The worst floods since 2003 hit Sri Lanka over the May bank holiday weekend causing landslides and devastation in their wake. This post is written as the waters start to subside and people start to deal with the aftermath, many lives were lost and homes and businesses affected. Un-imaginable things can happen when the weather takes a turn of epic proportions – read “acts of God” – I note with a grimace that this expression is only used in a crisis.
Before talking about the house, I want to share one or two small observations of the people I have seen that make up the oxygen of the island. These are just a few examples of people you will see every day on every street and in every village or town. Breathing at last after years of turmoil, Sri Lankans are peaceful survivors no matter what is thrown at them.
A Ready Smile
Friendly, helpful and keen to help – the easiest way to a Sri Lankan’s heart is to smile at them – they won’t stop smiling back.
Gentle Dreamers who Work Hard
If you have ever met a Sri Lankan you will know that education is held in the highest regard – no matter which part of the island they come from or what demographic. Sri Lankans truly believe that hard work and application will help them realise their dreams, they know that things don’t get handed to them on a plate. Western Sri Lankans of my generation whose parents emigrated abroad from Sri Lanka had a tough time of it – if you did not become a doctor, lawyer or an accountant then God help you.
There is one anecdote from a family who got a full house – Accountant, Doctor AND Lawyer….. the proud father was heard to say (when introducing one of his daughters to friends)…….” ….my other daughter is a doctor”….no other information offered. It is a good natured, standing joke that gives a little glimpse into where an inherent and un-relenting work ethic comes from across generations. In Sri Lanka all sorts of trades and professions are respected equally and the same pride, toil and application is evident from a young age.
These photos were taken in February 2017, although you might think they were taken decades ago. I saw these school children being taught to sing and dance en masse on the green in Galle. I would hear the gentle chatter of school girls at 8am heading into school, dressed in whiter than white, pressed uniforms, ribbons in their hair and shiny shoes. Some of them travelled in on the back of their parents’ mopeds, (sometimes families of 4 on one bike), in tuk tuks or on foot. They are all seemed so united and focussed and I could not imagine them being any other way in lessons.
Pride in Self Sufficiency
There is such grace and honesty in those people who live simply and are self sufficient. I watched this fisherman for a while – so skilled ; catching fish with nothing but a fishing line thrown in by hand. Photographing fisherman and their boats is becoming something of a passion for me, mainly because there is an innate beauty in them whilst they work. It’s a way of life that seems un-cluttered and yet they are so relied upon by locals.
Working together across generations
This father and son are working on our site as part of the build team. It’s a common theme in businesses all over Sri Lanka where sometimes as many as three generations will work side by side. These contractors travelled from up country to work on our house, staying miles away from home on our plot and only heading home for holidays.
I also wrote last time about the furniture and statue makers we have met who are salt of the earth people who would not sell us anything before offering us Sri Lankan tea and short eats. There are countless more examples of every day people on the island who quietly go about their business, work hard and would be quick to smile and pass the time of the day with anybody who wanted to speak with them. I am so grateful to everybody who has been so kind to us when we have been in Sri Lanka and who have looked after me when I am there alone. There is absolutely no way that we would ever doubt this project – simply based on the people alone.
And so we press on….
Kalukanda means black rock and describes some of the amazing outcrops in the vicinity, some of which you can see in the photos with the fisherman above. Since we are at the bottom of a cliff, stunningly swathed in ferns, palms and other foliage, and we are retaining the colonial architecture of the house, the name seems to fit perfectly. It has taken months of shortlisting names and changing our minds, but as the villa really starts to take shape the name has sort of presented itself.
Many decisions have been made and plans “finalised” – no doubt there will be amendments – and in the next few months the intensity is going to rise as we start the interior fit out and exterior detailing. The exterior will be rendered white and our original tiles (plus a few new ones) will be laid on top of the new main roof and lower veranda roof. At some point our original doors and windows will be installed to make it water tight and then the interior finishes will start.
This is how we started out a few months ago before we decided to raze to the ground and re-build…
…and this is where we are 5 months later….
Punctuated by the rainfall, the builders have still made huge strides. Malaysian teak is widely used on the roofs and the core of the columns to support the veranda are being installed ready for decoration. Most of the structure for the main house is now built and it is incredible to see the 3D space when not so long ago it was all on paper. The double height reception space is an opportunity to play with over-sized pieces of artwork and photographs, and to install an extra large pendant light – but these final finishes are a few months off yet.
Being an Interior Designer is alot about making hundreds of fast decisions during a build no matter how prepared you are beforehand. Wearing multiple hats as both designer and client for this project has not been too complicated so far, but we are moving into a more stressful period during the latter part of this year as the interior fit out takes more focus. Just as in London, acknowledging all the team members, respecting their skills and allowing them to get on with their jobs is crucial along with being ready to make timely decisions if changes are needed. When working for others I can be more impartial, when doing this for yourself the urge to vascillate over a decision is strong, I have to now follow my own advice to my clients – “hold your nerve”…..
The gardener has suggested a list of beautiful shrubs for the garden – of course we have to pull back on the scope as we are up to the wire on budget. I dreamt simply of Frangipanee trees and palms but now my head has been turned by such gorgeous blooms that we could plant – and so we move on to yet more decisions that need to be made.
Kalukanda House is definately a labour of love.