Nicola Leitch turned down a dream job travelling the world sourcing and styling spaces for a wealthy client in Europe to focus on a personal project in her new hometown
Firstly there’s the name. Safari Moon. Just two words bestow a world of evocative bushveld magic. Secondly, you respond at once to the visual impact.
It’s a commercial lodge that feels like the private home of your wonderful friend who is also lavishly wealthy, slightly eccentric and fabulously talented. Which pretty much sums up Safari Moon’s owner-designer-decorator.
She is a global nomad who is as much at home traipsing the high-toned cobbles of St Tropez as she is digging about at Mr Price Home, or scouting fabrics from coconut palm stalls in a Vilanculos mercado. The idea of building and setting up a new lodge in a new town made her mouth water.
It came about through her husband Guy’s family roots in the Klaserie. “We were living in Cape Town where we have two other properties, but he was always moaning about the wet and windy weather. When we came to Hoedspruit for a wedding, it reminded us of how fantastic the climate and lifestyle is. It dawned on us that we could split our time between the Cape and here.”
Not given to the timid approach, Nicola dived right in. A three-bedroomed house with “good bones” was located in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate, and she sketched the concept for its transformation into a breathtaking lodge. “It was so exciting to transform a basic Bushveld family home into our dream lodge with the wonderful size and space our vast African bush makes possible.” With her love of interiors and fashion, plus a lifetime of entrepreneurial experience in the design and decorating of homes, hotels and her former African Queen shops, the project showcases all her favourite occupations and talents. “I’ve always loved building, bashing down, revamping, decorating and designing. I’ve learned everything through hard labour,” she roars with laughter. The final 480-square metres – the rooms and bathrooms are enormous – abound in Nicola’s distinctive touch. It’s not a look that fits neatly into a category. “I’d say it’s a coherent mishmash. Glamorous but homely at the same time.”
She belongs to a particular brand of interior stylists, loosely defined as possessing an eye for potential, a radar for brilliant finds and, crucially, access to storage space. They stash. They drag doors in from Rajasthan that don’t suit conventional frames but have irresistible allure, tuck away an antique bureau with fetching lines, buy far too many roadside crafts that will jab them in the neck from the back seat for the 800km drive home. The key is that they always yield to the leap of heart when they see a glorious and lovely thing. They tune out faithless vocalising by unbelievers “but what’s it for, why do you need it?” Most importantly, they have honed an inventiveness that skriks vir niks.
“I scan everywhere I go, and I stash massively. When I see something I love, it always gets used somehow, sometime.” That Indian door? Kaboom! Now it’s an alcove at Safari Moon. That huge velvet sofa that’s far too big for any room? Tada! Prize position baby, piled with cushions on the verandah. And so it goes.
There are the custom-made beds from Splinters, embroidered fabrics from Kaross, glassware from Sophia Conran, Christoffel cutlery from a south of France brocante, framed Ardmore tablecloths hung like canvases, tea towels converted into cushion covers, a woven daybed morphed into a coffee table and art by Lionel Smit, bronzes from Charles Grieg and so on. Abracadabra! It’s all drawn together into this inviting, lush panoply resonating joie de vivre and igniting the senses and proclaiming, “here’s to life!”