Home in a restored colonial villa

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
‘We held onto the fundamentals of the original design: big rooms, high ceilings, open spaces, louvre windows, ‘ says Anthony Simms. Scott Howes

Home in a restored colonial villa

Walking up a wide curved staircase a smoky-sweet scent greets us, pervading the entire corridor. Tan Sopheap, 28, beckons us from the other end of her apartment. In the background violin riffs blare from a widescreen TV playing an old war movie.

The tiled floors provide cool relief from the midday heat, and the half-closed shutters cast shadows over the hall.

In Daun Penh’s Post Office Square stands a beautifully decrepit French colonial building, which was once a grand hotel called the Manolis.

It now houses the penthouse apartment that Tan shares with her Australian partner, Anthony Simms, 42, and their two daughters, Emilia, 5, and Amy, 5 months.

Simms is away in Afghanistan when we visit where he works as a technical adviser for American NGO the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The couple moved in some five years ago, but the renovations took almost three years.

Despite making some modern touches, Simms was keen to retain many of the building’s original features. “Colonial architecture has a huge amount of charm that is senseless to put to waste, and there isn’t a great deal of it left in the city.”

Tan Sopheap
Tan Sopheap used to be a professional chef. Favourite dishes? ‘Khmer food – a little bit sweet and sour.’ Scott Howes

The apartment’s original features are complemented with exotic touches from the couple’s travels. There’s a painting from Myanmar where they went on holiday two years ago, a multitude of furnishings, trinkets and antiques from Afghanistan and a tribal mask from Papua New Guinea. “My mum’s very scared when she sees this,” Tan chuckles.

Kitchen countertop bowls bulge with produce; there’s fresh rambutan here and garlic there.

But this isn’t a show home, where the mother puts on the airs and graces of being the perfect housewife. Tan is a generous host and a former chef (at the Rising Sun). Emilia sits at the kitchen table happily devouring the dried beef and rice cooked by her mother. The same dried beef that perfumes the air with its smoky-sweet scent.

Tan hasn’t always shared Simms’s enthusiasm for their apartment.

“When I first moved here, I thought ‘Oh my God’. I was scared because I thought the old building would maybe fall down one day. But Anthony’s fixed it and it’s a great place [now]. I love it.”

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,