Lady Helen Hamlyn uses the French word douceur, meaning pleasantness, to describe the essence of Chittoor Kottaram, a former residence of the Cochin Royal Family. At the helm of the eponymous Helen Hamlyn Trust (HHT), the 84-year-old is the force behind the palace’s recent restoration.
Having acquired an insight into the complex and intricate art of preservation from years of engaging in conservation of heritage, in different parts of the world, she says, “I treat every building like a person.”
In its over 300 years of existence Chittoor Kottaram, now, after restoration, wears its charm once again, with a feel of the times when the Cochin Raja graced it, coming down to attend the functions at the adjacent Krishna temple.
Beyond the padippura, the formal entrance, its majestic grandeur looms. Seated on the refurbished verandah, facing the serene backwaters, Lady Hamlyn relishes the quietness that envelops its two storeys. It is a reason she chose to associate with it, having fallen in love with its very private ambiance.
“Chittoor is perfect; it is a retreat,” she says, talking animatedly about the completion of her latest project.
“The important thing in restoration is that you take up a piece of heritage and restore it without destroying its essence,” she says.
Latha Raman Jaigopal whose firm had carried out major restoration works on the structure in 2005 at the behest of the owner from the royal family, Suresh Namboothiri, was engaged to do so again by Lady Hamlyn. Of the first restoration, Latha says that it was merely strengthening of the structure. This time, it was about taking it back to its original condition. Latha adds, “Lady Hamlyn took it back to the original flavour a little more.” For instance, she modernised the pond, converting it into a pool, but kept to the old and used material like laterite stone. It covers the concrete base making it both functional and antique.