A Quiet Place
A most modern house sits in juxtaposition beside a river bordering the Kruger wilderness. Somehow it works.
Kingfisher River House conveys the ideals of a bush retreat through lean contemporary design but the showstopper is its setting on the Crocodile River. The owner worked closely with Mbombela architect Tom Hattingh and a local building team lead by Andre de Zwart to translate her vision into bricks and mortar.
“I’m a true child of Africa. I feel deeply connected to nature and the South African bush has such a special appeal. I also love modern design. Good design pays attention to detail, people, space, the natural world, and materials to create something beautiful, memorable, and meaningful. The idea was to create an understated modern house that still sat beautifully in its environment.”
The structure itself is arranged to discreetly honour the landscape, while the interior echoes the indigenous foliage found nearby, “inspired by the characteristic grey bark of a giant Leadwood tree clinging to the banks of the river outside. I remember when I came to view the stand the agent almost apologised for the tree obscuring the river view somewhat, but that is a 500-year-old living, breathing structure. I thought it was beautiful. A breeding pair of African fish eagles nest in it every winter.”
When designing the garden her brief to landscaper Claire Patmore had the same ethos. “I wanted it to look like the house had just been dropped in the veld by a giant crane. I did not want a manicured garden at all. The wilder the better.”
The interior is flooded with light that enters through floor to ceiling glazing. It has a quiet discernment that might be found in a modern art gallery where the building is as much an artwork as the art it frames. Of the three giant canvasses by photographer Ross Cooper, she says, “I really connected with his photographs of the rhino and elephant mothers with their calves that are in the respective bedrooms. The bond between a mother and child (wild or not) is just so powerful. I had an unbreakable bond with my mother. She passed away over 20 years ago, but I hope she would be proud of the space I created.”
For the living room she chose Cooper’s work titled Lion Oath. “Lions have such intimate social structures and strong bonds and the photograph captured that perfectly.” Elsewhere, a series of kingfisher pencil sketches by Andre Olwage are positioned together in a flock.
“The detail in those drawings is staggering. He was commissioned by the SA Post Office to draw South African Kingfishers for a stamp series and that’s where I saw his work. He started out with the six most commonly found in the Kruger area, but I kept adding more until we had all 10 kingfishers found throughout South Africa.”
On the patio, a giant map of Kruger holds sway. “People stand in front of it for hours. It’s a reminder of the responsibility we have as South Africans to protect this wild heartbeat of Africa. The true masterpiece is the view over Kruger with its unspoiled natural African bushveld.”
The owner was responsible for all the décor and interior design, favouring a pared down aesthetic and considerately placed pieces. As with the African-inspired choices from Trish Marshall and Clinton Friedman, local design prevailed, with an occasional flourish like the beetle wallpaper from Woodchip & Magnolia in the UK in the living room and a set of original Hay chairs in the boma. “They cast such beautiful shadows during the day and are really comfortable.”
“I see my favourite pieces almost as jewels for my house. I’m in love with the bubble hanging chair from Studio Stirling, designed and manufactured in South Africa by Joanina Pastoll and her husband. I also love my kitchen pendants by Jacques Cronje of Minima Design. They sit so beautifully in the space. And then of course the four-poster beds in the bedrooms from Brett Stephen Design in Mbombela.”
The layout is suitably open plan as befits the easy living climate and the owner’s love of nature. It’s not easy for the owner to nominate her favourite elements.
“The symmetry, simplicity and easy flow of the space, the large patio that opens up completely to the river with its chatty hippos and Kruger bushveld beyond. The fact that you can see right through the house into Kruger. The high ceilings with that perfect barn pitch. The modern boma area on the edge of the Crocodile river and next to the ancient leadwood tree, my completely wild, endemic garden that I share with little bush buck and genets, the cheeky little wagtails who keep me company on my patio, the woodland kingfishers nesting in the acacia tree in my court yard in summer, I can go on and on…”
“My dream for Kingfisher River Lodge was to create a relationship between nature, the beauty of the building and the well-being and happiness of its inhabitants. It’s a very special place Andre and Tom have built for me.”