Project Team

Design: Nayantara ‘Taru’ Fonseka

A luxurious addition to Sri Lanka’s hotel scene: River House is an exclusive riverside hotel set in 7 acres of tropical gardens, with access to a near-private beach.

Sri Lankans insist that their country’s true beauty lies hidden in the interior. Less than two miles inland along an unmarked dirt path, River House announces itself with breathtaking views of the Madhu River.
The 5 huge suites are uber-generous and mix contemporary style with Sri Lankan touches featuring slate plunge pools, vaulted ceilings, enormous bathrooms with polished concrete floors and kingsize beds covered with intricate Indian bedspreads. This is more like a luxury private villa than a hotel, and it’s as peaceful as it gets.

Named after precious rivers – Menik, Gin, Kirinda, Kala and Walawe, each suite is a sanctuary unto itself and speaks an imaginative language of design – a creative vision entailing vibrant colours, fine furniture and the surrounding wilderness that promises utmost privacy. The decor bears distinctive influences of traditional South Asian design. The suites are appointed with exquisite Ceylon antiques and vibrant Indian textiles; generously proportioned bathrooms are spotless industrial chic.

Sri Lanka’s foremost designer Nayantara ‘Taru’ Fonseka certainly had a knack for choosing the best waterside location when she created The River House. ‘Taru’ uses indigenous wood and antiques, period furniture and drapes from India, Thailand and Indonesia.

The following information is extracted from ‘Living in Sri Lanka’ by Turtle Bunbury and James Fennell:

In 2002 Colombo-based interior designer Nayantara Fonseka acquired a seven-acre site amid the once flourishing cinnamon belt. The property included a dilapidated wattle and daub bungalow from the 1950s. Between August 2003 and July 2004, she orchestrated the conversion of the bungalow into a spectacular riverside guest house. It was a laborious process, commencing with the reconstruction of the original termite and dry rot riddled walls.

A new Romanesque villa was then constructed around these walls, consisting of a main living area and four separate suites. Each suite comprises a generously proportioned bedroom and spacious bathroom. The latter takes full advantage of Sri Lanka’s prime weather pattern and allow for both indoor and outdoor bathing. Likewise, each suite has its own shaded courtyard enabling guests to enjoy the sounds of nature in private.

The River House stands on a raised hillock looking north to the river. When Fonseka began the reconstruction, the river was out of sight, submerged in a rampant wilderness that had taken over the former cinnamon estate. A dozen men from the nearby villages of Balapitiya and Ambalangoda were recruited to clear the unruly jungle. In gratitude, a large number of hitherto neglected fruit trees – olive, goraka, mango, coconut and lime – began to bear fruit again. The land was then replanted with vegetables, spices, rice and further fruits that now adorn the River House’s acclaimed dinner menu. A swimming pool and pavilion were subsequently set into the garden, and a fifth completely detached honeymoon suite built a short distance from the river bank. The latter additions are connected to the main house by a series of interweaving paths, each beholding an alternative view of the river marsh, paddy fields and rejuvenated garden.

In furnishing the property, Fonseka took a similar approach to that which she had successfully employed at “Taru Villas” (qv) in Bentota. She travelled Sri Lanka from the northern Jaffna peninsula to Galle, selecting specific pieces of furniture from antique shops and traders along the way. Some of the “Jaffna” doors and windows originally belonged to houses in the north and east destroyed in the civil war. She also ventured to Thailand and India where she sourced many of the various fabrics and decorative features. Where she could, Fonseka stylized the property with custom-built sofas, tables and box lamps.