If readers are confused about our “nest construction”, switching as it does between Hoi An, Viet Nam and Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, there is good reason for it. We are creating two home bases in parallel and, to be more exact, it’s more like a braid with two interwoven strands, than two parallel tracks.
While Peta is settling into our Hoi An river house in Viet Nam, I, Ben head to work, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for a week. Meetings in Colombo present an opportunity to go to the Southern coast on the weekend and check on the construction team’s progress.
Normally, Pete and I would seek to do this together, as we fully expect that being ‘on the ground’ will generate a slew of questions and decisions for the builders to proceed apace. But given the 12 hour journey from Danang Airport in Viet Nam to Colombo in Sri Lanka, it just didn’t make sense for both of us to come… especially so soon after the grueling 24 hour journey to get here from the U.S.
This is a granular update that may not appeal to everyone, but which might be of interest to anyone who has built, or has dreamt of building their own house.
My (Ben) challenge, is to start to “bring it all together”. We have made much progress, but there are still some very thorny unresolved issues.
External garden bathroom:
The wall is great. It curves beautifully. It is a perfect shade of weathered teal green, and the wax finish makes it very pleasant to the touch. I can totally envision how it will look once there are flowers planted which attract butterflies, vines and creepers scaling the walls and a small tree or two. Perhaps a passion fruit creeper growing on the wall next to the bathtub so we can eat passion fruit while soaking in the tub.
The light outlets are now in place. It is easy to visualize how my ceramic lanterns sculpted in Hoi An will look in here, casting shapes and shadows on the walls.
The shower is a tad high, but nothing catastrophic ~ easy to adjust at a later stage. (A perfect example of how easily miscommunications happen at a distance. We thought we were specific in saying the shower should be sufficiently high, as Ben is 6’2 and often has to stoop under shower heads. Well we definitely got a higher shower than the average here!….)
Importantly, the municipality has come to connect the water to the house. So, we finally have running water! Getting this to actually happen was no easy feat.
A solar panel is on the roof, and as electricity is apparently expensive, solar gets us a lower monthly bill as well as is environmentally friendly. We have always wanted a solar panel, and would like at some future date, to add a rain cachement system to collect and make use of rain water.
The elephant in the room is of course the coveted bathtub.
We are at the time of my arrival, yet to come up with a valid solution.
I visit multiple traditional bathtub vendors in Colombo. The bathtubs are either boring, or, the couple that are very beautiful, are imported Italian designs and prohibitively expensive ~ way out of our price range.
The option of using an old boat to create a bathtub (which we wrote about in our prior blog entry) is not happening. I went to several beaches, spoke with multiple fishermen, and it’s just not viable because there do not appear to be any discarded or unused boats. I did find one antique boat, very beautiful but way too expensive and much, much too big…
The beautiful bamboo boats in Hoi An are perfect from a visual point of view, but too expensive and impractical to ship to Sri Lanka. Oh well. It was fun toying with the thought of making this work.
So, we nix the boat converted to bathtub idea.
I am however, determined to find a solution before I leave, because the bathtub has become one of our priority items to have set up by the time we move in here.
Finally, as I take a tuk tuk ride toward the historic city of Fort Galle, I have a “eureka” moment when I pass something along the road that captures my attention and gets my creative juices flowing…..
We drive past an industrial cement pipeline company ~ the kind which makes huge cement cylinders, used for underground municipal water pipes.
What if, I muse, we forget the intended use of these industrial cement cylinders, and just think of them for their shape ~ a long hollow cylindrical shape. They are 3.5 feet in diameter and 3 feet in length.
What if, we somehow could cut through the middle of these and make them into two equal half cylinders? AND, what if, we then fuse the two half cylinders, to make a 6 foot long shape. Why couldn’t THAT become a bathtub?
The solution is so “outside the box”, that I have a hard time convincing my Sri Lankan program manager, Kumara, to take it seriously. He is, however, extremely diplomatic and while trying not to laugh, he humors me by listening to the concept I have come up with.
Um yeah, this could maybe work…
I wonder if Pete will mind taking a bath in an industrial pipe?
Cost of the Italian bathtub, pre delivery from Colombo: $1750.
Cost of this quirky and very original creation: $100.
Will it work? I have no idea…. it sure seems worth the effort to try and see what happens. All part of the adventure.
The room looks infinitely larger now that the walls have been cleaned up. As I arrive, the painters are putting the second coat of under paint, and within 2 days they will complete the final light cream top coat of paint. It looks great already.
Neither of us are big fans of air conditioning. (We lived in Granada, Nicaragua in a tropical climate for six years. Our house there had AC in the bedrooms, which we very rarely used. Ceiling fans and good air flow are great for a cooling breeze and avoiding air conditioning.)
The unresolved next issue is the floor:
We can’t put down tiles, because the current floor is of a certain finish which, for some reason, does not lend itself to cementing anything over it. I have looked into wooden flooring, but it is pretty pricey.
I take some time to sit in silence on the beach and think about our lifestyle.
We like to sit on and be on the floor a lot. Pete is prone to impromptu yoga stretches. It is inevitable that we will have animals aplenty, and that inevitably we will gravitate towards the floor to be with them.
So, who else has a lifestyle which focuses around time spent ‘on the floor’…?
The Japanese. Tatami floors.
We can’t get original Japanese tatami mats because they are extremely expensive (and unavailable here). Why not a local version though? After all, a tatami mat is but a soft-ish, woven grass. I remember having seen a rattan type store somewhere along the road. Off I go on my rented motorbike in search of the one last practical, budget friendly solution for the floor that I can think of.
I find the store. And in addition to their mostly woven baskets, yes, they do have woven mats! They are soft. They are 3 feet x 6 feet (think yoga mat size.) The room is 24 feet x 14 feet. I figure we need 18 mats!
Cost of each mat = 500 rupees ( 3 U.S. dollars per mat)!
Voila! I have a perfectly viable floor covering solution for a grand total of $60!
The wooden flooring I was quoted in Colombo was $3000.
(There will be some additional minimal costs with the mats, such as paper thin strips of straw colored wood, used to secure the woven mats to the cement floor.)
Will it work?
Hopefully. I don’t know….but I’d invest $100 to give it a shot.
Looks pretty cool to me! I run the idea by Pete and she agrees it sounds like a great idea.
We have decided to go with colored concrete for the kitchen counter tops. Inexpensive, easy to clean and minimalist design. We weren’ t sure how it would look, but pleased to say, it looks great. The concrete top is softened by the wooden shelves built underneath for storage.
I discover that the kitchen has ‘acloves’ which I did not recall being there. These will be used for wooden shelving on either side. Later we can determine how we make use of the central section.
We will soon be moving to our Sri Lanka abode, so it’s time to focus on the functional and basic requirements.
We are big consumers of fresh fruit and veggies, no or minimal cooking required. But, there is always that time when we do need a pot of boiling water for this or that. One tuk tuk ride to town takes me to a kitchenware type store ~ in 30m, I buy a cook top and a toaster oven for grilling veggies, etc. We are definitely fine without an oven. We barely used the one we had in Nicaragua. (We can always add this later, as needed.)
We still need a fridge. (Funnily enough, these can be bought on arrival at the airport, tax free.)
I have a vague recollection of a dark, small room that was intended as the bathroom. When I go into this space, I think it will work very well as a walk-in closet for the main bedroom now that it is cleaned up and painted and a small wall was removed.
It will be pretty novel for us to have a real closet. I call Pete to ask her for some help in designing the space. Within 30mn I have a design from her. On day two, I meet the carpenter, show him the drawing, and he asks me to measure where I want the shelves, the rails, the drawers.
On a roll here….
The main bedroom:
Gone is the middle wall between the original two small rooms, yielding a large and spacious main bedroom.
The newly built French doors will allow us to step out of our bedroom into the garden on the side and is also a huge infusion of additional light and airiness to the room. The doors are positioned to ‘line up’ with the doorway into the living room, for good airflow.
As I walk through the house, a truck arrives and delivers our king sized mattress. Good, we have something to sleep on!
Exterior of the house:
The house is transforming from a basic rectangle “with potential”, into a really cute little house.
Lots of sanding down is required to clean the traditional wooden carved small posts that are above the windows.
(Future site of) Ayurvedic herb and vegetable garden:
I ask Kumara to help us delineate our property, which he does by creating a ‘living fence’. This helps me see where our garden will be. The living fence is created using branches in the ground ~ after the rain they will sprout and start growing leaves and eventually branches.
If you know us, then you know how much we love animals and feel that a home is truly a home once it has cats and/or dogs. Animals tend to come to us, quite naturally… (there are many blog posts in the archives about the beloved animals who have shared our lives). Peta’s whole life, stray cats and kittens have found their way under her ‘wing’.
Well, it seems that there is already a stray dog living at the house. Wait, no, there are two dogs. Um well, actually, it appears that there are THREE dogs that have made this house a home before we even get there. This is definitely an all time record for us, that the animals are already there before US!
They were there when we visited the house the first time. They are here again, or still remain Two are affectionate and one is a bit sickly looking and rather scared.
All work and no play:
It’s time for me to reward myself with a fun activity as I have been going round the clock, first in Colombo for work, and now here in Unawatuna for the house.
I decide to go antique hunting…Fort Galle is a treasure trove of antiques as it has been populated by wealthy residents for 300+ years. The architecture is Dutch and Portuguese, the subsequent colonial period was British. In short, there is sure to be an interesting collection of antiques.
And indeed, what a treasure trove. I’m just looking… just looking.
I admit to being a bit like a kid in a candy store in this antique warehouse that is much like Ali Baba’s cavern. I treat myself to a small purchase: three old large ceramic storage urns. I think they will look great in the kitchen or the bathroom garden.
I leave Unawatuna and Sri Lanka, with the satisfaction that all is on track, both with my work and our future house. There are still a few unresolved issues, most clearly the bathtub, but I am pretty optimistic it will all work out.
This is the third post on the topic of creating our nest in Sri Lanka. To see what you might have missed before this post, check out: