Return To Splendour
The discovery of a ruined colonial villa while on holiday led four creative friends to carve out their own slice of Sri Lankan paradise.
Reclaimed from the Sri Lankan jungle, it’s glory days again for this villa.
Blessed with lush rainforests, pristine beaches, eight World Heritage sites and wildlife galore, it’s little wonder Sri Lanka so easily captures the hearts of visitors. When Jenny Lewis, the New Zealand-born, Singaporebased proprietor of Bode Fabrics & Furnishings, and her partner Richard Bleasdale first travelled to the country for a friend’s wedding in 2009, they were instantly enamoured.
On a subsequent visit in 2011, Jenny, Richard and their friends Bentley de B eye rand Dean Sharpe were touring Sri Lanka’ s south coast when they ‘discovered’ Halala Kanda, a sprawling colonial villa at Weligama, about 35 minutes’ drive from Galle. It was in ruins, having been abandoned to the jungle after its original owners died in the 1950s. Nevertheless, a romance was born.
Jenny says the foursome “were mad” to buy it, but restoring the villa has been a true labour of love. They engaged Singaporebased architect Ross Logie to lead the project, and local artisan builders to ensure every detail was faithfully reproduced the Sri Lankan way. Dean, an interior designer, took care of the fit-out and decorating.
Today, Halala Kanda stands proud once again, every bit as magnificent as it was when first built in 1912. And from the moment you enter the meticulously restored portico, the layout is such that its riches are discovered at a suitably leisurely pace.
Visitors move from the cool of the covered verandah into a palatial sitting area with 20m-high vaulted ceilings. Beyond this ‘hallway lounge’ is an 8x10m internal courtyard, framed by bedrooms, the kitchen wing and a grand open-sided dining pavilion. A linear pond runs alongside the dining pavilion.
Multiple entertaining areas were essential, says Jenny. “We wanted both small and large spaces for people to enjoy.” One of Jenny’s favourites is the ‘room of curiosities’, just off the lavishly furnished hallway lounge. “It’s a wonderful spot to read or listen to music,” says Jenny, “especially with the breeze flowing in and the sounds of friends in the garden.”
The glorious tropical climate means life is largely lived outdoors, where there’s a mixture of open spaces and covered areas for shade and shelter from monsoon rain. The pool folly, a gazebo with conversation pit at one end of the 23m pool, is another favourite haunt of the owners and guests.
Jenny, Richard, Bentley and Dean took on the challenge of the garden – all 0.8ha (two acres) of it – themselves. “We wanted to create a productive garden, one in which everything could be used,” says Jenny. On cutting back the jungle, they discovered a cashew grove, mango and mangosteen orchards and carefully planted rows of coconut palms and ebony trees. “We have since added pineapples and citrus, coffee and tea, a vegie patch and spice garden,” says Jenny. A resident team of gardeners is in place to keep the garden looking its best year round.
With busy professional lives keeping them tied elsewhere, Jenny, Richard, Bentley and Dean appreciate their time at Halala Kanda all the more. “We go as often as we can, but it’s never enough,” says Jenny. “Leaving is always a wrench.”