Introducing Anouk Brouwer and Arnoud Oostenbroek
The Tabula Rasa Villa boutique hotel brings together Arnoud’s commercial, architectural and design knowledge in real estate projects as well as international retail space building and planning, with Anouk's experience as a designer & manufacturer of furnitures & home accessories and luxury villa letting.
Unable to find the right kind of furniture for the villa, they have designed everything from scratch: the furniture and home accessories including lamps, beds, tables. Even the unusual black-tinged mosquito nets. The photographs taken by Arnoud throughout their six-month Asia trip now elegantly grace their rooms.
As European entrepreneurs, for over 25 years they have owned companies in the Netherlands, France and Myanmar. In addition to Tabula Rasa in Sri Lanka, they designed and created apartments and country houses in the Netherlands, as well as luxury villas in France.
How were you able to envisage what the villa has now become? Anouk: I should pose this question to Arnoud as he is the three-dimensional thinker – he saw immediately what we could do, eg the porch area normally used to park the car we were able to transform into a better space. The house just felt right using the old elements as a foundation. I trusted Arnoud to have a good vision – after all I’ve known him for 27 years! Arnoud: for every space I have changed or built, I always close my eyes and just visualise 70 per cent or 80 per cent of it – every door, every wall. Then I start sketching, then building. For me, 15 per cent will always change within the build, and that’s where the magic happens. An example of this was looking at the wall near the lily pond and deciding to make it more of a courtyard style. Then it clicked – I can also have our logo in there.
What part of the villa do you especially like? Anouk: Yeah, I love the living room and the porch (entrance) area with the water features, all the lighting and the shades – I like the inside/ outside feeling although, actually, I like all of the villa. Arnoud: difficult ‘cos I like everything. I’m not a fan of square, big open spaces. I like secret hideaways and secret spaces. I like sitting here, outside on the porch, watching the fish in the lily pond. And I like that some of the ‘jungle’ has been kept in the garden to create natural private spaces around the eating area.
How does your work with the villa benefit the local Sri Lankan community? Anouk: we built this house with a team of about 20 skilled masons, helpers and painters – there must be around 40 Sri Lankans who have worked with us. We employ a guard, chef, pool-man, cleaners, drivers, and a manager. We also have a network of local drivers. We buy food such as fresh tuna, and prawns locally for the employees and for our guests. Arnoud: Quality is paramount and we first look to the people around us. Whether it’s grocers, masons, drivers. I can see that people who worked for us are buying new bikes and renovating their own places. In terms of efficiency, we built this villa in a year, as opposed to the two everyone said it would take.
Say something about the other person Anouk: Arnoud is first of all a very good person; secondly very talented and passionate about most things in life but mainly the things he can create – music, writing, design – furniture and architecture. He is also hard working and resilient. I appreciate these qualities. He loves to give back and to create a comfortable environment for others, He thinks about the welfare of others. Arnoud: difficult not to sound corny but we work so well as a team. Anouk balances me. All our creative designs are done together – from my head and then taken by her to another level. She’s also really good working around the government and public sphere – she is patient and has a natural flair for taking people on a journey.
What inspires you creatively/artistically/architecturally? Anouk: I like to work directly with the local people, combining our skills and knowledge with local craftspeople, often using natural materials. We found some woven wood waiting to be burned but we saw they could become beautiful kitchen and bathroom doors. The Sri Lankan craftspeople we were working with saw the result of their labours being transformed into wonderfully designed doors. So, something that was going to be thrown away became something sustainable and beautiful.
Again, this table came in a truck of raw materials, sliced woods. The craftspeople set up a workshop outside the villa and made the bespoke table in front of eyes! But even before that, our table was being used as a standing platform for the carpenters: once again, something that may have been thrown out became a sustainable and beautiful piece of furniture.
Arnoud: everything. People, music, life itself. It’s all one blur. I love music, from classical to Foo Fighters to Frank Sinatra. And I have a small den with my kids where we hang out to play music together.
The icon I designed and previously mentioned uses the Chinese circle that symbolises prosperity between men and women when they get married, whilst the four corners represent east, west, south, north – infinity in fact. I added the five points to indicate myself, Anouk and our three children. When I created this logo 15, 16 years ago I dreamt it would be the brand for my business. And now it is.