In the midst of a trying pandemic year that saw the unfortunate closure of several retail outlets, Malta’s capital city welcomed a shop unlike any other along its storied streets.
Intended as a space that provides creative and authentic tokens of the culture that surrounds us by a team of creatives who are on a mission to give the world higher-quality and better-designed souvenirs, the new Souvenirs That Don’t Suck shop on St John’s Square threw open its doors last July.
Craig Macdonald, Creative Director and Co-Founder at Te fit-Tazza, which took over operations of the brand in 2018, explains that the aim behind the design of the space was to provide as much of an authentic modern local experience as possible. “The concept for the store is to serve as a natural extension of the island culture and experience, almost like a museum gift shop of sorts, with the country being the museum,” he says.
Delving into the design brief, Craig says that it was mainly focused on three pillars: “to use the limited footprint in a way that is coherent with the surrounding area; to create a retail experience that is clear, intuitive and communicates the product offering effectively; and to fall as closely to the aesthetic objective as possible with the materials that are presently available.”
Apart from the retail space on ground level, he continues, the team also wanted to convert the upstairs floor into a Te fit-Tazza community space, which would serve as an office, studio and recording space for the team, their friends and collaborators.
“Given that the scope of our work has been the Maltese identity and aesthetic, we wanted to draw from our years of research and exploration, and translate this into our new retail space,” explains Craig, revealing that the team largely drew inspiration from the materials and geometry in local post-war modernist architecture built between the 1950s and 1980s. This aesthetic objective, he says, as well as the functional scope of the project, were the handover point to Anna Horváth from Aha Objects and Neil Pace O’Shea and Pippa Cachia from Brief, who were tasked with articulating the brief into a functional space.
Speaking of the talented minds behind the project, Craig affirms that working with Anna Horvath was a very easy decision to make, describing her work as very much in line with the Te fit-Tazza aesthetic. “Her expertise in furniture design and the fact that we are very aligned with our visual language meant that we could achieve a sum that was greater than the individual parts,” he maintains, noting that this comes across clearly, particularly when observing how the space has been designed to feel like an extension of the pjazza.
“The inclusion of the geometry, taken from the arches and neighbouring Co-Cathedral, feature heavily on the furniture, creating a sense of continuity between the surrounding area and the store,” the Creative Director says, adding that “the Terrazzo seen in-store draws directly from the Paladino Terrazzo that is found under the arches, further creating a visual connection between the square and the retail space.”
Lighting and colour palette also form an important part of the retail experience, he continues, emphasising the decision to opt for a darker colour for the floor and walls, serving as a way to allow the colourful products to stand out and take centre stage. And, to further add to the experience, Aha Objects also designed a number of interactive product displays that invite the user to engage with the space.
The eclectic space also features décor elements that were custom made by Scenic Sets in London, which produce sets, backdrops, models and props for some of the world’s largest brands.
“When exploring ways to communicate the Maltese culture and identity to our customers in an eye-catching way, we decided to work with Scenic Sets, who we have collaborated with on previous occasions, to create a series of concept pieces to put on display in-store. These pieces draw inspiration from the sun and the sea, tradition, food and the location of the store,” Craig explains.
The resulting pieces are a custom-crafted pastizz that looks like you could easily take a bite of it, an abstract piece that shows the sun, sea and local prickly pear, an abstraction of a luzzu and a model of St John’s Co-Cathedral. “All of these pieces were handcrafted and really add to the curiosity of anyone passing by or interacting with us in the store,” the Creative Director continues, adding that they serve as a general, but honest representation of the pillars that make up the Maltese identity.
Prior to its rebirth as Souvenirs That Don’t Suck, the shop on St John’s Square was a clothes outlet, and the process of its renovation began with gutting it of any old furniture, redoing all utilities and flooring, as well as revisiting the facade. This was done in a way that retained the original form and characteristics of the space, while also creating a relationship between the facade and the newly refurbished space.
“Initially, it was the task of the Te fit-Tazza team to gut the shop and get the space up to the spec needed in order for Brief to start their work translating Anna’s furniture design into the final result, and ultimately bring the project together. The initial stage lasted about two months, between April and May, with Brief finishing off the works by early July 2020,” says Craig.
Discussing the materials and finishes chosen, he affirms that all furniture was placed on a black backdrop, so the walls, floor, ceiling and any apertures and lighting are all designed so as not to draw focus away from the products and furniture design.
“The desk area and main window display are clad in Terrazzo. The furniture for the retail space is made of Birch plywood, with arches being the predominant form found in the design, seeking to echo the forms found in the area outside the space. The furniture also features rattan, which is a common material found in Maltese furniture, as well as bronze aluminium, which was included to create coherence with the bronze aluminium facade. The space is tied together with a bold yellow spiral staircase that leads up to the community area upstairs,” he says.
Upstairs, an inspiration wall contains a collection of local objects which the team has gathered over the years. “The wall serves as a timestamp of our work and research, and serves as both an archive but also a signifier of the work that we do at Te fitTazza,” Craig adds. The upstairs area also features two desks that double up as a wall unit, allowing for it to be used as a hot-desking space, whilst also giving the team the option to quickly convert it from an office into a more casual setting.
Viewing the finished product, Craig considers the defining elements of the space primarily to be the attention to detail and the neat balance between the concise nature of the space and the form that the space has taken on.
“Whilst the final result is modern, this is achieved by looking toward the local architectural landscape for inspiration, allowing for the creation of a space that is very representative of modern-day aesthetics, but is also directly linked to Maltese visual characteristics,” he explains, noting that this was done through the clever use of materials employed by Anna, as well as the exquisite workmanship of Neil and Pippa when constructing the furniture.
The Creative Director also considers the inspiration wall in the community space as a very defining element, describing it as “a living, constantly changing curated collection of the items and relics of the islands that bind us together as locals.”
The final result of the passionate team’s hard work is a fresh, playful take on the Maltese identity that is representative of the ethos of Te fit-Tazza. “Every aspect of the shop has a relation to our story and to our islands, and this is at the heart of everything we do,” concludes Craig, adding that working with Anna, Neil and Pippa allowed the team to explore how their approach can be articulated into a functional yet beautiful environment for the visitor.
This feature was first carried in the first-ever edition of Business Now magazine, the sister brand to BusinessNow.mt
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