Stepping into a Gracious Past
"Is this run as a hobby?" the English guest asked as she started in delight around the pure art deco lounge of Saffron Hill House.
The owner, Indika Fernando, who works as a flight attendant for Sri Lankan Airlines, smiled happily. "The bungalow belonged to my grandparents," he explained. "It was empty for so long, my mother and I decided to restore it so guests could enjoy it too. "Saffron Hill House overlooks Bandarawela, a short drive up a road above the bus station. It was built in the 1930s as a holiday bungalow and, incredibly, retains the original art deco furniture, even the glassware, and this makes a stay there an exciting discovery of a sophisticated, if forgotten, period of Sri Lanka's past.
The formal, rectangular shape of the bungalow has been softened by swirls of saffron coloured paint. The building stands proudly as an antidote to the cacophony of commerce that has changed Bandarawela from a modest hill station retreat to a thriving metropolis in rural Uva. Glimpses of the town's frenzy can be had while taking tea at a teak table on the plateau of lawn fronting the bungalow.
Steep step behind a brilliant blue and white door lead up from the private road that gives access to this joyous anachronism that has been turned into such an amazing place in which to stay. The obvious care of the flower beds and unexpected flourishes in the garden, like cement-crafted benches and glass hookahs for guests to enjoy under the stars, signal an interior restoration done with dedication.
The English lady was right in recognizing a quality that suggests Saffron Hill House is born of love, not commercial intent. The feeling of slipping into a more cultured, gracious decade begins the moment one enters the bungalow through one of two doors alongside its central bay window.
The entrance lounge is furnished with a suite of brightly upholstered armchairs with wide wooden arms. Smokers will love Saffron Hill House as there are ashtrays every where, including some the size of ice buckets in the bedrooms.
Accommodation & Facilities
The central lounge is open on three sides throwing focus onto the white and black painted fireplace. Faded photos of the original owners hang on the walls while above the picture rail on each wall is restored mural of, incongruously, wintry landscapes. Adjoining the lounge is the formal dining room complete with oval table and scalloped, leather-backed dining chairs, another fireplace and more unusual murals. Original, priceless glassware and crockery are stored in glass-fronted cupboards built into the walls. Amidst the antiquities are sculptures and bold bric-a-brac that create an acceptable, contemporary contrast.
The space between the bungalow and the kitchen has been transformed into an open sided dining gallery with a cement table on one side of a central pond and a chunky wooden one on the other. There was no cook on duty when I stayed so for dinner we had Scotch Eggs and Shepherd's Pie sent over from the Bandarawela Hotel.
There are four bedrooms, two of them large enough for a family of three in each. The master bedroom must be unique in Sri Lanka for its circular art deco furniture; even the beheads are round. All the bedrooms have 1930s furniture including dressing tables with side mirrors and bright paintings bought at Colombo's annual Kala Pola.
Each bedroom has a bathroom with a door to the garden and a bathtub in which to climb for a shower. Bathrooms are small, walled with titanium cement and with a washbasin on a concrete plinth almost blocking the entrance. Titanium cement forms the floor of the bungalow while bright drapes add a modern dash of colour.
The English lady said it was a privilege to find a place to stay that could be appreciated by the discerning. With rates that are a lot less than boutique hotels, and with a charm that is genuine, Saffron Hill House is a rare find, as well as a connoisseur's choice.
Royston Ellis -