Saseka Tented Camp in Thornybush Private Nature Reserve

WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Greg Cox

Silvio Rech + Lesley Carstens Adventure Architecture is the design team behind Saseka, Thornybush Collection’s new luxury tented camp on the banks of the Monwana River in Thornybush Private Nature Reserve.

The award-winning duo’s architecture and interior design studio has pioneered modern bush camp architecture over the last 30 years. The camp, comprising eight 200 melevated tented suites, a two-bedroom villa, and a main public space, combines the nostalgia and romance of tented safaris with 21st-century design. Each air-conditioned suite has its own private pool, outdoor shower and game-viewing sundeck. With only canvas between you and the wild, guests are truly immersed in the sounds and sights of the bush.

Understanding and working with context and environment is a hallmark of Silvio and Lesley’s design. Saseka’s colour palette is drawn from its surroundings. “We looked at the indigenous landscape – the flora and fauna,” says Lesley. “The camp is adjacent to a natural watercourse. The surrounding vegetation is typical riverine bush featuring excellent examples of classic river trees like Jackalberry, Apple Leaf and Leadwood. Our imaginations were fuelled by nature,” she continues. “Hues of ivory, dark green, apple, sage and subtle flushes of pink [echo] the characteristic tones of the flowers found in the bush.”

For the ceilings in the tented suites, the team, which included Grant Woodward on architecture and Jess Buys on interior design, compiled a list of the botanical species found in the area around Saseka. They then worked with the National Herbarium in Pretoria to pull all of the pressings of the different species collected in the region in and around the Thornybush Reserve.

After sorting through hundreds of pressings, they chose the most visually striking ones and had them scanned in high resolution in order to compile a canvas for the ceilings. Guests can lie in bed and read the captions of each species, and at night, lit from behind, the draped fabric casts a soft, diffused light that sets the mood for relaxation. This is evidence of SRLC Architects commitment to detail and to expressing each project’s unique DNA – 80% of the items in this property, as with many of their projects, were designed specifically for this space.

Sustainability is another distinctive feature of Silvio and Lesley’s approach, and the flooring of both the tented suites and the public spaces are made of recycled, environmentally friendly wood in a gently faded, off-white hue. It acts as a unifier and a neutral backdrop for the signature furniture pieces and design elements to stand out, while also referencing the soft white sand of the riverbed.

Saseka, which is the Tsonga word for “beautiful”, is situated on a curve of the Monwana River that runs through the 14 000-hectare Thornybush Private Nature Reserve. The sand riverbed presents guests with on-site game-viewing opportunities from their private decks or the main public area, which has been laid out on different levels and terraces to give a sense of volume. A water feature forged from natural rock reinforces the connection to the riverbed and offers the restful background sound of flowing water.

“We took a sculptural approach that allowed us to create different spaces within the main area,” explains Silvio. “The use of light was key and we created our extraordinary ceiling, which filters light into the space  [and imitates] the natural dappled light of a tree canopy. We christened it the ‘ceiling for all seasons’.”

Conically shaped “stained-glass” lampshades reminiscent of tree-pod blossoms and a mobile in the main area, constructed from metal, rice paper and rattan, provide additional illumination. The mobile-chandelier captures the overall design philosophy: smart repurposing and a considered mix of old and new. Ball-and-claw and riempie furniture live alongside contemporary metal pieces.

Intimate spaces, for private meals or breakaway time, have been created within public areas, and are testimony to SRLC Architects’ understanding of guests’ needs. Saseka exemplifies quiet luxury – every element is considered, nothing fights for your attention, and the textures and tones, an extension of the surrounding nature, only deepen your experience.

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