Each month, our resident design addict Abi shares some of the stylish haunts in one of our featured destinations. Last time she brought us a round-up of chic Greek retreats; this month, she turns her attention to the tropical shores of Sri Lanka…
When you think of Sri Lanka, you probably conjure up images of sweeping beaches, rustling palms and mist-shrouded tea plantations. But this enchanting island is also home to plenty of exciting design, and its long and varied history means there are some fascinating influences at play. Whatever style of interiors you prefer, you’ll find something to suit your tastes.
Contemporary Sri Lankan design is entwined with the late Geoffrey Bawa, a giant of Asian architecture who spearheaded a style dubbed ‘tropical modernism’. This cool, uncluttered blend of Eastern and Western, traditional and modern breaks down the barriers between inside and out, and is highly conducive to exotic R&R.
Many hotels in Sri Lanka claim links to Bawa, but our collection includes several places that really were designed by the man himself. These include Paradise Road – The Villa Bentota, a plantation villa which he reinvented in the 1970s, and The Last House, his final residential work, which overlooks a near-deserted bay outside Tangalle. Both have sleek and airy interiors – monochrome in the former, a riot of colour in the latter – with concrete floors, daybed-scattered verandas and lots of natural light.
You can even stay in Bawa’s own home, Lunuganga – a derelict rubber estate which he transformed into a tropical take on a decadent Italian mansion, complete with romantic pavilions, elegant antiques and distinctive black and white décor. And if you’re spending any time in Colombo, pop into The Gallery Café for a meal – it sits in his beautiful former office and forms part of the Paradise Road complex of interiors boutiques (a great place to pick up some Sri Lankan style for your own pad).
Even if your chosen base isn’t a Bawa creation, chances are it carries traces of his legacy. You only have to glance at the minimalist lines, polished floors and vaulted ceilings of bijou south-coast hotel The Frangipani Tree, peaceful paddy-field retreat Maya Villa and Hikkaduwa beachside bolthole Taru Villas – 906 (the work of lauded interior designer Nayantara ‘Taru’ Fonseka) to see echoes of tropical modernism.
Of course, Bawa isn’t the only influence on Sri Lankan style: years of British and Dutch rule have also left their mark. If you fancy staying somewhere with colonial character, you’ll love Ceylon Tea Trails, a luxurious retreat spread across a quartet of Hill Country plantation bungalows. Each has been decorated with a tasteful blend of modern and Victorian by interior designer Deirdre Renniers; we loved the plush upholstery, winged armchairs, gleaming wooden floors and black-and-white tiled bathrooms with roll-top tubs.
Over in Galle’s historic Dutch fort, 150-year-old landmark hotel Amangalla is another haven of colonial splendour. Expect enormous chandeliers, graceful chaises-longues, planters’ chairs, and antique desks topped with gravity-defying flower arrangements.
For a softer, more relaxed take on nostalgic charm, try Serendipity Villa – a chic bolthole for 2-5 on one of Galle’s best beaches. The work of famed Sri Lankan architect Jayatillaka Sumangala, it merges minimalism, vernacular style and colonial touches to stunning effect, with aged Dutch tiles, recycled timber furniture, four-poster beds swathed in gauzy drapes, and richly embroidered throws and cushions.
If cutting-edge design is more your bag, you’ll adore the interiors at Casa Colombo, a funky base in the heart of Sri Lanka’s buzzing capital. Owner Lalin Jinasena has infused the rooms with bold, eye-catching décor – there are copper-lined bathtubs, giant low-hanging shades sculpted from rattan, canary-yellow sofas against concrete walls, and playful touches such as phones shaped liked pouting lips. The cheekiness continues in the communal areas, where neon lights illuminate the glass-walled bar, a pink-tiled swimming pool is flanked by silver mannequins, and a giant mural of a Hindu goddess covers an entire wall of the restaurant.
For eye-catching modernity in a more natural setting, take a peek at stunning Kalundewa Retreat in the Cultural Triangle. Perched on stilts by a marshy lake, its guest bungalow and 2 chalets are stark, angular structures with steel beams, vast panels of glass, and jagged wooden decks jutting out over the water. Inside, the split-level living areas and sleek bedrooms fuse textured brick and warm-toned wood, with minimalist furniture to ensure your focus remains on the lush foliage outside.