Private Waterberg Escape

PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Malibongwe Tyilo

For a French family, it took a visit to South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup for the bug to bite. They wanted an African Waterberg escape far from Paris’s bustling boulevards.

The Waterberg region in the north of Limpopo is a geographical wonder that spans some 15 000 km2, with mountain ranges rising up to 1 400 m above sea level. It was the first region in northern South Africa to be named a biosphere reserve by Unesco. It is also home to Mabote Lodge, a Parisian family’s idyllic private escape built by Nicholas Plewman Architects and decorated by Fox Browne Creative, with co-owners Chris Browne and Debra Fox at the helm.

Even before you step through the double front doors, it is clear that this is a house designed and decorated to be in harmony with its surrounds. Wood is a prominent feature, from the columns on the veranda through to the stoep. Inside, the wooden touches continue, from the beams to wall panelling to the wooden furniture and shelving. This, coupled with the extensive use of glass, gives the home a sense of continuity from interior to exterior.

“The owners’ brief was simple: They wanted uncluttered and African, but in a contemporary way,” says Chris. “They did not want it to be too designer and intimidating. They work in the hospitality industry, so it was important that this was a home, not a hotel.”

The decor is undeniably African without falling into the curio trap, and design elements are consistent throughout. The children’s wing reveals considered sleeping and living spaces. Printed couches, ottomans and art bring life and vibrancy to an otherwise restrained background. Here, too, wood is a prominent feature. Slightly more subdued is the guest bedroom. With almost strictly neutral tones, there’s a touch of print and texture brought through in rugs, cushions and other accessories.

Nowhere in the house are the wooden touches more striking than in the master bedroom, where the mattress is set on a wooden platform that extends vertically up against the wall before jutting out horizontally against the wooden beams of the ceiling, turning the bed into a stage.

In order to achieve the owners’ vision, Chris and his team, in collaboration with Klara van Wyngaarden, set out to create a home that is clearly “made in South Africa”. Much of the furniture can be attributed to treasured South African brands such as Egg Designs, Bronze Age, James Mudge and Meyer von Wielligh.

From showing the family the initial concept to welcoming them into the fully decorated home took Fox Browne 10 months to realise. “We have a flexible team; we don’t blink when furniture has to be shunted around and we are used to working in much more remote locations in Southern and East Africa,” says Chris. Looking around at the polished finished product, we don’t doubt it for a moment.