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Insider Guides

Inside Sri Lanka's creative renaissance, led by Annika Fernando

Annika Fernando, the interior designer of Kumu Beach hotel, is leading the creative renaissance. You may know her as one of Sri Lanka’s best interior designers, as well as owner and curator of fashion concept store, PR in Colombo.

She is the eldest daughter of Shanth Fernando, founder of Paradise Road, renowned as the most stylish collection of boutiques on the island stocking local and international homeware. Her sister is also at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s contemporary scene as a gallerist representing over 25 leading modern artists.

Annika led the interior design on the west coast beach hotel, Kumu Beach, which opened last year in Balapitya. With 10 ocean-facing rooms, it’s situated at one of the most picturesque spots in Sri Lanka. Annika collaborated with some of Sri Lanka’s most interesting and creative minds to incorporate local techniques such as batik and metalwork as mediums. Contemporary batik designer Sonali Dharmawardena created the design for the cushions the cushions while Sanjay Geekiyanage created striking copper globe sculptures and metallic suspended fish.

Since opening her fashion concept store PR in 2013, she has started her own range of clothing under the label Maus which encompasses ladies wear, an organic line of clothing, swimwear and now menswear.

Tell us about your concept design store?

PR is an expression of my love for retail! It is a constantly evolving space allowing me to exercise my interior decorating skills through visual merchandising and a selection of beautiful products. We retail local and mostly regional designer clothing, jewellery and accessories along with my own in-house brand, Maus. A labour of love. 

And your hotel design projects? 

My passion has always been in residential interiors, to be honest, and I have taken on a few select projects in the last few years. A boutique hotel property allows me to take that step out and create something personal which happens to be still commercial. I treasure the opportunity to make a statement with the projects I undertake now. Kumu Beach was precisely that.

When creating a hotel in Sri Lanka, you already have great views. What lies at the heart of your design? 

Every project presents new challenges and clients with different wishes and dreams. My role is to answer the brief presented and create a space which is individual and bespoke. So every hotel project should differ, but I do hope I leave a signature which includes attention to detail and comfort in a general sense. 

How do you find the travel landscape changing in terms of the type of traveller? 

Everyone is looking for an experience and that’s not just in Sri Lanka. It is great that Sri Lanka is getting the attention it deserves now, from a tourism perspective and that we are getting a more diverse range of tourists who seek more than a package deal. It allows our retail and hotel developments to consider the discerning traveller, which definitely makes a designer’s life more interesting!

Sri Lanka has seen political turmoil. How has it changed and bounced back in tourism and culture? 

I prefer not to look at the politics. I grew up in Sri Lanka through most of a 30-year civil war and watched my father start and grow a business in retail and hospitality at some of the worst times in our past. I try to do the same, work with blinders on and keep looking at how our beautiful country has grown in so many ways. Culture is there and strong, my only fear is what can be lost through growth in tourism. Let’s hope we keep the charm of our island and the smiles of our people alive and don’t turn into one of those overdeveloped tourist destinations where identity is lost. 

What makes a hotel special? 

To me it’s often simple things like a comfortable bed, good sheets, good shower and towels and the unique details where you can see someone has tried to create a unique experience for the traveller and of course, the service.  I think it’s important that a hotel property is relevant and sensitive to where it’s located and the people around it. As a hotel guest, you can feel that and it’s always more personal…. Kumu’s identity was built around bespoke batik soft furnishings and local commissioned sculpture. 

What do you love about living and working in Colombo? 

I live in paradise. Sri Lanka is a small island which has so much to offer: beaches, tea country, wildlife, culture, architecture, rainforests and more. Being a fairly small island we also can live fairly spontaneous lives where we can drive down South to the beach in under an hour or up to the cool hills in 3 hours. With our road developments, these travel times are reducing further. We also don’t really experience extremes in weather like other countries; I love the tropical climate with all it’s negatives and summer dressing is best!

Working in design in Colombo is inspiring and a privilege as I feel part of the growth of our design individuality and recognition through my work, both as an interior designer and as a retailer. 

Who is your inspiration? 

In business and design, it is my father, Shanth Fernando who I’ve watched grow Paradise Road from a small retail store into a design empire and power brand which is recognized as a strong design represent of Sri Lanka. 

Do you have a dream project to work on? Either for PR or in hotel design?

I always dream and have plans and more plans. I remain ambitious. My interior design, both hotel and residential, is a continuous dream that I continue to be offered opportunities to work with wonderful people creating special spaces and so far I’m living it. 

With PR, I allow the growth to be more organic, right time, right space, it all needs to make sense. And my dreams need to balance with my reality of living a working mother’s life, which is simply that I do 2 full-time jobs part-time. 

We are all about local’s insider tips. What places do you recommend to visitors?

Eat at The Gallery Café, Tintagel Colombo, August, Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi are my favourites and don’t miss trying the local cuisine. Whilst a home-cooked Sri Lankan meal is always best, the next authentic options are Palmyrah at Renuka Hotel, Curry Leaf at Hilton and the simple VOC Cafe at Dutch Burgher Union……. for a new and contemporary Sri Lankan meal, Kaema Sutra at Shangri La.

An evening out – my latest interior project and Colombo’s first speakeasy, Baillie Street Merchants, an intimate drink at The Red Bar at Tintagel Colombo, 41 Sugar – great rooftop bar with live music and a laid back vibe 

For shopping – PR of course for best in local fashion design and my favourite Indian labels. Paradise Road for in homeware, giftware and furniture. Rithihi for beautiful sarees and ethnic wear. Saskia Fernando Gallery for the best of Sri Lankan art. Barefoot for the best handloom furnishing fabrics and bookshop.

Sites worth visiting – Geoffrey Bawa’s residence at 11th Lane. The Colombo Museum to see a history of art and architecture especially if you haven’t made it to the Cultural Triangle. 

About Kumu Beach

Located on a secluded beach stretch on the west coast of Balapitiya between Galle and Colombo, Kumu Beach is one of the latest additions to Teardrop Hotels – a chic collection of boutique properties. Most guests wind up here for a week at the end of an island-wide itinerary, and this west coast setting is superb. Guests can wander down onto Balapitiya’s sandy oceanfront from the hotel’s broad garden and scramble up onto the rocks opposite to photograph crimson sunsets. Perfect for soaking up summer rays, the hotel has four spacious Ocean View Suites, four Ocean View Bedrooms and two Kumu Bedrooms, all with Indian Ocean panoramas and some with a private balcony or garden terrace. The rooms are spacious with an open plan layout with the neutral colour palette enhanced by colour splashes from the batik cushions and vibrant works of modern local art.

The hotel is a real celebration of Sri Lankan style yet is simplistic enough to let the dramatic Indian Ocean setting shine. Annika transformed the interiors of this symmetrical sea-facing hotel into chic, elegant and calming spaces. Activities on offer include windsurfing, jet-skiing, visits to the local turtle hatchery and voyaging up the Madu Ganga estuary – home to 64 islands. The hotel is also in close proximity to Asia’s longest Buddha statue and the famous Hikkaduwa surf breaks.

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