Living in the Seychelles: a blend of tradition and modernity
If the natural environment of the Seychelles has remained virtually pristine up to the present day, this is largely due to the late arrival of humans to the archipelago. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the first French settlers came, along with a few dozen Europeans, Africans and Asians. In 1814, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Seychelles came under British rule. At the time there were about three thousand inhabitants. Expansion of the coconut, sugar cane and cotton plantations attracted an influx of people from many different countries, giving rise to the melting pot of races, religions and traditions that marks today’s Creole society. This diversity had a profound impact on the archipelago’s art, cuisine and culture – and of course its architecture, which still today shows signs of its varied origins. Seychelles buildings are inspired by their French and British colonial past but have been adapted to the climate and locally available materials. The layout is typically square or rectangular, the wooden vertical structures are supported by piles or granite boulders, and the floors and walls are also made of wood. The doors, windows and large internal openings are positioned in such a way as to promote natural ventilation and to protect from the heat. For the same reason there is always a veranda: sheltered from the sun and cradled by the breeze, it is the hub of domestic and social life. The broad sloping roofs are made from exposed wood beams, while waterproofing was originally provided by palm leaves, followed in later times by wood shingles and more recently corrugated sheet metal, a solution still widely adopted today. Apart from the materials used in different periods, these same construction principles have been adopted on the house examined in this article, purchased in October 2011 by a group of European friends as a holiday home. The residence is located on Mahé, the largest of the 115 islands in the archipelago and the most important economically and culturally (it has 73,000 inhabitants, 90% of the entire population of the Seychelles).
The group of friends fell in love with the house as soon as they saw it. Although the structure needed considerable work, they all agreed that it was worth the investment as the architectural characteristics and layout were exactly what they were looking for. The refurbishing work included completely renovating the bathrooms, restoring the exposed wood beams of the roof and the woodwork of the veranda, restoring the deteriorated plaster, adapting the plumbing and electrical systems and installing a classic ceiling fan in each room. But the biggest contribution to the house’s elegant contemporary yet traditional look was made by installing Cemento colour large-format ceramic tiles from Casamood’s Neutra collection and painting the walls in a coordinated colour using paint supplied by the same company. „This product was chosen not only for its eye-catching colour and pleasant surface but also for the fact that the 4 mm thick panels could be installed directly over the obsolete existing floor,“ said architect Dagmar Engels-Teriet.