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Profile of the Month: Ashish Manchharam

Stepping from Dickson Road into the recently reopened Wanderlust offers welcome respite from the afternoon heat: The shady entryway opens into an expansive lobby, where the furniture is comfortable, the color palette soothing, and the atmosphere inviting — it’s tasteful and sophisticated but in no way grandiose.

“We’ve received a lot of intrigue, particularly during renovation, and positive support from the Jalan Besar community, and the reaction from our very first guests, both local and international, has been really encouraging,” says Mr. Ashish Manchharam, founder and managing director of 8M Real Estate, which launched the accommodation concept.

Despite the unexpected COVID-19 situation exerting a negative impact on its opening, Wanderlust has seen an uptick in staycation guests, he adds. “And what better spot to explore than the vibrant neighborhood of Little India?”

Housed in a 1920s art deco building in the Little India neighborhood, Wanderlust reopened this February following an extensive renovation, which transformed it into a flexible living concept that accommodates both short- and long-term stays. Its four floors house 29 rooms divided into five categories, representing lofts, studios and rooms.

Other facilities and features include a complimentary laundry service, an onsite Mama Shop offering a selection of locally sourced products for guests to prepare in their in-room kitchenettes; and Kotuwa, a Sri Lankan restaurant and bar helmed by chef Rishi Naleendra of Cheek Bistro and Cloudstreet that is slated to open this month.

“[Rishi and I] have always talked about the gap in market for Sri Lankan food, so when we were developing the Wanderlust concept, we re-engaged the conversation about a modern take on this cuisine for the ground floor,” 

Mr. Manchharam says. “The location made it that little bit more interesting, serving Sri Lankan flavors in Little India.”

Modernizing a hundred-year-old conservation building to suit the contemporary traveler’s requirements while retaining the character of the property took careful consideration.

Besides changing the decor from eclectically themed rooms, from when the building was a boutique hotel owned and operated by Unlisted Collection, to a more cohesive look, the refurbishment introduced conveniences conceived with traveling professionals in mind, such as work desks, storage solutions and kitchenettes in the majority of the rooms.

The original Peranakan tiles and stained-glass windows that adorn the building façade were preserved too, to maintain the property’s connection to its beginnings as the former Hong Wen School.

Another of the few things retained was the name “Wanderlust” — “Wanderlust has ‘legacy’ within the neighborhood and with locals of Singapore, and we didn’t want to lose this, but instead we wanted to show what a little reimagination could do to bring a fresh perspective to both the hotel and the area,” Mr. Manchharam explains. “Heritage restoration and community rejuvenation lies at the heart of our business, so our accommodation concepts are always extremely considered.”

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