In June, I had the opportunity to sit down and have an in-depth chat with Lalin Design’s founder, Lalin Jinasena. Hailing from the Jinasena Group engineering and hotel dynasty, you would have expected him to enter solely into the family business. Instead, he has worked laterally and had his hands on a multitude of projects and side businesses of his own accord, always centered around contemporary design and wanting to challenge Sri Lanka’s notion of classic, traditional style. By 2016, Lalin had accumulated an interesting and award-winning portfolio of interior design, building renovation, furniture design and production and conceptual design. Lalin Designs was created to showcase the best of what Lalin had to offer, but as I find out, he is ever a perfectionist and an ideas man on a mission.
It’s almost like a scene from a movie: a pre-teen boy sits alone in his room with a sketchpad, madly scrawling design plans and ideas. He is sick of his bedroom furniture. It is structurally sound, but it is boring. It could be more functional. That lamp is so stock standard and run of the mill – but why does it have to be? The desk looks like any other desk in any other bedroom around Sri Lanka. Lalin Jinasena decided to take matters into his own hands and completely redesign his childhood bedroom from the bottom up. And he didn’t stop there. Next, he took to his family factory so he could make his ideas a reality. And Lalin doesn’t overlook just how lucky he was to have all this athis disposal. Not all boys are able to turn a daydream into a real product: multiple pieces of furniture. And once he started, he became hooked on the process of designing and making.
“I used to design all kinds of furniture for my bedroom because I was not happy about what was there, so all the lights, beds, chairs: every piece of furniture in my room I designed and physically had to make myself… I know I was quite lucky to have that ability and it made me want to explore more and more and be creative. And not only to just create, but to make the pieces unique.”
When he was around 8 years old, photography entered Lalin’s life. His father would haul him along on jungle safaris and they would spend days traipsing around to capture those illusive “perfect” wildlife shots with his Nikon camera. “So when it came to photography, it was more my father’s pushing – well not pushing – but in critical eye that he had: he was a photographer as well. But you know, he was brutally honest with me which made me improve,” Lalin recalls. This ethos of striving for a better outcome, pushing oneself to create an image just so – certainly did play a role in shaping Lalin Jinasena, the designer.
A couple of years later Lalin was faced with the decision about which bachelor’s degree to undertake. He was lucky enough to have been sent away to the UK to a prestigious university. This was the crossroads for Lalin: “The choice was there: my father wanted me to go do mechanical engineering which was that traditional old engineering that he did. But when I went to university, in the preliminary years in England, I came across this course which gave a beautiful, broad description on how to design ANYTHING. So you didn’t have to specialise in architectural or automative design – it taught you how to design anything. That was the beauty of the degree that I followed.” It was not a faint-hearted choice, and demonstrated Lalin’s passion and desire for design which would continue to this day.
After completing university and four years of thriving in his element, Lalin chose to add some business brains to his design skills by undertaking a Masters in Business Management: “My intention was to come back and work for my family’s business which was quite a big company at the time. So the expectations were for me to come back and start that. So I did.
And the business degree helped.” Lalin finished his masters in 2001. At that time his family owned two hotels and he was put in charge of managing them both. Eventually, Lalin craved more. He moved out and acquired Casa Colombo, “Which was my own.” For those unfamiliar, Casa Colombo was a historic mansion purchased by Lalin in 2006 and restored in the record time of eight months. Lalin opened Casa Colombo’s doors as a boutique hotel with twelve stylish suites, restaurants and bar.
With this project, he was free to decorate, design and personally craft every piece of furniture and wall art in whichever way he pleased. The 200-year-old building was Lalin’s blank canvass to take risks with, and really do his own thing: “A touch of wit – there is a lot of quirkiness in Casa Colombo, and I wanted to be a bit cheeky in something! Just because I could and it was my own project, so I could take some liberties. The nudes in the pool side. Things which are a little bit risky – but they’re meant to be fun! And make it not so serious. Pink lips phones, an abstract mural of people entwined and kissing.” After the notoriety of Casa Colombo – Lalin won multiple acclaims – followed Collection Mirissa, the Mahout Adventure Club, Michelle Therese Atelier Store, Oceana Apartments and Villas and Park West Apartments and Royal Lotus Hotel. Lalin picked up commissions to design home for some of the most renowned people in Colombo. He was now in high demand and busy doing what he loved.
Lalin had proven himself as a capable hotelier. He had also confirmed himself as a design force to be reckoned with for interiors, furniture and building renovation. Next was to conquer the building design market, and to make that and his other endeavours renowned. In 2015, Lalin Design was launched as a business to bring the myriad of projects Lalin had been involved with to the forefront. “I started Lalin Design – it was about becoming more public with my work. Because a lot of the stuff I had been doing was for my own businesses and private clients who I knew.”
Lalin Design offers not only interior and furniture design services, but building renovations and concept design. Interiors is what he’s been known for, but Lalin maintains that his core focus these days is on building design. “I do the full service with my own architects who carry out the structural side of planning and translate my work. So I work from start to finish with home owners, hotels, café owners,” Lalin says. Each new undertaking, he is careful to do the groundwork before planning. “I take the time to understand what the requirements are. Say I have a hotel project. Some people just jump into it and start putting lots of wood everywhere, and they think that it meets the standard. But it’s important to understand who this is for. It’s important to understand what type of client you have and what type of customers they wish to attract. To gather an understanding of what these people want to achieve and what they are able to achieve financially. I need to be in that space, and when I am in that space – I can’t describe it – but I see. You know? I see what that space should be. I see the elements come into my mind and what it should feel like, look like. And from there I get a core fundamental feel of the place.”
When asked to pinpoint the Lalin Design signature style, Lalin is quick to lay to rest any notions that Casa Colombo or Juce is the embodiment of everything he does, specifically his building work. “Retro chic – was a phrase we came up with for Casa… for Casa I wanted something totally out there; not done before. But that’s not to say that that’s my complete style. My style is very contemporary, very clean lines, almost Scandinavian” – which leads us to what’s next for Lalin Jinasena.
On the Lalin Designs front, the company is trying its design hands outside of Sri Lanka with large-scale building design projects commencing in both China and India. Clean lines, warm inviting spaces, something different and eye catching: Lalin ensures their developments are anything but ordinary. Back in Sri Lanka, Juce Hotels is yet another venture in the works. Juce Hotels is at the other end of the spectrum to Casa Colombo with the simple premise of offering a hotel which is unique and funky yet affordable for all. It is something Lalin is looking to expand in Sri Lanka and make it a brand, a stylish accommodation more accessible. “Juce is different from anywhere else you’d be paying $70-$80 a night, which would normally be quite basic.”
When asked about what’s in store for Lalin Jinasera, he replies with a grin: “To be honest I’m a little restless. I like to create new things all the time.” He is currently in the end stages of opening his own furniture store near Town Hall, called “Space”. Space will be offering imported pieces – modern European styled furniture which is not easy to come by in Sri Lanka. Lalin, ever the photography buff, will have a gallery attached to display his current photographic art works.
No. 16, Flower Road