Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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The following story is extracted from 'Living in Sri Lanka' by Turtle Bunbury and James Fennell (Thames & Hudson, 2006)

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The Edens

Galle Face Court, Colombo, Sri Lanka

With a population bordering on three million, Colombo is not a city preparing to sleep. Far from it, the Sri Lankan capital is ablaze with energy, stimulated by foreign investment from China and Europe, encapsulated in a horizon of cranes erecting new buildings as far as the eye can see. But for foreigners living in Sri Lanka, it is sometimes important to have a base in the capital from which one can arrange one’s affairs and perhaps take advantage of the impressive array of clothes shops.

Since moving to Sri Lanka, Jack and Jo Eden have been regular voyagers along the frenetic highway that runs down the west coast from Colombo to Galle. Headquartered in Galle, their successful “Eden Villas” business involves the marketing of some twenty villas on the south coast to international tourists. In 1999, they acquired the lease of an apartment in the Galle Face Court, a four-storey block belonging to the Maccan Markar family, located next to Colombo’s famous Galle Face Hotel. The ground floor apartment was in dire condition, having been used as a storage depot for scaffolding since the 1960s. The original cement floor was badly cracked and, in many areas, had completely disintegrated. Sprawling balls of unidentified electrical wires, some live, were suspended from the 21-foot ceiling. The doors were so thickly painted in overcoat they were no longer able to move. There was neither bathroom nor kitchen and a courtyard to the rear had become a rubbish dump for the entire building.

Over the next four years, the Edens gradually cleared out the apartment and restored it to its original condition. They then improved upon this by the addition of a kitchen and bathroom on the right side of the main living area. A double door now leads directly from the Galle Face Court lobby into the apartment’s main living room, an expansive area of high ceilings and thick stone walls, flooded with light from a series of big French windows. A floor of polished cement and parquet runs the course of the apartment, before merging into an intimate, freshly planted walled garden. To the right of the living room lie the kitchen and three bedrooms, each room benefiting from an inspired coat of paint and polished white floors.

Raised in Hong Kong, Jo Eden has always understood that small spaces can seem much bigger if the design concept is right. Her close involvement with the new wave of exclusive villas and boutique hotels erupting across southern Sri Lanka has clearly enhanced her own inimitable eye for the aesthetic. She has styled the living room as an elegant, yet dreamy retreat, enlivened by colourful works by up-and-coming Sri Lankan artists which hang upon the walls. The fabrics were sourced locally in shops such as Barefoot and Paradise Road, while Jo designed the living room sofa. Furniture is minimal, the intention being to keep this apartment-cum-office as uncluttered as possible. And yet for all that, there is something delightfully familiar about it, as if one is forever dreaming of opening the front door and saying “Honey, I’m home”.

Click here to view James Fennell's Sri Lanka photographs.