that 4-letter word. This old lady of a house is already unrecognizable. It’s wild and stubborn and unwieldy, at least at its core, and it stands in defiance, as if ready for whatever new changes it will have to endure. But we made a pact, to respect the old bones and breathe life into them and that whatever we add will not take away any of the magic we felt that first day we stepped through.
But that’s a story for another day.
This is the first part in a mini series that will chronicle the restoration of a 500 year old house. For more images, follow our dedicated account @ahomeintarxien.