Buzz with Danu: Irangii De Silva Kalugampitiya

Jun 29 2022.

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Today on the Buzz I feature someone who enjoys everything old and vintage; the older the better. I have this crazy love for antiques and when we met we sure had some good conversations about it. Vintage Home Gallery Founder Irangii De Silva Kalugampitiya is an old Girl of Ladies’ College, and she was awarded an honourary title Keerthi Shri Deshamanya, the second-highest national title of Sri Lanka, at a ceremony held at the BMICH last Saturday.

Her positive social impact by Vintage Home Gallery and directly contributing to the welfare of at least 42 less fortunate families were taken into consideration amongst many other meritorious activities by the select committee when awarding the prestigious title.

1. What made you take up this business?
I find myself someone who has a great vision and find that I am usually well ahead of my time in business.
Having grown up in my mother’s house surrounded by antiques, I was introduced to old pieces at an early age that I grew to be familiar with and love. The great passion I had for collecting antiques made me wonder how it would be to share this with others who are like-minded, but of course, I wanted to be different.

Almost out of curiosity I started a page on Social Media, just to ascertain what the response might be and to my utter shock, the response was phenomenal. Thus was born Vintage Home Gallery, the first-ever antique store on a social media platform in Sri Lanka. This was six years ago, and today I have inspired hundreds of others to trade online, which helped them immensely especially during Covid lockdowns.
The business has now grown to a retail space down Stratford Avenue on Gandhara street, with 2 workshops alongside the digital and warehousing space.

2. What is the demand for antiques in Sri Lanka ?
The antique industry was a very well-guarded niche market if I am to say so, however, in the last three decades, there has been a huge growth with many architects and designers taking a keen interest in recreating old architectural buildings, and houses and furnishing them with old pieces.

Till this time more down south pieces and Kandyan pieces were well known but with the end of the war, the Jaffna peninsula also became accessible, and more travel and more business opportunities inevitably happened, creating a boom in Jaffna and Batticoloa antiques.

During the war, antique columns that were sold to the local bakeries for Rs 50 per kg started selling for their real value helping builders and designers to recreate an old-world charm that would have been otherwise forgotten and lost in history.
3. How can one pick out what is an original and how to identify a fake ?
This is a very tricky situation and most often people / buyers fall prey to a fake because the antique industry is a very vast one, with furniture, jewellery, pottery, brass, bronze, and copperware. While identifying furniture is relatively easy, statues and some other artifacts are not that easily identifiable unless otherwise one is an expert and has absolutely great knowledge.

One can’t always be blamed for their inability to identify and tell pieces apart from real and fake as most fakes are manufactured to look near original, and only an expert or with a practiced eye can really tell the difference.

The proportions of the furniture, the carvings on them, the patina, and the workmanship are all attributes to closely scrutinize if one were to tell the two apart, which comes easily to an antique dealer or trader.
Though this might be difficult for a first-timer, with time and experience one can learn how to identify furniture, by studying or researching through books, visiting museums and galleries.
4. What sets you apart from others who have curated in the same area ?
Vintage Home Gallery is credited with opening the Sri Lanka antique market to the world out there; for the first-ever time in the history of Sri Lanka, antiques were traded online on a social media platform.
The concept was so new to the country and consumers that ‘Trust’ was of paramount importance.
“what you see is exactly what you get” was the motto at Vintage Home Gallery.  I was in the business for the long haul, and it was very important that I sold genuine pieces, that were well restored and polished so that customers had confidence and faith in their purchases and of course in me... There were lots of ‘follow me’ sellers just after I started Vintage Home Gallery, who did not last much longer as they were all in it to make a quick buck.
5. What has been your favourite project to do ?
Working with some architects has been an immeasurable pleasure for me. Seeing those projects come alive has been an immense joy. There were some down south villas I furnished and to this date, I have not even seen the client in person as we were always online, but she had complete trust and faith in me to deliver a quality product on time.
6. 27 Suppliers islandwide work with you, how have you picked them and what do they bring to your store ?
A supplier is a key stakeholder in this or any business for that matter. Their integrity and sincerity are very important to me. If you have great suppliers, one can acquire great pieces from ebony to calamander which are now really far and few between. When choosing suppliers it is crucial that they can cover many geographical areas though I specialize in Jaffna pieces.
7. Price points are very important, how do you mark them, and what is the range we are looking at?
Antiques vary from furniture and collectibles to Jewellry, Silverware, Brass, copper, bronzes, and pottery fetching all different prices in each of those segments. While I can confidently say that prices at Vintage Home Gallery are extremely competitive with the market rate, sometimes even below-market rates.
However high-end pieces like Anglo-Indian furniture, Dutch Furniture, and other very high-end, very old antiques made from Calamander and Ebony can fetch a very high price.

Amongst antiques are also everyday pieces made from Jackwood, which usually fetch a relatively lower price than those rare ones made from ebony, king Ebony, and Calamander and etc.

8 . What is your favourite era in history to recreate...

I do not like to think of reproductions as that confuses the clientele resulting in them even denying and questioning anything original I have for sale at the Vintage Home Gallery.
However, if ever I were to dream of ever recreating anything that spectacular, it would certainly be Indo-Portuguese and Dutch furniture.


Danu Innasithamby

Danu is a Jaffna Boy with a Marketing qualification (only because he needed to study, and not because he wanted it). He has been a part of the team for seven years and is the face behind Buzz with Danu, and WTF.


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