There is something magical about a house or a flat being transformed into a home. It takes time and effort, and a whole lot of money, but in the end, is all worth it.
During that journey you can be faced with surprises, both positive as well as negative. I know it all too well, walking down that road myself as we speak. Therefore, in order to hopefully save you at least a few unpleasant situations, I’ve listed some things to keep in mind when going furniture shopping in Malta.
1. The Best Providers May Be in Hiding
When you’re looking for an unusual item, ask. Who provides the best quality? Ask. Whose customer service should you be wary of? Ask.
And when I say ask, I don’t mean googling. Many good shops don’t have a website or only have a main page telling you something like “under construction”. Case and point, a handicrafts lover’s favorite, Arts & Crafts Hobbyworld‘s webpage has been “coming soon” for as long as I can remember. Their charming shop in Mosta has great products, though!
Turn to your friends and colleagues, post in the Facebook group Salott. Google searches may not do the trick, but asking people who have already gone through the gauntlet could save you a headache or two.
2. You Cannot Create an Accurate Budget
Unless, of course, you have previous experience or very good advisers familiar with the local situation.
For some curious reason, very-very few providers in Malta actually share their prices online. This is not only true for furniture or house-ware products, but is prevalent for everything. Kitchens, cars, bedding, electronics and more.
There are some exceptions to this rule. One of them is Homemate. Their site may not be completely up to date at all times, but you do get a rough idea of what they have and the price range.
What about emailing a company for a price list? Unfortunately, no. Even if you do receive an answer – which may take longer than physically going there – you would probably not get an overview of their prices. At most, you might be able to get the price of one specific item.
A very unfortunate example of this “denial of service” happened to me when I was searching for polyurethane foam. I found Vitafoam, a company with a decent website, but no prices of course. I decided, against better judgement, to email them. In short, I asked for a price list, got a response asking me what exactly I want, I repeated my request for a price list and was bluntly told they cannot help me.
3. Think Face to Face, Not Online
The Maltese love talking to an actual human being, rather than a faceless website visitor or email writer. If at all possible, allow them this small daily pleasure – show up. Even calling is better than online research.
For example, call Fabian Enterprises, querying about an unusual battery. They will be able to tell you the availability and even its price off the top of their head.
I realise going around shops or even calling may not always be the most convenient option. But in most cases, factoring in everything, it ends up being more efficient.
The truth is, even if you find a decent-looking website, the products listed may no longer be available. But even worse, you might just be missing out on the best products that are not mentioned on the site, but are displayed in the showroom.
A good example is Immagine Casa. I first got to know about them by accident, passing by and noticing a cool chair. I went in and fell in love with their quirky taste and odd selection of items. Their website, however, paints a completely different picture which is devoid of their uniqueness.
Bonus tip: when you do attend the shop, always ask for a quote. The initial price may just be significantly reduced. Cross out first total, write down smaller number. Magic!
Poltrone Sofa was one of the many that gave us this wonderful surprise. Our first quote for a sofa was 1800 EUR and a bit, which was already a sale price. When we went back to actually confirm the quote, there was an additional deduction of more than 200 EUR. Nice!
4. Check the Opening Times
Now that you’ve succumbed to visiting the showroom, it’s time for a little bit of research. This might save you a wasted trip and a bad emotion. The opening times of different companies vary wildly and you’ll do better not to assume regular working hours.
Keep in mind that some shops might be closed around lunchtime. The break often falls somewhere between 12pm and 4pm. The bigger ones tend to stay open throughout the day and often even until the late hours of the evening, but smaller ones are often very “flexible” in their opening times.
On request, some lovely owners might agree to come in at a time they would usually be closed at
There’s a flip side to the coin – the flexibility goes both ways. On request, some lovely owners might agree to come in at a time they would usually be closed at.
One of the greatest shops for specialised products is the yarn shop John Gregory Ltd. Msida. Not that great, though, if you decide to pop in during your lunch break, having skipped “the homework”. They are only open from 08:45 – 12:30 and 16:00 – 19:00.
5. Plan Plenty of Time for Appointments
Suppose you’ve booked a time for an appointment to get a quote. If you’re one of those people who show up to a 3pm meeting at 2:55pm, and expect the same from others, don’t. I am one of those and learnt the lesson the hard way.
Helping someone pick out the perfect sofa is no exact science, so some clients may require more time than others. It is not easy for a sales representative to plan their day of bookings.
But add the aspect that it is culturally quite acceptable to be (a little) late, and you might be in for a wait. Some agents, in fact, make the situation worse by assuming it is their right to be late. Take your lunch while the customers are sitting at your desk, waiting for the pre-planned appointment? Sure, why not! Apologise when returning 20 minutes late? No, of course not.
This is especially infuriating if you are there off your own lunch time, and need to get back to work within an hour, driving time included. This exact situation that happened to us at Atrium. The representative showed up 20 minutes late and did not even apologise. She then proceeded with our design, being constantly interrupted by other issues she had to tend to.
With that being said, be a good customer. Be on time and be prepared. Don’t argue with your significant other then and there for a good 10 minutes trying to decide between salmon or apricot pillows.
6. Customer Is Not Always the King
It’s the well-known fact only spoken about in hushed tones. Anyone daring to express it loudly will get a scolding. But I have unfortunately experienced it several times, all over the island, and in very different establishments. Terrible customer service. Once faced with such an experience, rather than getting upset, you have two choices.
Assuming you desperately want the specific product, try to ignore the unprofessional attitude. If that does not work, ask for the manager. Not to complain, but with the aim of making sure your needs are met and questions answered.
The other option is quite simply to walk out. Don’t spend your hard-earned cash in a company whose representatives are arrogant or insulting. If enough customers do that, they will eventually learn.
Some months ago, I witnessed first-hand a strong contender for the title of the “worst customer service in Malta” – Rustica Home Pensare Casa. I’ll try to keep the description of the surreal experience short.
We had visited the showroom and convinced them to prepare an initial design for us beforehand based on our specifications. They received detailed plans and views with measurements.
A mere 20 minutes later we find ourselves being lectured on how we know nothing about kitchens, whereas miss this and that does 4 kitchens a day
Upon our arrival for the appointment about a week later, it took them half an hour to notice we’re there, and another half an hour for them to ask us to come back later. We disagreed. Another 15 minutes, and a lady rushes in huffing and puffing. She hands us a black and white sketch on A4 of what is allegedly our kitchen. Allegedly, because it’s nothing like what we requested. “Ahh, well, we were busy this week, so we had to put something together quickly.”
A mere 20 minutes later we find ourselves being lectured on how we know nothing about kitchens, whereas miss this and that does 4 kitchens a day. We should just trust her expertise without questioning. How an unusual combination of their existing products theoretically could be achieved, but “is just not done”. In short, forget about your dreams and just hand over the 5-figure sum for something you don’t like.
But Sometimes, Miracles Happen
Luckily, the other extreme exists as well. There is excellent customer service. The kind where you are heard, helped and supported in your choices. Where they don’t push you into the most expensive possible option just to make a sale.
At first glance, Carmelo Delia‘s showroom on Valley Road looks a bit shabby. Nothing really specific, but just a bit of peeled paint here or a dust bunny there.
That first impression is completely wrong. As you sit down with their designer, having picked out a model, it’s smiles all the way. Your kitchen appears on the screen while you’re sipping on coffee and listening to expert suggestions on what to look out for or keep in mind.
Once presented with the result, you are actually asked whether the quote satisfies your needs and matches your budget. The offer, by the way, is all inclusive: worktops, appliances with significant discounts, lifter on delivery up to the 4th floor, installation, everything. Needless to say, our kitchen came from them.
7. Organisation Is Not the Key
Malta first wooed me, among other things, with its cutest little family-owned corner shops. That romantic notion ends the moment things get practical.
For one, it’s quite cumbersome to attempt visiting each and every specialised shop within the limited free time.
The other nuisance is the disorganisation. Food shop example: milk is nowhere near yoghurt, and pickles are found in 3 different isles, categorised by brand. The same brand approach seems to be logical in other sectors too. But seriously, when I go to a shop looking for a hammer, I don’t specifically need a Stanley hammer. I just want a damn hammer.
That’s where Big Mat comes in. They have EVERYTHING. Really. And of high quality. And it is all very neatly organised. Basically a heaven for the DIY weirdos with a mild tendency towards OCD.
Yes, there are hurdles to overcome and hoops to jump through. But trust me, it is all worth it once you find that perfect little chest of drawers in that one little shop you never even knew existed. And there are, indeed, plenty of lovely little wonders to discover.
Let us know what you think in the comments! Best and worst experiences? Coolest shops?