All over the Maltese Islands you will find the townhouse, with their wooden, colourful balconies or gallerija facing the street. Dating back to the early part of the 20th Century, the townhouse is a popular and sought-after property with both foreigners and locals.
All townhouses are constructed from Maltese limestone incorporating timber finishes for doorframes and most importantly, double entrance doors which have become a national symbol. These doors usually have beautiful brass knockers in a variety of styles and designs: from dolphins to gargoyles, Maltese crosses to Art Nouveau faces, lions and more. In many cases the windows are framed with louvres on either side, which are kept closed during bad weather and especially the hot summer months to keep the interior cool. The balconies also served a purpose of discreetly observing what was going on in the streets below, for chatting to neighbours on the same height level.
Most standard townhouses are not big, but could include a basement. All are solid and sturdy with thick walls, high ceilings and an entrance hall with glass doors just behind the double front entrance doors. Some larger townhouses can have up to seven bedrooms, but these are in the minority.
Having as many original features as possible is an asset, as there are many incentives offered by the state to keep these structures in their traditional form. The government of Malta actively encourages the rehabilitation of heritage properties by additionally offering lower stamp duty rates when one buys a property in an Urban Conservation Area. The more original, the bigger the grant will be towards maintaining a structure for future generations.
The interiors almost always feature beautiful, traditional Maltese hand-made tiles on the floors and these were usually overlaid on a compacted soil substrate. Upon expressing interest in buying a townhouse, a thorough inspection is recommended of the floors to see if they need replacement and updating of the underlying layers. Waterproofing and reinforcement or even the complete replacement with a cement base may be required.
Townhouses always have high ceilings and are airy and bright due to the skylights almost always seen above the stairwells. Staircases were often considered the focal point of the interior and no expense was spared, decorating them with beautiful, sweeping and imposing balustrades made from ornate cast iron, stone or wood.
Upon inspection of a townhouse, keep an eye out for wear of the soft limestone on staircases or for any rising damp. Townhouses, in almost all cases, have two bedrooms separated from other rooms, each which had a singular use at the time. One will never find combined living areas in original townhouses and if your preference is open-plan living, you will face considerable structural alterations to achieve this look.
Most townhouses have a back yard or garden area which in today’s compact living, is highly sought-after and will add value in the future. Look out for a well in this section of the property, as it was a standard feature for almost all during their construction. There may be access to a roof space which will be ideal for conversion to an outdoor entertainment area during the hot summer months and often these will offer spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Traditional townhouses are often considered the official architectural emblem of Malta and have featured in countless books. Townhouses are best suited for families, the urban professional and those that want a lock-up-and-go place to live.