This picturesque holiday villa in Sri Lanka was designed and built by CHLÖE ELKERTON of design firm E&A Interiors in Singapore. Here, she explains how the project developed, from conception to construction, to the relaxing retreat for families and friends it is today. Set back from the beach and newly opened to guests, we invite you to look around Braganza House on the south coast of Sri Lanka.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in the idyllic countryside of East Sussex in England, and went on to work in London as an interiors stylist and magazine editor. On a trip to Asia during the 2008 recession, I stopped in Singapore to see a good school friend – and basically never returned to the UK!
I’ve lived here for almost 15 years, and I founded E&A Interiors (eandainteriors.com) ten years ago. Besides completing projects in Bali, Sri Lanka and Singapore last year, we also launched our little shop, Elkie’s Edit, in Tiong Bahru, as a homewares extension of E&A. This year, we’re working on a lovely black-and-white, a shophouse and some exciting overseas projects.
What was your vision for Braganza House – and why a holiday villa in Sri Lanka?
After I moved to Singapore, I would meet my mother somewhere in Asia every Christmas – such as Bali or India. From 2011, we settled on Sri Lanka as the perfect place for these annual get togethers.
On a three-week trip around the island, we fell in love with the stunning southern beaches of Talpe and historic Galle Fort. I would take any opportunity to go back for long weekends – given how near it is to Singapore – and it started to become a special place to me.
I sold my London flat in 2013 and decided to build my own home. As expats in Singapore, we all long to live in our own places rather than renting – and as an interior designer, my dream was always to design and build my own home, like I do for our clients. This was my opportunity to create something truly personal and reflective of my design ethos.
Sri Lanka is still quite raw and that’s what I love about it. It’s not as touristy as Bali or Thailand, but it’s uniquely charming. The landscape is incredibly diverse, from the hill country to the stunning beaches, the ancient rock ruins of Sigiriya and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Galle Fort. Not to mention the extraordinary wildlife, delicious food and beautiful people.
The initial vision I had for Braganza House was a “beach house in the countryside” that was different from the many Bawa-inspired and the modern tropical style holiday villa in Sri Lanka. I wanted to create something that encompassed my journey in life as well as the people that have influenced me, and the places – Zanzibar, Bali, India, Spain and Morocco. I also wanted a unique and refreshing design that felt like a home rather than a rental villa.
What made you choose this particular location?
I looked at many plots of land within 20 minutes of Galle Fort. I wanted to be near the beach but not too far inland, and to have a view. I also wanted to build from scratch rather than renovate an existing property.
I’d stayed at Talpe Beach in a holiday villa owned by friends of mine, an Italian architect and his Sri Lankan partner. He had some land that he’d kept for years but had decided to sell. When we went to see it, it was dusk and the sky was full of pink and coral hues. Walking up a gentle slope into the jungled land, we caught glimpses of the paddy view beyond and the vivid sunset filtering through. In that magical moment, I knew this was the land that would become my home one day.
Tell us about the construction process – any major challenges?
This was E&A Interiors’ first ground-up project; we took on the architectural design ourselves, working with a local architect for submissions and help with the roof. There was lots of back and forth to Sri Lanka to check things – with running a business in Singapore, this was stressful at times. We sourced a lot of antique doors and windows that naturally came in all different sizes, making the architectural planning more complicated. When the front windows were installed, I panicked that all the different sizes would look strange. But now I love the differences – they add to the character of Braganza House.
Importing things is a nightmare, so I carried a lot by hand, including scallop cement tiles and endless lighting fixtures. The guys at SriLankan Airlines knew my name by the end of it!
The pool was probably our biggest challenge. I was initially inspired by an organic, beach-like pool in Zanzibar and wanted to create something similar. Most pools in Sri Lanka are rectangular grey cement, so the curves and levelling were completely new concepts! It was extremely hard to get the levelling, shape and terrazzo finish exactly right.
Construction was also delayed due to the pandemic, which was another challenge with the language barrier and working remotely. However, the stress paid off and the outcome is exactly how I imagined, if not better.
Do you have a favourite spot in the property or grounds?
In Sri Lanka, I always tend to be up early. That’s when you’ll hear the birds singing, and maybe spot a peacock strutting his stuff or monkeys swinging from the trees. The light in the house is beautiful all day but particularly in the late afternoon. Sunsets over the turquoise pool can be striking as well.
The Shell Room is one of my favourite spaces because it showcases a lot of my personal art pieces and the many shells that I’ve collected over the years. It’s small and cosy with a porthole window looking to the pool beyond.
What are some of the key pieces of furniture and accessories?
Sri Lanka has some wonderful Dutch antiques. I sourced several pieces from a great place in Talpe, including the windows and doors, the antique Dutch chair in the Palm Suite, and the beautiful antique sideboard with glass fret on the verandah. I also purchased large ceremonial fans used by priests, and the vintage rice sacks that now flank the arched hallway.
Pieces from abroad include the antique wooden inlay chairs from Udaipur, and the stunning oversized peacock feather mirror at the entrance. The scallop beaded Yoruba chairs are from West Africa. For the art, I’ve framed several flower and bird prints from a favourite artist, Mary Maguire. The seascape artwork in the sitting room bookcase is a commissioned piece of Talpe Beach by Cornish-based artist Nina Brook.
I designed the twin barley twist beds and bobbin tables and had them made by my local carpenter; we also now sell them in our shop. I’ve tried to support as many local craftspeople in the area as possible.
The textiles come from my favourite fabric designers such as Fermoie, Penny Morrison, Peter Dunham, Blithfield and Vaughan.
What are some highlights of the area?
Braganza House is situated in the pretty little village of Mihiripenna, a 10-minute walk from the swimmable Wijaya Beach, where you can spot sea turtles, or just a short tuk-tuk ride from Talpe Beach. The surf beaches of Ahangama and Midigama are 15 minutes away.
The house is along a quiet lane past a beautiful local temple and paddy fields. It’s private and secluded, with expansive gardens. You can rent a bike just down the street and cycle through the pretty villages and rice fields.
If you want to venture out, historic Galle Fort is just 20 minutes away by tuk-tuk. It’s a vibrant area with many interesting little shops and lovely restaurants.
What can guests expect from a stay at Braganza House?
I think anyone who stays here comes away feeling that it’s truly magical – from the attention to detail throughout the house to the incredible team who take care of you like family. I’ve known our house manager Kumara personally for more than 10 years, and our in-house chef cooks delectable Sri Lankan curries and serves the freshest lobsters and prawns.
Most guests hardly leave Braganza once they’re here, instead relaxing in the many different areas, enjoying meals and socialising. The size makes it perfect for two families or a group of friends. It’s a very inviting place and I love the idea of families and friends gathering to create special memories. That’s what it’s all about!
Find out more at braganza-house.com
This article first appeared in the February 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
Make the most of living in Singapore and plan some tropical long weekends!