I am sipping king coconut water with V U Kumar, “the fiercest partner in PwC” in recent history, according to a host of its former audit and advisory workforce. Never one to suffer fools gladly, it would appear that the Indian Ocean breeze has mellowed the burly accountant. When mention of his fearsome reputation is made, he laughs out loud, a deep hearty bellow that lets you know it is a title he is tickled by and one he gladly accepts.
Life by design
We are at Villa Sielen Diva, a stunning seven-room property in Galle, Sri Lanka. Officially unveiled last August, it bears the ancient Greek name for the island or, as other historical texts argue, was named by the 6th-century Greek merchant and explorer, Cosmas Indicopleustes. Set on a one-acre plot right on Talpe beach, sandwiched between the popular holiday enclaves of Unawatuna and Mihiripenna, and a mere 15-minute drive from Galle and its Unesco-listed old town, it is a beautiful structure, a temple dedicated to tropical Cubism. “The family initially wanted a Geoffrey Bawa house,” he says, referring to the pre-eminent Sri Lankan architect. “But in Sri Lanka, it’s Bawa everywhere, so we decided on something different.” V U does concede, though, that some classic principles were incorporated, such as an expansive courtyard and open spaces so typical of the region.
In Sri Lanka, seafront land is, historically, much cheaper than the infinitely more desirable and valuable farmland. Fishermen, who lived by the seaside, were also traditionally of the lowest caste. All that has changed, though, given how high-net-worth individuals are snapping up snazzy seafront properties the world over, from nearby Sentosa Cove in Singapore to Vaucluse in Sydney. Although Villa Sielen Diva was designed by Sara Franco, with much of the ID taken care of by Philippe Villeroux, for the Kumar family — V U’s wife Suria Malar and daughters Lavanya and Priyanka — it is ultimately a labour of love. “The family went through numerous iterations, arguments and whatnot. I guess that’s one way to get a family fully connected,” laughs V U.
It might come as a surprise that fixer-upping is actually a passion of V U’s. His own home in Kuala Lumpur, built two decades ago, was done from the ground up. “I’m just a bored accountant,” he chuckles. “This is the third house we have built, not including overseeing the renovation of three flats in London. After so many years of working, it’s become a case of ‘been there, done that’,” he says, referring to the oftentimes black-and-white world of assurance and financial advisory. “I was advised that I was crazy to venture and build in Sri Lanka but [as they say] there’s only one way to find out.”
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