Maniumpathy

It’s a rather gloomy and rainy Wednesday. I’d thoughts about canceling my scheduled visit, but on a whim, decided against it and stepped out of the house anyways. I’ve a fascination with old houses – properties that have been home to generations of families, and that are over 100 years of age. There’s something about houses that have history attached to it; there’s an inclination of charm and character unlike any other and there’s plenty of stories behind every crevice and brick.  

I explored Maniumpathy that day. The name alone intrigued me. I’m told it is derived from the city that the current owners’ family of this house came from – Manipay (Manipai), Jaffna. It was known to have been the Colombo 7 of the North, although the area had plenty of greenery and fields of paddy. The people were known to have been a dedicated and hard-working lot, which says a lot to be honest as many of them were health practitioners and doctors who came to Colombo on work.  

  


Dr. Savaranamuttu Hallock was one of them. He passed out as a doctor from the University of Aberdeen, after which he joined the Ceylon Medical Service. Since he had to move to Colombo to practice medicine, the property was bought over from its original owner and renovated to suit his family. The house was said to have been built in the year 1868. Technically therefore, the house is over 150 years of age. The front edifice has the year 1906 stamped across it and I’m guessing that was year the Dr. Hallock took over and it became the beautiful homey abode to him and his wife Annapuranie, and their nine children.

It was a stately house, as were plenty of others along the same street, originally known as Harley Street (currently Kynsey Road) and home to many health practitioners much like Dr. Hallock. Colonial attributes were a common feature – the well balanced structure and design of the house, the lush garden around it along with a back terrace, the wide and open front porch leading to the central living space, dining area and of course the personal living areas. Open ventilation and space was a prominent feature, as were minimalistic decorative motifs around the home; pillars that supported the back veranda area, antique furniture with fleur de lis motifs, and the beautifully carved eaves on the edges of the roof.

The house has turned over five generations and has been passed over to the next generation through the hands of the females. I’m quite surprised that this is so but in the most pleasant way possible. Currently, Adrian and Chrysanthie Basnayake are the home owners and eventually it will be passed over to their daughter, Annapuranie Anithra Basnayake.

Today, the home and has once again been painstakingly renovated to its original form with the aid of Architect Chamika de Alwis. It took over five years to complete, as attention to detail was key and it was important to retain much of its original charm and features. It has humbly since been open to visitors and guests alike as a boutique hotel in the heart of the city; Maniumpathy – the name paying homage to Manipay and the word ‘pathy’ means ‘home’ in Tamil.

The rooms at Maniumpathy pays homage to the strong and beautiful women of the family. The grand Master Suite has been named after Annapuranie, the first lady of the house. The other seven rooms are named after Soundhari, Poornam, Cynthia, Ranee, Vasanthi, Chrysanthie and Anithra. The room named after Chrysanthie was in fact originally Dr. Hallock’s clinic at one time.

Apart from the name concocting a connection to the family’s northern origins, there are strong resemblances and other characteristic features throughout Maniumpathy. Open space and ventilation is still a common feature and adds to the cosy and homey aspect of this colonial home. The garden has obviously been narrowed down as the left section gave rise to a new wing with an upper level to house more rooms.

The terrace opens out to a smaller garden space, flanked by the right and left wings, furnished with chairs and table suitable for enjoying a warm cup of coffee and perhaps even breakfast or an evening snack. Dusk, I’m told, brings about a soft and relaxed ambience. Lamps are lit in keeping with the calm and peaceful atmosphere. This area also overlooks a pool and a statue of the deity Nandi. The name stems from the Tamil word that means ‘ to grow’ or ‘to flourish’ and in Sanskrit means joy or happiness. His statue, I believe, therefore has been strategically placed, overlooking the entire edifice in the hopes of bringing about growth and happiness in the best way.

Decorative motifs are very much a prominent and common feature; apart from the additional northern trinkets that have been placed around the house – there’s also the grand ebony dining table that sits magnificently on the right wing, vintage lamps and Bakelite telephones, the bookshelves are well stocked with an array of best reads, and the classic furnishing combined with the white and grey washed walls add much character to this stately home. The Chrysanthie room includes an old stairway which has been restored finely, the two deluxe rooms named after Soundhari and Poornam include Jaffna style open courtyard bathrooms, and there are plenty of old photographs of the entire family placed in antique frames and scattered about Maniumpathy that give it a very homey effect.

I find Maniumpathy to be an oasis in the heart of Colombo; as although it is located on one of the most congested streets of the city, it somehow manages to retain an air of softness and charm. There’s something about it, from the moment you walk in; there’s that telltale aura of simplicity although there’s plenty of history and heritage. There’s comfort in sinking into one of the large couches or even sitting outside overlooking the grass and the pool. Nandi silently watches over.

I’m told that many European painters have stayed at the boutique hotel and chosen to find inspiration in its peaceful atmosphere. Older guests have been known to relate tales of how they used to play in this very house as children.

And the charm of generations that have lived before and Manipay lives on.
–Pictures courtesy Manor House Concepts– 

 

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Casa’s Charm

The outer side look
The outer side look

Whatever they may be called, homes, buildings, structures and landmarks that attached the past to the present, they are certainly of great interest. Not only are they interesting to look at, but the fact that each has a story of their own to tell gives it a more mystical aroma and enchanting feel.

Heritage homes are not hard to come across in the city of Colombo, if one looks carefully. Some may be part torn apart, a few converted into something new and different, and a handful refurbished to add more grandeur. I’d already written a few pieces on heritage homes for the local newspapers I freelance for and this was one of my first pieces. Enjoy reading!

The tale of Casa Colombo

“The idea was to build a boutique hotel and I wanted an old building to make the cut. Old buildings in Colombo are very edgy and have great interiors, they are beautiful in their own way and in my mind the marriage of the old and the new was striking. The idea was to find an old building that fits the description and then renovate and turn it into a boutique hotel” said Lalin Jinasena, Founder and Designer of Casa Colombo.

Day beds by the pool
Day beds by the pool

Searching high and low for the right type of building certainly didn’t come easy for Lalin. After looking at plenty of old houses and buildings in the Fort the idea to look in that area was shut down due to the high security at the time; “there were certainly lovely old buildings, broken down, in bad condition, not too large, some too small but the security was an issue” he said.

After a few more looks at homes and buildings, Lalin finally settled in on the current structure of Casa Colombo. Of all houses he had taken a prior look at, the magnificent 200 year old house was in bad condition; the ceiling on the top floor had fallen in so whenever it rained the interior would be soaked, trees had grown into the bathrooms, and the plaster was peeling off the ceiling. The front part of the house was blackened, whereas the back was home to jeeps that had been half buried in the soil. Utter bad condition but Lalin saw potential. It was the right size and yes, although there might have been a lifetime’s worth of work to get it to look new and renovated, he saw something in the house.

“She was positively in a terrible state but there was something, a magic and mystic about the place – to me she looked like a grand old lady. There was so much of charisma underneath all the grub and gore” he said.

Verandah bar side
Verandah bar side

First family

The house was built by an Indian family. Like every household in the neighbouring country, the household itself consisted of more than one family and therefore houses were built in accordance. Local artisans and workers were not familiar with their style of architecture and design; hence Indian workers were brought down to Sri Lanka and commissioned to build it. The grounds stretched to the current Galle Road from the front, possibly towards Vajira Road and Dickman’s Road (Sir Lester James Peries Mawatha) on either side and Duplication Road at the back. The first owner was an Indian trader and went by the name of Abbas Yusuf Ali. “The descendants of the family still live in Colombo and visit Casa Colombo occasionally. Their grandparents have lived in the house and tell tales of their days when they come by” added Lalin.

HVN
HVN

The house, which was handed down to a few people was at the time leased by a private owner to the Government Census Board. “They didn’t really care about the building at all; whenever it rained they would just shift their desks into a room where the ceiling wasn’t torn apart and just deal with it. When my father came to have a look at it, he just slapped in hand on his face and walked away! He knew I had vision and left it to me. The struggle between another bidder on the house was tough but in the end the house was mine and the plan was to get it up and running as a boutique hotel in five months. Yes, it seems like something unachievable but I wanted to get it done because we were paying rent and I wanted the business to get a good start”

Saying that there was a lot to get done in a matter of five months is an understatement. When restoration of the house began in the month of August 2006, the ceiling had to be dealt with first. Each room and living area had a mural pattern of its own which made it much harder to replicate but Lalin added that moulds of the existing murals were taken at the time and asked to be replicated by local artisans. It would have been a mighty task to complete because the murals are undeniably unique and were initially added by Indian artisans. Next, the floor had to be sorted; again the mosaic patterns are unique and needed to be washed, redone and retiled. Some of the patterns and designs of the ceiling murals and floor mosaic were redone based on imagination of what the actual pattern and design might have looked like. The scheme of the house was such that about four households could live in; typical Indian household, so every room opened up to another. The centre of the upper and lower level of the house were meeting and gathering points. Therefore some doors had to be closed up and all rooms were redone so that it totalled to a sizable dozen.

One of the dozen suites
One of the dozen suites

Every belonging in the house right now was designed by Lalin himself and crafted, created, stitched, carved, and made in Sri Lanka. “I didn’t want to buy items from a store and fill up the space so whilst work was going on in the house, I was busy keeping an eye on things and also designing every square inch of the house; from the curtain holders to taps. The pluming was redone, the electricity needed to be changed and fixed; the lighting had to be created to create atmosphere. Bathrooms were needed to be installed in rooms that did not have one” he said. The backyard had to be put right; jeeps were hauled away and further digging gave way to the existing pink pool. Unfortunately it took an additional two months to get the boutique hotel on its feet and ready for clients. However, the turnover is unbelievable.

For anyone who steps into the vicinity of Casa Colombo today, the resemblance of the old Moor Indian Home and current retro-chic boutique hotel is clear to see. The marriage of the old and the new, like Lalin said, really works!

Casa Colombo is located at No. 231 Galle Road, Colombo 4.

 

*As published in the Ceylon Today newspapers.