If Harry Potter had a holiday home in the Mediterranean, it would look like this 17th-century farmhouse on the Maltese island of Gozo. Named Diagon Alley because of its location in a narrow backstreet, the 4,000 sq ft, four-bedroom house is spread over four floors, linked by staircases that lead off and around a central courtyard. It has castle-like crenellations, uneven walls that are more than one metre thick, a maze of rooms with vaulted ceilings and a cavernous underground swimming pool.
This is the third house in the area that ex-Hongkonger Fox Daniels has bought and renovated. She and her husband, Paul, moved to Malta five years ago for a more relaxed pace of life, having had their fill of Hong Kong’s bustle. When Diagon Alley came onto the market last year, the couple snapped it up with a view to renting it out as a holiday home.
“It is one of the oldest farmhouses on the island,” says Daniels, an artist and ardent Harry Potter fan. “A Danish couple holidayed in this house for 30 years and decided to sell it because they were too old to travel. It hadn’t been updated since they bought it so that became my job.”
Fortunately, Daniels has a flair for interior design, having renovated several properties, including a house in Yuen Long that she kitted out to look like a 20th-century Shanghainese bordello.
“My style is very theatrical and I don’t like my homes to follow a standard format,” she says.
A guided tour via FaceTime starts on the ground floor, which is level with the main courtyard and houses the kitchen and living and dining rooms as well as the Severus Snape bedroom and en suite bathroom. Each bedroom is dedicated to one of Harry Potter’s teachers and is announced by an enchanting black-and-white door sign, inscribed with magical-looking calligraphy. The ancient-looking Albus Dumbledore room is hidden in the basement; and the Minerva McGonagall and Aurora Sinistra bedrooms, both of which have private terraces, are on the first floor.
“I gave the best rooms to the witches,” laughs Daniels.
A vibrant blue-and-yellow scheme runs through the house – blue to echo the colour of the Maltese sky and to emphasise the house’s Moorish roots; and yellow, says Daniels, to embody the joy of holidays.
“The quality of the light in each house I have worked with dictates its colour,” she says. “A lot of natural stone can make a house a bit dark so, in addition to the bright colours, I blue-washed the walls to give the house a lift.”
Although Diagon Alley’s original structure didn’t change, she created a couple of bathrooms from existing spaces so that three of the bedrooms would have en-suites. She also designed and installed a white Victorian spiral staircase because there was no internal access between the ground and first floors.
“When it was a working farm, the animals were kept in the basement and on the ground floor. The farmer and his family lived on the first floor and didn’t want animal sounds and smells wafting up an open staircase,” she says.
Daniels sourced furniture and finishes from local craftspeople, including Moorish-style tiles that can be seen indoors and out, on floors, arches and walls. She also found boxes of Scandinavian furniture and knick-knacks that had been left behind by the previous owners. With an eye for turning trash into treasure, Daniels gave many of these pieces a lick of yellow paint to match the doors, window frames and custom-made furniture, or turned them into decorative objects. However, she left untouched several features that hinted at the house’s former life. There are holes in the living-room walls that once contained iron rings to tie up the livestock; alcoves in the Severus Snape bedroom were originally feeding troughs for bulls.
Daniels’ biggest challenge was the creation of the spectacular Leaky Cauldron swimming pool in the basement. The long, low space had been used to store food and farming equipment, so 47 cubic metres of stone – a volume equivalent to three times the size of the original room – had to be excavated to create sufficient depth for the pool.
“I allocated five days to do it as it wouldn’t have been fair on my neighbours to prolong the noise and dust,” she says.
A practical kitchenette services another alfresco dining terrace on the second floor; one final flight of stairs takes you up to the rooftop sun deck, from where you can enjoy open sea views.
“I love the colour and the silence of this place,” says Daniels. “You can fall out of love with a project but that hasn’t happened with this one. We live in the next village but even we come here for a break.”
Living room The sofa and armchair cost a total of €700 (US$812) from Orienta, in Gozo, Malta. The rug, fireplace tools, urns, candleholders, side tables and mirrors all belonged to the house’s previous owners.
Dining room The resin antler ceiling light was €1,000 from Silhouette The Light Shop in Gozo (tel: 356 2155 9048). The candlesticks, vases, easel, dining table, chairs and chest of drawers came with the house. The stone shelf is part of the house’s structure.
Kitchen The kitchen cabinetry was given a makeover with yellow paint and new doorknobs. Fox Daniels replaced all the appliances. The wall clocks, easel and stone wall sconces came with the house while the brass sconces were €90 each from Silhouette The Light Shop.
Outdoor terrace and kitchenette The teak outdoor table, chairs, parasol and large wicker basket came with the house. The previous owners had used the indoor space as an office but Daniels turned it into a barbecue kitchen and painted the shelves yellow.
Swimming pool Named after the wizards’ pub in the fictional Diagon Alley, the Leaky Cauldron basement swimming pool is heated year round and lit by atmospheric green lights.
The Minerva McGonagall bedroom Daniels transformed a walk-in wardrobe into a bathroom alcove and installed a yellow sink unit and mirror, which were made by Gozo carpenter George Grech (tel: 356 2155 3653). He also made the wardrobe and mirror next to it.
The black-and-white tiles cost €25 per square metre from Distinct Homes, in Malta. The armchair was €395 from Orienta and the brass lamp behind it was bought for €30 at a car boot sale. The sconces and hats had been left in the house by its previous owners.
The Aurora Sinistra bedroom The wrought-iron bed (€350) was custom made and spray-painted by an ironmonger and the blue bedcover and pillows set cost €250 from eBay UK. Daniels bought 20 flat-packed MDF wall-mounted unicorn heads (€30 each) from Etsy UK and scattered them throughout the house. Grech spray-painted them for her. The rug belonged to the house’s previous owners.
Rooftop The rooftop boasts spectacular sea views, on a clear day all the way to Sicily. However, the only way up is via outdoor stairs. The loungers cost £530 (US$702) each from Hayes Garden World, in Britain. The banana-fibre Alseda floor “stool” (HK$250) is available from Ikea. The wrought- iron table and chairs (€180) came from Alfresia, in Britain.
Tried + tested
Yellow fever Fox Daniels found a yellow version of the traditional beige mosquito netting common in all hardware shops on Gozo, and used it to hide the outdoor air-conditioning units and cover the external doors. To the latter she added fishing nets strung with small buoys, which were given to her by her builder, who is also a fisherman. The netting came from Dominic Department Stores.
The blue-and-white porcelain Skyros Deco Blanco tiles (seen in the courtyard and throughout the house) cost €25 per square metre from Meric Interiors (Triq L- Imgarr, Ghajnsielem, Gozo, tel: 356 9947 8562) and the winking sun wall decoration was custom made by Gozo Pottery Barn.
The object with four bells was found when excavating the basement and is thought to have accompanied the statue of the village saint as it was carried through the streets on feast days.