How would you describe Maya in a nutshell?
Maya in Tangalle, Sri Lanka is an excellent boutique hotel in a colonial-chic manor house surrounded by paddy fields. There are only five suites within two wings, one that leans more towards traditional architecture with modern-luxe touches and a modern wing that gracefully combines traditional and modern design. Rooms are available individually or as a fully staffed villa for 10 to 15 guests. Take a sundowner by the deep blue pool and watch peacocks cruising through the lush gardens.
Please tell us a bit about the history of Maya Tangalle and its restoration.
I began to restore Maya in 2009 back to its original condition. It was in definite need of some loving attention. My main goal was to protect the building because it is very rare to have a building like that in this particular area.
When I discovered it in 2004, it was a dilapidated old Colonial bungalow dating from the late 19th to early 20th century. It features an architecture very typical of that era, with Dutch and British influences and was originally owned by a very high ranking family that had presided over the village. In a way, it’s quite grand to the village.
I wanted holiday guests to experience staying in a lovingly restored heritage property. You can go to so many places and stay in nice, modern villas, but there is something unique and special about staying in a building that is 120 years old, yet doesn’t lack any of the modern creature comforts.
What was your inspiration to buy a property in Sri Lanka?
I was living in Singapore at that time, and my husband and I would go to Sri Lanka for holidays in the late ‘80s. I fell in love with the whole area around Tangalle because it was so beautiful and unspoiled. I started to think about getting some land on the beach, but couldn’t find anything I liked. When I was shown this property it grabbed my attention immediately.
And even now, when you first look at it through the gate, it really is quite amazing to have that open expanse. There is an immediate impact. Although we’ve tidied up the garden, we’ve pretty much left it as it was. It’s really unspoiled and it leads onto these paddy fields which go as far as the eye can see. There’s no fence or obstruction around Maya, it’s just miles and miles of green expanse. It’s quite stunning.
Together with a Sri Lankan architect you restored Maya. What was your approach to the design?
I decided to add on a whole new structure, making sure the two buildings at Maya blended together, even though they were built 100 years apart. It was quite a challenge because we didn’t want them to look different.
The other key thing was breaking the mold and putting more than just old, lovely Colonial pieces in it, which was a bit boring to me. I turned the tables and decided to make the old house very contemporary. There’s so much warmth there because it’s mixed up just a bit with some lovely old pieces scattered around here and there, which stops the house from being too modern. A lot of our holiday guests have found it very refreshing because it’s an unexpected surprise.
To you personally, what has been most rewarding about running Maya?
There’s a lot of attention to detail and I’ve put a lot of my own personal things in the house, so it doesn’t look like a generic hotel. It actually looks like a home and people feel very comfortable. They notice that the house is something different, something they haven’t seen before. And our holiday guests help to preserve something of history by staying in a restored building. That, to me, is my biggest reward.
And of course, my staff. The guests always comment about what a great staff we have. They leave happy because they have taken great care of them during their stay. I'm very lucky to have such a great team.