It is difficult to categorize a man with many talents, but it is certain, classy, calm, and charming are words that describe both Thanuj Goonewardena and 55TG Boutique Suites. Thanuj is the owner and designer of 55 TG and his story begins in a historic provincial city, where he left home as a 6-year-old boy to enter boarding school at the esteemed Trinity College Kandy. Even as a child, Thanuj had an affinity for the divine and the arts; he recalls enjoying harmonies of the school choir echoing through the chapel, and was fascinated seeing the larger-than-life paintings by David Paynter. Thanuj never comprehended a division between people of different races and religions, and being a Sinhala – Buddhist child in a Christian missionary college only extended his liberalism in thought and style – evident in his private collection of paintings, sculptures, and ephemera that can be found all across the space of 55TG. Growing up in the era of TV, Rock, Techno, and Trance further added to his elusive and eccentric style.
As a young adult, Thanuj embarked on a very successful modeling career and it wouldn’t be a surprise if you recognize his handsome face, considering his extensive repertoire of TV commercials and advertorial shoots. Whilst continuing to appear in commercials and on-ramps, with exposure to clothing design, Thanuj pursued his métier in hotel management by enrolling at the Ceylon Hotel School, a natural fit given his family background in hospitality and tourism; during this time, he found his panache working at the established Kandalama Hotel, working alongside legends such as Geoffry Bawa, Ena DeSilva Alluvihare, and Laki Senanayake. Thanuj was thrown into the deep end of contemporary Sri Lankan architecture, art, sculpture, and batik, and recalls this experience as “A sensory heaven, its as if life begun – This is when I first realized I was born to create.”.
Keen to further his education in the hospitality sector, Thanuj moved to Australia with a heavy heart, but was excited for the learning experience that lay ahead, “I was exposed to interior design & style worked at the Sheraton Mirage, Travelodge, and started painting and sculpting too, but was very happy to return home to a greater civilization with more depth in history and art.” he said. Equipped with a degree in Hospitality and Design from Griffith University (Australia), Thanuj returned to Sri Lanka in 1998 to take over the family business with his brothers; transforming the small, family-run hotel with Channa Daswatta, into a popular hotel chain, Thilanka Hotels. Simultaneously, Thanuj was also building his house bordering the Victoria Reservoir, “This is when I was first inspired to churn out each detail and instruction given by Channa Daswatta and Ruchira Wickramasinghe, with every challenge they bestowed upon me I was thrilled to achieve hands-on experience with contemporary Sri Lankan Architectural detailing.” he shared. Thanuj’s house, now known as ‘The Hermitage Kandy’, an Edward Collection Hotel – is a space that is close to his heart as it established him as an interior designer; he later worked with many influential architects such as Chamika De Alwis, Muditha Jayakody, and Darnie Rajapakse.
When asked about the inspiration behind 55TG, Thanuj simply stated, “Amma, Amma, Amma” – his mother. After learning that his mother has been diagnosed with cancer, Thanuj decided to take a break from his illustrious career and seat as a Director of Thilanka hotels in Kandy and Dambulla and moved to Colombo to stay with his mother. During this time, Chamika De Alwis invited him to assist with designing and building the interiors of Maniumpathy and Mangroove, Colombo, and the Stone House – Kandy, resulting in a brilliant success, prompting him to renovate and remodel his grandfather’s house into the luxurious and exclusive 55TG Boutique Suites. It was imperative to Thanuj that he conserved the intricate details and characteristics of his grandfather’s house (which was built in the 1920s). Walking into 55TG you can appreciate the seamless amalgamation of colonial detailing with contemporary Sri Lankan architecture and design. “I started Renovating and remodeling 55TG with Architectural assistance from Chamika, the bonus was that I got to fight with Amma every day, which actually made her forget about her cancer, and to add, she was very happy seeing her father’s house transforming back to what she remembered as a child”, he said.
“A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because her trust is not in the branch but in her wings” In conversation about the pandemic, Thanuj said that while it has not affected him, it has changed the scope of business as they now experience a higher percentage of local guests. 55TG is also the quintessential venue for intimate, celebratory events such as weddings, engagements, and baby showers; and it undoubtedly the perfect setting for fashion photography and Thanuj has opened his doors at 55TG for such purposes. Moreover, Thanuj is taking the pandemic in stride, saying it was most opportune for a much-needed break, “It’s as if I was waiting for it to happen, to step back from the rat race, time to revive, rethink and apply to the new norm. I am an artist and artists need rest, time, and space for inspiration. Currently, I’m designing beautiful spaces with almost 90% local material, bringing back the titanium cement floors, terracotta, unpolished stone, and local art & craft.” he said.
M e r a k i – to put something of yourself into your work – Soul, creativity, love.
Intelligence is creativity having fun – Thanuj said he believes in fusion- between now and then and everything in between. In his words, “My taste is simple, I am easily satisfied with the best. As an Interior designer, I try to do the best I can until I know better. Once I know better I do better too – make it simple but significant. I would describe my style as Sri Lankan contemporary tweaked with period pieces – with a massive emphasis on nature; Responsibly Restored, Repurposed, Recycled and Reused.”. Selenya Boutique Hotel in Thalpe is another work of art by Thanuj. The premise behind the design of Selenya was for the focal point to be the natural backdrop of the Indian ocean and palm trees, directing the eye to the outdoors, thus keeping the interior clean and minimal. “Shades of turquoise with Sukhabumi tiles in turquoise, greys and beige color, the upholstery in muted tones, the paintings- mythical seascapes, whitewashed, white floors highlighted with blue patterned tiles and details in cane”, he described. In contrast, with 55TG – a city hotel, the aim was to bring the focus inward, ensuring the interest is captured within the walls, creating an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city outside.
W a b i S a b i – To discover the beauty in imperfection; the acceptance of the cycle of life and death.
Energy collects like water pools, and the energy collected within 55TG is pure, radiant, and happy. Thanuj describes it as a ‘home-stay, and while 55TG makes you feel at home, guests can also enjoy the timeless pieces of art and exuberant, designer interior spaces that will surely revitalize anyone during their stay there. “Contemporary Sri Lankan fussed with colonial elements with an essence of our rich historical details: Dumbara, Batik, Wewal, and many other local design elements are blended with Indo-Portuguese furniture, Persian rugs, Egyptian Cotton, Venetian glass, Bohemian crystal, and more, to complete rich and vibrant interiors.” he elaborated. 55TG is truly an “An artists retreat”- an oasis in the heart of Colombo, filled with high vibrating, positive energy that will leave you feeling elevated and inspired, long after your stay.