SCOPE

Cin­ema Dream­ing of a palm-fringed par­adise of the movies, this cou­ple spliced com­fort and lux­ury to edit a serene Sri Lankan re­treat with star qual­ity.

Belle - - Garden -

The young English bride of a rich tea plantation owner who comes to live at his prop­erty in Cey­lon bat­tles na­ture and iso­la­tion. So goes the story line of Ele­phant Walk, a 1954 Para­mount Pic­tures film set in the lush jun­gles of what is now known as Sri Lanka. With beau­ti­ful cin­e­matog­ra­phy and the heady pres­ence of stars El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Peter Finch, the film was im­pres­sive in its day.

Young English­man Tony Ban­nis­ter was ut­terly in­trigued by the film when he first viewed it as a teenager and it ig­nited in him a pas­sion for all things colo­nial: the tea plan­ta­tions, the way of life in Cey­lon at that time, the lush land­scape and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of size and per­spec­tive of the de­sign and as­pect of space in houses from that era. His fas­ci­na­tion with the teardrop-shaped is­land has been present ever since.

Many years later Tony’s part­ner, hotelier Paul Wal­ters, was work­ing in Bali as gen­eral man­ager of two Ubud re­sorts (The Serai, now Alila, and The Chedi Club), both con­ceived by the vi­sion­ary be­hind Aman Re­sorts, Adrian Zecha. The re­sort group was de­vel­op­ing a num­ber of prop­er­ties in Sri Lanka at the time and Paul also had a grow­ing in­ter­est in the coun­try.

In Au­gust 2005, while the is­land na­tion was still strug­gling in the af­ter­math of the tsunami of the year be­fore, Tony and Paul de­cided to visit. While there they met long-time res­i­dent of Galle Fort, Charles Hulse, a keen ad­vo­cate of Sri Lanka who acted as a match­maker for peo­ple look­ing to buy there.

Charles took Tony and Paul for a drive to view a one-hectare prop­erty in An­gu­lu­gaha, not far from Galle. “I got goose­bumps when we ar­rived,” says Tony. The small house on the prop­erty was built in tra­di­tional Sin­halese style with good bones and it was owned by a Sri Lankan fam­ily who wanted to move to the cap­i­tal city, Colombo.

Three months af­ter their re­turn to Syd­ney, where they were liv­ing, the pair re­ceived a call from Charles say­ing that he could get the prop­erty for them at a good price if they were still in­ter­ested. Hav­ing first thought the idea was a folly, the cou­ple had a re-think and de­cided to take the plunge. They em­barked on mak­ing their dream a re­al­ity firstly by plan­ning the ren­o­va­tions for Ivory House.

Tony is head of Scout, a global trend fore­cast­ing busi­ness for fash­ion, colour and in­te­ri­ors so, with his ex­per­tise and Paul’s re­sort ex­pe­ri­ence, they were sure they had all bases cov­ered for this project. Both men knew what they wanted to do with the de­sign and en­gaged an English fa­ther and son team who were lo­cal de­vel­op­ers and project man­agers to trans­late their ideas through the con­struc­tion process.

First, they hired a lo­cal builder but af­ter a year of lit­tle progress and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some frus­trat­ing set­backs, they met a more ex­pe­ri­enced Sri Lankan builder who said, “I can see the pain in your eyes and I’ll prove that we can make this right”. They swapped builders and pro­ceeded to make head­way.

The low ceil­ings of the orig­i­nal house were raised by 1.5 me­tres around the perime­ter of the build­ing and up to three me­tres at the high­est point to cre­ate the airy in­te­ri­ors. Then the house was ex­tended on two sides to ac­com­mo­date four gen­er­ous bed­rooms, each with an en­suite, and three with pri­vate stone-walled out­door show­ers as well.

A deep U-shaped veran­dah, de­signed in the lo­cal style with stately tim­ber col­umns, was con­structed to wrap around the front fa­cade of the house and the area is de­fined by pav­ing in rough­hewn gran­ite tiles.

The ex­ter­nal walls were painted in Du­lux ‘Prism White’, the doors and shut­ters in high-gloss ‘Old Mon­terey Grey’ and the ex­ter­nal col­umns in matt ‘Min­erva Grey’.

In­side, the floors are in a con­crete and white ce­ment mix that was fin­ished in both wax and pol­ish. As the floors have aged and weath­ered an en­chant­ing eggshell crackle has ap­peared, giv­ing it the look of an an­cient ce­ramic glaze.

Aim­ing for a sim­ple, pared-back colo­nial style, Tony and Paul set about sourc­ing vin­tage and an­tique fur­ni­ture and dec­o­ra­tive items for the house, such as the ebony wood and wo­ven cane plantation chairs. Many other items were cus­tom made lo­cally, such as the brushed stain­less-steel wall lights, pen­dant lanterns and even the new bolts that fit­ted onto the orig­i­nal tim­ber win­dow shut­ters. New cane out­door set­tings made in Colombo, and an­tique re­pro­duc­tion fur­ni­ture in jack­wood were stained in an ebony fin­ish.

Soft fur­nish­ings were cus­tom-made by Souk 58 In­te­rior De­sign, hand-em­broi­dered flo­ral bed cov­er­lets were sourced from Jaipur, and Afghan goat-hair rugs in geo­met­ric pat­terns were un­earthed lo­cally, all adding to the lay­ers of sim­ple lux­ury, en­hanced by a col­lec­tion of works by Sri Lankan artists.

Paul took charge of the light­ing scheme, cre­at­ing a dreamy, re­sort-style sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence as the lights from the in­te­rior, ex­te­rior and land­scape work in tan­dem to cre­ate a warm and re­lax­ing at­mos­phere, per­fect for the trop­i­cal lo­ca­tion.

“Ivory House pre­sented Tony and I with the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate our own piece of par­adise, to build a place with a unique seren­ity and char­ac­ter where we had the free­dom to bring to­gether all the in­spi­ra­tions and ideas we had col­lected and col­lated over the years on our trav­els to many won­der­ful ex­otic des­ti­na­tions,” says Paul.

The prop­erty makes the per­fect half­way point be­tween their lives in Lon­don and the Scout fore­cast­ing head­quar­ters in Syd­ney. “Ivory House is our down­time and the tran­si­tion zone be­tween two busy worlds, be­ing ex­actly half­way be­tween the cities. It’s why we’re able to visit as of­ten as we do,” ex­plains Tony.

The pair lease Ivory House to vis­i­tors when they are not in town. “We like peo­ple to treat the house as if it’s their own home. We’ve both put so much into it and hope that it’s our point of dif­fer­ence that re­ally stands out,” says Tony.

It’s cer­tainly a re­lax­ing and serene prop­erty, nes­tled in a lit­tle vil­lage on the is­land’s south coast, lo­cated among tran­quil paddy fields. The sounds of vil­lage life, chil­dren play­ing, lo­cal mu­sic or monks chant­ing at a nearby tem­ple are a com­fort­ing sound­track to days spent recharg­ing at Ivory House.

For hol­i­day book­ings, visit evinsl.com.

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