Exterior view of Villa Talangama and grounds
Villa Talangama in Colombo really is ‘exclusive’ – available to one party at a time. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

A surviving chronicle of what once was

In an earlier life, I made a living promoting the virtues of wood – particularly the sustainably managed varieties – for a number of local and international clients.

It was a job that targeted markets across Australasia, much of Asia, parts of Africa and the US. In all cases, the ‘personality’ and story-telling potential of things made with wood was at the heart of the marketing messages.

Which is undoubtedly why my eye was drawn to the piece of furniture pictured here (below). It was among many elegantly presented wooden items on display at Villa Talangama – a graceful retreat in a quiet suburb of Colombo where we stayed at the end of a recent trip.

Chest featuring 48 Sri Lankan timber species. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

High-ranking officer

Turns out the chest of 48 equal-sized boxes was commissioned by a high-ranking Sri Lankan military officer (and later assistant conservator of forests), circa 1940-45. It features polished and unpolished examples of all the commercially available timbers in the country at that time.

The chest was acquired from a relative about five years ago by the villa’s owner Hamish De Silva. “When I got it, the chest was covered in a very thick coat of varnish of a very dark hue,” he told Natural Images. “I had all the varnish sanded down and applied a colourless sealer.”

Nice result and a great conversation piece. That’s the beauty of wood!

For more than 400 years up to 1948, a succession of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists chewed through vast quantities of the Sri Lanka’s premium timbers, including furniture favourites such as: jak, ebony, calamander, satinwood, nadun and teak.

Tree harvesting from remaining severely threatened natural forests was eventually stopped in 1989.

©Natural Images 2019

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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