Sweni bush lodge
Singita’s Sweni Lodge remains an icon of contemporary South African design. The creation of a local design team, Sweni and its neighbour, the less publicity-shy Lebombo Lodge, heralded the arrival of a new lexicon in game-lodge design that is luxurious while remaining distinctly local. The lodges, as interior designer Boyd Ferguson of Cécile and Boyd’s aptly says, generated a ‘euphoria about showcasing Africa in a new way – not the clichés’. At the time it felt ‘extremely risky’, he says. Fortunately, the gamble for Boyd, business partner Paul van den Berg and architects Joy Brasler and OMM Design Workshop paid off with the lodges collecting a swathe of international awards and the design concept prompting a slew of imitators. The Singita Group concession where the lodges are located is in a wilderness area of the Kruger National Park, on its border with Mozambique. Sweni sits squat on the Sweni River’s edge and consequently its design throughout is earthy and grounded. Boyd chose a colour palette of charcoal, chocolate, pistachio and moss along with dark wood to reflect the shades of the bush and surrounds. ‘Sweni is dug down, like nests, surrounded by the river and verdant trees.’ Sweni’s six suites are essentially glass boxes raised on stilts, with an open-plan layout, glass sliding doors leading onto private balconies and outdoor showers. The lodge, with the dining and lounge areas, wine cellar, kitchen and swimming pool, is more solid but the absence of a front wall opens it onto the river – perfect for game viewing. The inclusion of outer walls and curved canopy-like frontages constructed from hundreds of saligna batons is a masterstroke in design, giving the glass-hard squareness an organic softness. The interiors are cleverly constructed around the whole theme of extravagant camping – specifically the idea of a camp site transforming, being set up and broken down. Within the open-plan suites there are bedroom, bath and lounge zones defined by the furniture. The bedroom area is demarcated by suede curtains and mosquito netting, (the curtains are lined in camping-quality PVC and the zippers are tent strength), which at night are drawn around the bed to enclose it fully. Zipped up they add to the tented feel. Despite the sound of lions and wild bush life, you feel cocooned in your little tent. Then in the morning when it’s all unzipped and drawn back, transformed again into an open space, the glass walls revive the sensation of being close to the elements. The camping concept carries through to the bathroom basins, which are a contemporary version of those often found on traditional moveable safari camp sites. Most items were sourced and made in South Africa with an emphasis on customising. ‘We literally had to make everything,’ Boyd says. It is this home-grown contemporary design that ensures Sweni’s ongoing success. Fabric used on the couches and ottomans is Land Rover canvas, embellished with similar brass rivets and leather toggles found on these vehicles. The importance of texture, of the sense of touch, is reiterated through loosely woven and knotted wraps, knitted blankets, tactile cushions by Jenny Gifford and Nguni cow hides. The woven vine lamps around the bar resemble birds’ nests. The fireplaces were built from bricks and mortar, and then covered in mud and clay and polished. The result is a rough-looking finish with a waxy patina, a kind of urban aesthetic in the bush. ‘It’s about creature comfort not lots of art,’ Boyd says. ‘It’s about the glamour of Milan furniture week finding appropriate expression in the African bush.’ Singita Sweni Lodge, singita.com; Boyd Ferguson, Cécile & Boyd’s Interior Design, 021-425-5110; Cécile & Boyd’s shop, 031-303-1005; cecileandboyds.com. BOYD’S HOME TRUTHS I define luxury as less is more. The object in my home I consider a luxury is the 360-degree view of nature... in the city. The quickest way to revamp a room is to clear it cleverly. At the moment I am obsessed with trying to be still. I am at my happiest when I’m on my XL sofa sandwiched between my two dogs. My favourite getaway is the Peponi Hotel in Lamu. My second career choice would be a farmer who paints. The thing I still aspire to do is design a tropical island hotel. My interiors motto is ‘bring the great outdoors in’. I relax by hanging out with my family. I like living where I do because the city, sea and mountain combo is a heady cocktail. What I love most about South Africa is the energy. This story was originally featured in the August 2009 issue of House and Leisure.