Inside Architect Channa Daswatte’s Beautiful Colombo Home

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Shraddha Chowdhury

Located in suburban Colombo, a short distance from the National Parliament Complex is the quiet neighbourhood of Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, dotted with plots for homes with rather wild gardens. The untamed vegetation does little to take away from the place, instead adding to it with its natural aesthetic — much like the home of one of Sri Lanka’s leading architects.

Calm is how Channa Daswatte describes his humble abode. Calm and contemporary — traditional, with architectural elements that are decidedly tropical-modern.

“It’s full of light as it’s essentially an open pavilion with only three spaces: the kitchen and two of the conventional bedrooms rooms with walls. The openness and free flow of air and light were the only design aspects. I knew I wanted from day one,” he shares, describing his ventilated quarters that mingle with the verdant environment over 1,200 sqm of land.

Welcoming, Open Spaces

Hugely popular in India, Channa is one of the minds behind the recently opened Dr Savitadidi N Mehta Museum in Porbandar, Gujarat, and Ganga Kutir resort on the outskirts of Kolkata.

He also redesigned the Mumbai home of businessman Jay Mehta and actress Juhi Chawla,as well as Mehta’s family home in Porbandar and the Bengaluru residence of Bimal Desai, renowned theatre actor-director. Channa’s “outside-in approach” to design is a testament to his love for nature — he’s known to build around foliage and not disturb what arrived first — as is his predominant use of wood and and fondness for natural light across properties that bear his signature.

Simplicity in architecture is his aesthetic, and he lets elements like wooden furniture and unexpected patterns and colour pops add drama to spaces.

At his home, a sliding gate leads guests through a granite-paved, tree-lined entrance court. Shallow stairs fashioned out of recycled granite blocks take visitors up to the garden, where an open lawn greets all, enveloped by a canopy of overgrown branches, with a pool on the far side. To the immediate right is the dining veranda open to the elements. It straddles the two primary parts of the house — the guest bedroom used by Channa’s parents on the far side, and the stairs, entry points and pantry on the other, “It took three years to complete the project. As I already had a home, I took my time collecting reusable, recycled materials along the way.”

The property is located conveniently close to the office I share with my business partner, Murad Ismail. So I walk to work and come home for lunch. The occasional postprandial nap is an added benefit!” says Channa, a director at MICD Associates.

Channa and Murad co-founded their architectural design firm in 1999; they are both partners at MICD today. The two met during their time at Geoffrey Bawa Associates and went on to craft several stunning properties, commercial, residential as well as hospitality projects.

Operating largely in Asia, some of their most notable works include Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, Shangri-La Hambantota and Galle Fort Hotel in Sri Lanka.

Timber-lined stairs lead up from the dining area to a sitting room and entertainment space that overlooks the garden and beyond. The library, fitted with sliding glass doors, is tucked into one corner of this area.

On its far side lies the master bedroom, equipped with an open dressing room. The sloped extension allows the rainwater to drain during the torrential monsoons.

The four doors of the master bedroom welcome light and ventilation. Pivoted louvred shutters lend privacy to the dressing room and bathroom. Channa procured from a friend’s grandmother is the pièce de résistance, besides a wooden chest he had designed for a beach resort on the East Coast.

“The resort was caught in the 2004 tsunami. So I reused the chest to make it a washstand,”he adds.

“My paternal grandfather’s armchair takes centre stage in the dressing room, along with a window seat I had designed for one of my early projects that went unused.” The same set of stairs also leads down to the basement from the dining space. This area houses the staff apartment, laundry and kitchen and also connects to the garage across the courtyard.

Channa Daswatte's Home©HelloIndia

A Distinctive Aesthetic

The wooden window shutters that line the master suite and the library on the upper floor lend an unmistakable ch aracter to the space — a rarity in a day and age that’s leaning increasingly towards minimalism. The trained eye is also drawn towards the pivoted glass shutters and the predominant use of wood and iron grills, distinguishing the rusticity of the place. As Channa explains, it was the freedom of being the sole decision-maker that spurred the inclusion of such out-of-the-box details.

“Building one’s own house releases you to do what you want. With clients, there’s mostly a precedent. Architects are often expected to present something they have done before instead of being inventive! So when I felt that small brass pivots would work for the windows, that’s what I used. I was able to enjoy thinking of different ways to solve problems and save money, too,” he reveals.

There’s more to the louvred shutters than just their rustic aura. Channa salvaged the wood during the refurbishment of the Bentota, Beach Hotel, originally designed by Sri Lanka’srenowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, when they decided to discard the shutters. Another strong architectural lineage here lies in the floors of the library and bedroom: they are both lined with timber derived from the demolition of a house designed by the late and great Minnette de Silva.

“The shutters were found in their natural They came available for cheap, and I bought them for their historic significance, for their roots in one of the best known and most influential pieces of Geoffrey Bawa architecture,” shares Channa, who started his career with the Sri Lankan icon.

“This was even before I thought of building this house. Its use allowed me to modulate light and shade, and even the breeze and rain, around my library and bedroom, where I spend most of my time.”

It’s in these rooms — the library and bedroom — that Channa retreats to when he finds respite from his extensive work and travel commitments.

The award-winning architect and author spends the majority of his time here, the library being his favourite nook in the house. system and all the books I love dearly. It’s very comforting to spend time there”.

Channa Daswatte's Interior©HelloIndia

One With The Environment

There’s a sense of serenity that permeates through the home, one that’s associated with nature when undisturbed. Everywhere we look, there’s light seeping through, and the lush greenery is as much a part of the interiors as a “wilderness garden” as it is outside its walls.

And much of this stems from Channa’s idea of sustainability.

“Sustainability begins from being able to open a window and have a space crafted such that a breeze may be allowed in to comfort a person,” the architect poetically describes his grasp on going green. “Next comes understanding how to lessen the impact and use of non-renewable materials and designing a place that can easily be converted lifetime.

In such ways, I’ve managed to make my home very sustainable. If it’s demolished one day, all its elements could be reused, apart from the concrete structure.”

Channa Daswatte's Home©HelloIndia

The Sri Lankan Touch

While Channa insists that he subscribes to no signature style, he highlights his penchant for simple, rectilinear planning and paying heed to the relationship between the assigned space and its surroundings.

The structure of this house — with its sloped roofs, straight and aligned spaces and simple frame building traditions of Sri Lanka. The famed architect emphasises that the “décor” was not intentionally “décor” per se but just “a stock of objects and furniture collected over the years, thrown together reasonably judiciously to create an ambience of calm. These are a mix of contemporary art and sculpture, cobbled together with old Indian bronzes, antique Sri Lankan furniture and fabrics.”

On his walls hang a symphony of contemporary Sri Lankan art, with the occasional Indian piece.

His two favourites are the Ivan Peries painting in his bedroom (of a man seeking shelter from a storm under a tree) and the Betrayal by Shanathanan, which portrays the moment Judas kisses Christ

Overshadowing the artwork, however, are the sentiments that swaddle a few trinkets the architect owns. Like his grandfather’s tamarind wood armchair in his dressing room, the wooden doors gifted by his parents that were made out of teak they grew on their family plantation, and the brass table lamp designed by Geoffrey Bawa, presented to him as a housewarming gift by the craftsman.

“My grandfather’s chair has been in the veranda of my father’s family home since veranda of my father’s family home since 1933. It’s chock-full of memories from the paternal side of the family,”. Channa signs off, sure to embed his home with many more such memories to look back on fondly.

“The idea is to make a space that can adapt to and become the backdrop to the lifestyle of its residents; understand how it may change over time. Life, after all, is not static. People change age and taste change”.

The walls of his home are adorned with contemporary Sri Lankan art, with the occasional Indian piece. A tamarind wood armchair sits in his dressing room, one that once belonged to his grandfather. His beloved nook, where he finds respite from his numerous work and travel commitments.

This story has been adapted for the website from HELLO! India’s May 2024 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!

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