In many ways, the house is an extension of the garden. The geography of the land was key to Bawa’s designs while the elements of time and history were very important as well. Stables as it is known is a historical building. While Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike utilised the building as a stable for his six horses, the rich design and architecture suggest that this could have been a house previously. It is assumed that this was Sir Solomon’s grandfather’s home. But after Sir Solomon was granted the title of Maha Mudaliyar a more stately house was required. Thus the Horogolla Walauwwa became the home for the family, and this particular building was converted to the stables.
The stables, a colonial building that reflects the British heritage of architecture in the country, was transformed into a contemporary country home while maintaining the appearance and the aesthetics of the original building. The current owner and her then husband Udaya Nanayakkara acquired the building and one acre property in1982. The building had been in a dilapidated condition and needed extensive renovations. Geoffrey Bawa had initially declined to to take on the project. However, after much coaxing, he visited the site and instantly saw the potential and agreed to accept.
Firstly, the boundary walls were built and treeswere planted around the periphery. This gave the time required for the plants to grow by the time the construction of the house was completed. Though this was a renovation and expansion of an already existing building, a foundation stone was laid as it was to be a home. And on April 1, 1983 work began on this expansive project. The original building had one large arched entrance and enclosures for the six horses.It was a single large space. Openings were introduced in the form of doors and windows. A deck made of seasoned timber separated this large space into the ground floor and upper gallery. The main sitting room is on the ground floor while the upper gallery provides additional seating areas, but functions mainly as a relaxing space to entertain guests. To maintain its identity as the stables, the name boards of the horses were kept, which enhanced the aesthetic feel of the main sitting room. Furthermore, Bawa wanted the floors to be of simple cement with a minimalist diamond design. Three bedrooms, (with attached bathrooms) including the master bedroom and the library, are within the original building. The floor of the library is quite different where a chequer board effect has been created by using large terra cotta tiles interspersed with cement squares.
Just like Bawa, the owner too wanted to maintain the colonial and rustic Sri Lankan feel of the property.
What is quite obvious from this property is that the owner and the architect both had similar taste in style and design that came together to create a timeless masterpiece. Just like Bawa, the owner too wanted to maintain the colonial and rustic Sri Lankan feel of the property. As such, all the material used for the construction were recycled material sourced from either the original building or demolished old stately homes—not only from the area but from all parts of the country. It was important that the timber was well-seasoned, to ensure that it did not warp and lose its strength. ‘Sinhala Ulu’ or Sinhala tiles were used for the roofs. It was well known at that time that the owner was seeking such material. Therefore, everyone would contact her when such material was available for purchase.
The property consists of two sections; the original stables and the new wing. These two sections form an L shape. While the roof of the stables consists of two layers, the roof of the new wing has three layers. By looking at the two sections, it is difficult to determine what is new and what is old, because each element has been expertly brought together to create the whole.
From the driveway, one first arrives at the portico and then proceeds through the main entrance. The walls of the passageway are lined with the scripts from sel lipi (ancient stone inscriptions). At either end of the verandah there is a circular opening, which provides a view beyond the walls. A characteristic of this property is that from any room one would be able to enjoy the greenery of the surroundings. Hence, all ground level bedrooms have their own private courtyards.
The new wing has one bedroom (with attached bathroom), dining area, pantry and open kitchen. The dining area is also in the verandah, where Bawa included a circular groove to accommodate the round table that the owner had purchased prior to designing the dining area. The most mesmerising aspect of the property is the well manicured lawns. Araliya trees (Temple trees) planted in selected areas of the garden create beautiful shadows depending on the time of day. And at dusk when the lights are on—especially at this time of the year, when all the leaves have fallen—the trees create an ambience of an European autumn! The walls of the property are covered with ivy and contrast beautifully with the white walls. Furthermore, in certain areas the wall cannot be seen due to the thick foliage, and in others plants are behind the wall so that only the flowers can be seen from the top.
A characteristic of this property is that from any room one would be able to enjoy the greenery of the surroundings.
The back garden originally had a five foot drop, which Bawa filled to create a dual elevation where a flight of steps made of ancient rocks takes you to the lowest level. The back wall of the drivers’ quarters’ separates the garden from the beautiful forest beyond. The owner had ensured that a one acre area remained as a pristine forest. At dusk when the lights are switched on, the massive trees shimmer in the light, and through the play of light the depth of the forest can be seen. In this garden, four Ehala trees create a somewhat formal area, where a stone table has been placed at the centre and the sandy ground forms a perfect square edged with old stone, cut into square or rectangular shapes.
The roof does not have any gutters. This had been something Bawa had insisted upon. The water falls onto a pebbled area and it is said that there were openings in the ground, to drain the rain water into the drainage system.
The main archway of the stables has a massive gate made of solid steel lances, which had once been used on the boundary walls. The gates are extremely heavy and impressive, and give a sense of prominence and awe. The garden pavilion (loggia) completes the property and has four beautifully crafted antique columns, doorway and half doors that the owner had secured on a journey down south.
The furnishing of the house is of impeccable taste. All pieces, may it be the furniture, ornaments or art all have history behind them. The main sitting room has comfortable cane furniture, similar to those of old colonial club houses. On one side a large white globe is the light shade and on the other a piece of art by Laki Senenayake, created using painted aluminium in the form of a large bo leaf made up of smaller leaves, cast beautiful shadows on the wall when the lights are switched on. Pettagam (a traditional Sri Lankan trunk or chest), antique cupboards, an exquisite writing table as well as Kawichchi have been placed in the main sitting room as well as the gallery. Ancient Jadi (pickled fish) jars have been placed to create an aesthetic ambience. The ornaments too are unique and include the vessel used for dying saffron robes with three brass globes introduced by the owner; antique printing molds with red madatiya seeds to give colour and ancient stone with metal figurines are few of the many artifacts that adorn the house. These have all been carefully handpicked by the owner.
The furnishing of the house is of impeccable taste. All pieces, may it be the furniture, ornaments or art, all have history behind them.
The house that started its transformation in 1983 saw completion after four and a half years on November 25, 1987. It had taken this long as each element for the house had to be carefully picked and sourced. It was definitely a labour of love.
At the Stables in Horogolla —the country home of Sunethra Bandaranaike—time stands still. The quiet calmness of the environment is soothing where the house is part of the landscape. This is characteristic of Geoffrey Bawa, where his architecture has always been “in and of the landscape”. This has never been as true as at the Stables.