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Francis Sultana on Art, Inspiration and the V&A

By Lauren Jade Hill

Each of the collections by furniture and interior designer Francis Sultana is easily distinguished by its unique identity, from the first – Homage to the Art Deco – to a series of collections named after the designer’s muses, which take inspiration from different eras of history and art. “We’ve had The Yana, The Celia and The Lulu collections,” says Sultana, “and now I’m creating The Narmina series. Every time I choose a person to name a collection after, it has to mean something to me; in a funny way, it’s very old fashioned. I’m a bit of an oddity in London in that way. Perhaps I’m more suited to being based in Paris, but London is where I’m meant to be.”

As the go-to designer of interiors and furnishings for an international clientele of discerning art collectors, Sultana has been featured in the prestigious AD100 list of top architects and designers, and cited as one of Wallpaper’s Top 20 Interior Designers. And while items from the collections are on display in his showroom in Mayfair, it’s the bespoke furnishings he creates for private clients, international dealers and architects that he garners the most attention for.

With each custom item Sultana creates, each detail, down to the dimensions and finish, is chosen by the client. And it’s this finish that the designer is so well known for, along with the use of the luxurious materials he has created himself. “Just like in haute couture, artisans send me samples of their textiles, then I reinvent them while developing the artisanal techniques.”

“For each new piece I create, a model is made from the sketches I’ve come up with, then once that’s approved the castings can be made,” he explains, “It’s a very old way of making furniture; in fact, it’s the French way of working from the 20th century, but it’s that tradition that I like. More than three quarters of the items I make are one-offs, and people come to me for that very reason; some people want the entire house, some people want one room, and others want just one piece. In that sense I’m truly bespoke.”

As a member of the V&A’s Development Advisory Board, Sultana has an intrinsic connection to the museum. And this is also where he finds inspiration for his own designs. “One of my favorite places in the world is the V&A,” he enthuses, “I go back in history a lot for inspiration, so when I have a meeting at the museum, I arrive early to go for a walk and stop by an exhibit I’ve never had a chance to look at before. There’s a great deal of beauty to be found in each period.”

This isn’t the designer’s only involvement in the art world. Originally from Malta, Sultana goes back to the island each month to play a part in the regeneration of the contemporary art scene there, working alongside Malta’s art council and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is scheduled to open in 2021, as well as making plans for Malta’s reception at the Venice Biennale. “Malta is very much going through a moment,” he explains, “So I’m supporting the arts by helping place the nation on a global arts platform.” In 2018 he will oversee a series of arts events in the nation’s capital Valletta, as the city becomes the European City of Culture.

When taking time out from jetting between London, New York and Paris to meet clients, and Malta to support the nation’s arts, Sultana takes the opportunity to travel elsewhere, spending every New Year in Mustique, and paying a visit to Capri and Positano each summer. Here he revels in painting the captivating scenery in watercolors – the medium he uses to design much of his furniture.

Staying true to his promise of creating entirely bespoke furnishings, Sultana recently took on the challenge of designing the interior of a private client’s sailing yacht, designing the furnishings in collaboration with Royal Hausman. “I want to do a hotel next,” he says, revealing the project he’d most like to take on. “But first, I plan to begin work on my first book, bringing together the designs that have never been published before.”

The Narmina Collection will be launched in September to coincide with London Design Week. Visit Francis Sultana’s showroom at David Gill Gallery where the designer is the Creative Director. francissultana.com

Cover photo © Billal Taright. Interior images © Michael Paul