Maltese born, London based, flamboyant interior designer Francis Sultana is the go-to guy for the art cognoscenti. Alongside designing furniture, home accessories and textiles, his work includes grand mansions in London and holiday escapes in Aspen and Monte Carlo, commercial projects for the Grand Hotel Sofia and Thomas Goode. He is also Artistic Director at David Gill Gallery and sits on the V&A’s International Council. Here he shares his design secrets...
WHEN WAS YOUR BIG BREAK?
I’d like to say it was when I was about 8, when I helped draw up the plans for my aunt’s new house (it was very 1980’s Dynasty with a big curved, circular staircase)! But really it was when I started working David Gill at 19 – he became a great supporter and mentor. When one of the gallery’s clients saw me one day sketching ideas for furniture when I was about 22, she asked me to design her a dining table. I delivered it late, the gilding was a bit tacky, but it was still beautiful. Shortly after, Annie Lennox commissioned me to design her a sofa.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?
Luxurious, bespoke-driven and sumptuous, drawing on contemporary art, Parisian Art Deco and the early 19th century Neo Baroque movement for inspiration. I’m also very inspired by the way Frank Lloyd Wright and David Hicks didn’t just design interiors but also all the furniture, rugs and accessories too.
WHAT GUIDES YOUR DESIGN IDEAS?
I look to the existing architecture, whether Georgian of 1950s modernist, and then go back to history for design inspiration – forget Pinterest, I look at books about the historical interiors of leading architects like Robert Adam and decorators Syrie Maugham.
TELL US WHAT MAKES A GREAT HOME?
One that works – I’m super practical about creating lots of good storage. Laundry rooms are perfect for helping to create order – I’m going to have one in my new apartment. For dressing rooms, I never waste an inch, measuring exactly how many shoes and suits you can fit in, making a place for sunglasses and belts etc.
ANY FAVOURITE PRINTS OR FABRICS?
I use pops of colour like teal blue, amber and red in fabrics to bring a room to life – I like Kvadrat, Pierre Frey’s ‘Teddy’ mohairs, and my own fabric collection inspired by what I call ‘poverty deluxe’, first made famous by Coco Chanel. It combines high end materials like metallic thread woven with simpler fibres like twine to give a unique depth of both colour and touch. I love animal prints too – but adapted with a contemporary, colour like the staircase of my house in Malta is a tiger print in cobalt blue.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE MATERIALS?
I love noble materials such as bronze – there’s something very permanent, understated and sophisticated about it, even if it’s just used for handles or furniture feet. I use grey woods from Schotten & Hansen for flooring and love giving marquetry an unexpected twist of vibrant colour.
HOW CAN WE MAKE OUR SPACES MORE UNIQUE?
A lot of trades are dying so there are always bespoke elements in my interiors to help keep these vital skills alive. Find a local carpenter to make you something special or ask a curtain maker to trim a simple blind with a luxurious silk or velvet. It might cost a little more but you’ll get pieces to last a lifetime.
ANY QUIRKY DESIGN TIPS?
Big pieces of furniture in smaller spaces makes a room feel bigger. Hang a painting on a mirror – it’s a great way to reflect light, energy and playfulness around a room. I’ve lined one wall in my office with cork (which you can buy by the roll) – it adds warmth and provides space for an evolving mood board of all the things I love in life.
WHAT’S A GOOD STARTING POINT FOR AN ART COLLECTION?
Look for ceramic pieces by young artists like Luke Edward Hall. Graduate shows at the main art colleges are another way to get in with rising stars before their careers take off, buying straight from artists, often for just a few hundred pounds.
WHAT’S WORTH INVESTING IN?
Good pieces of furniture like a sofa – you can reupholster a well-made sofa for a fraction of the cost of buying a new one; no amount of new fabric will save a poorly made one.
AND IF YOU HAVE ONE LAST DESIGN TIP?
Have confidence – a little bit of courage goes a long way, but just don’t do the whole thing from a catalogue because it’s too easy. Be brave, go out, explore and experiment.