As the summer holidays loom and expats flit off on their extended vacations, we felt it timely to ask two of our home décor experts where they go to feel inspired, and how these places have helped shape their style.
By Isabelle Persenda, creative director and manager of In Situ
I first went to Guatemala on holiday in the summer of 2008, aiming to recharge my batteries; and this was definitely the right place to do that. Eric, a dear friend as well as my business partner and In Situ’s primary designer, had moved there in the late 1990s and I’d always wanted to visit. I ended up staying a whole year with two of my three children!
Guatemala is a stunning and unspoiled country where nature allows you to stay in touch with reality and beauty. The diversity of its scenery is endless: from the serene and magnificent Lake Atitlán up in the mountains to the Mayan forests of the north, where ancient temples stand erect in the mist; from the amazing Río Dulce, which winds through the jungle to reach the Caribbean Seas, to the black volcanic beaches of the wild Pacific coast; and from the coffee plantations on the hills surrounding Antigua to the town itself, ex-capital of the colonies under the Spanish Kingdom and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The mix of culture and tradition is also absolutely amazing. Between the Mayan culture, which has been totally preserved, and the Spanish culture, which is also present throughout, the centuries-old traditions are still alive – be it in textiles, superstitions, architecture, food or craftsmanship, Guatemala is beautiful. This is why a lot of foreigners, particularly artists like Eric, as well as Carl, Manuel and Laurel, all of whom I now work with, have elected to reside there. You cannot imagine the overwhelming feeling of peace and happiness that this country gives you.
Click on the gallery above to see how Guatemala and Sri Lanka inspire our home decor experts
It wouldn’t be right to visit Guatemala without seeing Antigua and its many attractions, including the colourful houses, gorgeous hotels, art galleries, boutiques, bistros and restaurants serving international cuisines from around the world. Artists, writers, architects, designers and stylists from around the world have settled there, drawing their inspiration from the beauty of the place and the surrounding nature, as well as its craftsmanship and traditions. Stroll down the cobbled streets of Antigua, and you still stumble across men and women wearing traditional hand-woven outfits.
Most pieces in my showroom are Eric’s, and although they are handcrafted in Guatemala, often with a Latin American and Mayan effect, there is also undeniably a strong French influence. We like to mix contemporary pieces with antiques, and eclectic designs, which can be a little cold, with unique statement pieces. And this is exactly what my home is about: simple, classic and contemporary designs enhanced with one of Carl’s mangrove lamps, for example; or a traditional Guatemalan throw forgotten on the sofa, along with a vintage desk and a Louis XVI chest of drawers which belonged to my grandmother.
It’s important to have some one-off items that give your home personality and some continuity. Such pieces speak and reflect your personality, your story. At home, we have quite a few pieces that carry stories, and I have to admit that some of our most gorgeous pieces are tied to Guatemala and the amazing people I met there: both intellectually and artistically brilliant people whom I now count amongst my dearest friends.
It’s a long trip back to Guatemala from Singapore, so, though I used to visit at least twice a year after I left in 2009, I now tend to go once every couple of years; but I’m in touch all the time for work. In Situ is my art and design sanctuary, not a mere retail outlet. It keeps me in contact with beauty and nature, creativity and people whose work I admire with a passion. There is a lot of emotion and love in every piece, and every piece has its story.
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Thalpe in Galle, Sri Lanka
By Chloe Elkerton, E&A Interiors
I’ve been going to Sri Lanka for the past six years, and for me it has become an extremely special place, one I will never tire of. It’s my little piece of paradise – no wonder it’s referred to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”.
After travelling around most of the island on my first couple of trips, I now feel truly at home on the South Coast, and in particular in Thalpe, which is just a 15-minute tuk tuk ride from the historic UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort. Built by the Dutch in 1663, the fort occupies most of a promontory that is surrounded by ocean on three sides.
It’s a town of great beauty. There’s a wonderful collection of Dutch colonial buildings, and the classic architecture melds with a dramatic tropical setting to create a reality that is endlessly interesting and inspiring.
Galle is a trading town but also has an artistic flair, attracting poets, artists, photographers, designers and writers from all over the world. Just by wandering the old walls and streets you get one architectural surprise after another, amazing structures dating back through the centuries. The beautiful colonial houses with internal courtyards and wonderful architectural features really give me that European flavour amongst a tropical and exotic setting.
A key part of the fort’s allure is that it isn’t just a pretty place but remains a working community, with courts, export companies and locals populating the streets, giving the air a definite buzz of energy.
The stunning coastline from Galle to Thalpe is my most favourite area, and I could spend hours just relaxing and watching the dramatic waves, interspersed with calm pockets dotted with fishermen on stilts. The ocean here is a myriad of colours, which I’m always drawn to using in my work. Inland, the paddy fields, slow pace and simple working life are a far cry from my busy city lifestyle – they provide me with inspiration and clear my mind to think.
The South Coast has a very understated yet chic style, and there are some superb beach villas with colonial architecture, beautiful interiors and ocean views. I often stay at WB Villa in Thalpe; it’s a chic and intimate beach villa with an amazing Italian restaurant overlooking the ocean, and just two simple yet stylish rooms with wonderful staff. The Italian architect owner has become a good friend of mine over the years.
There’s also Kahanda Kanda, a boutique hotel with beautiful interiors and breathtaking views, as well as The Kandy House (near Kandy), an exquisitely restored manor house with a Mediterranean feel, overlooking paddy fields. It’s superbly atmospheric, with individual interiors.
For shopping, I’d recommend Paradise Road in Colombo for great crockery and tableware; or KK in Galle Fort, for homeware, accessories and fabrics. The small shops in and around Galle have some great finds, including local art, statues and furniture. You can find large crystals, too; this year I bought some huge amethysts and quartz crystals, which I love to use as accessories and finishing touches for an interior design project. I also purchased a stunning faceted, mirrored wall sconce from KK for my own home.