Limpopo Lodge: Kubili House

WORDS Julian Koski PHOTOS Micky Hoyle

“Even though I left Africa, Africa never left me.” Ever since moving to the States and a career on Wall Street in 1983, Julian Koski has dreamt of returning to the African bush some day.

Located in Thornybush Private Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park, Kubili House sits atop the largest water reservoir in the reserve. You really don’t need to leave – game viewing from under the Mies van der Rohe-inspired pergola is unmatched. It is here that I made my dream of a second home in Africa come true for my family.

Living in the materialism of New York City, one can often feel disconnected from humanity, and I didn’t want that for my children. I wanted to offer them a counterbalance to the gilded cage, to give them something I had growing up: a point of view that reminded them of what it is to be human, a connection with something real, wild and natural.

As a family, we have been fortunate to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world, including some of Africa’s finest reserves and lodges. Although the experiences were each amazing in their own way, there was always something missing. We wanted to slow down the experience, to have time to absorb and reflect without being hurried to the next meal or game drive. Kubili House is designed with an unhurried pace in mind. Should you be inclined, you can stay a while, too: It’s designed to enable you to live and work comfortably for an extended period. In late June, when our summer holidays begin, my family packs for a three-month-long stay in the bush, and my wife and I manage to work remotely.

Building a house from scratch in pristine wilderness demanded a complex response, something more than the usual reinterpretation of colonial lodge architecture. I wanted to capture the timelessness of the landscape, the aura of legend and ancient African civilisations, to ensure that the property belonged. Architecture has long been a passion of mine, and I relished the opportunity to exercise my architectural ambitions. I’m South African and my wife Aida is part Arabic and part Brazilian, and our own heritage inspired me to merge northern and southern African design aesthetics.

Kubili House
An African daybed sits on a Moroccan leather-and-reed mat and a Moroccan silk throw in the guest casita.

We christened the house Kubili – “two” in Tsonga – in reference to our twins, Leo and Tess. But the house is in many ways about dualities. Conceived of two parts, it draws its characteristics from ancient and modern influences: Earthy, organic material is expressed in abstracted modernist-inspired forms. One part is a pergola with a floating roof, the other is its weighty, rocky, monolithic counterpart resembling Moorish/Moroccan/Zimbabwean-type ruins. They mirror each other across a rim-flow pool and koi ponds. For me, that’s the perfect marriage of a modernist architectural idea with something ancient.

We sought out interior designer Jacques Erasmus to carry out our vision inside. “It was really more about contextualising the interior vision of the owner than about decorating,” says Jacques. “We kept the interiors simple and understated. There’s so much going on texturally and so many layers that very little had to be done to enhance what was already there.”

Because of the scale of the rooms much of the furniture was custom-made, but there was no uniform approach. What Jacques describes as the “almost disparate materials and pieces” have helped to create a sense of the passage of time. Kubili house feels lived-in rather than decorated.

In the bathrooms, gently mysterious artworks by Andrew Putter from his African Hospitality series adorn the walls. They’re meticulously styled photographic portraits, fictional representations of actual European castaways of 17th- and 18th-century shipwrecks along the South African coast saved by Xhosa communities. In a way, these images are a key to Kubili House: a salvaged piece of the past recreated in the present that allows us to imagine the future differently. Ancient African ruins here find expression in modern form, an intervention in the landscape that is at once boldly ambitious and almost invisible.

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Looking fore more architectural inspiration? Take a look at this Mpumalanga safari lodge.