Tengile River Lodge
andBeyond’s newest Sabi Sands camp has an uber-chic yet laid back ethos
It’s understood that a lodge with Tengile’s status should offer a bush experience with all the finest bells and whistles. And so it does. There are enormous 200m² suites with private sunken verandahs, glorious bathing facilities, private pools, river views, unbeatable proximity to wildlife, privileged privacy and elegant spaces delivered via inspired décor. Quite rightly, guests can expect to be cosseted in supreme luxury in the midst of this wild setting. This is a given. So what makes it stand out from others in its league?
Firstly, there’s the very special setting in Sabi Sands private concession. Furthermore, it was purpose built. This was no awkward revamp grappling with inherited problems. Designed by architects Nicholas Plewman and Ursula Randall, at a glance the structure’s low profile and contemporary construction speaks to an interpretation of bush architecture that moves the conversation forward in a non-clichéd way.
That said, when I venture that the building looks almost urban Plewman ahems gently, “Not urban, rather, it revisits traditional Lowveld architectural forms, in particular, the wide covered “stoep” as a way to bridge between the built environment and the bush. To maximise the views we arranged the layouts bi-axially, unlike the usual mono-axial arrangement of lodges. The choice of materials is in fact very vernacular: Gumpoles, stone and in this case, rusted metal, and railway sleepers, inspired by the old Selati railway.”
The construction had to take into account a right-angle bend in the river. The solution was the bi-axial design he refers to, resulting in views to both the north and east. On the basis that the camp was to be visually and materially empathetic with the surrounding bush, Plewman explains, “We decided to inhabit the space between the ground plane and the tree canopies, thereby having a minimal impact on the existing environment. The flat and very slender profile of the roofs allows deep eaves without excessive volume.”
Plewman’s approach is sensitive to the environment, and also draws on a site’s history and sense of place. He was behind the design of andBeyond’s Sandibe Lodge in the Okavango, which shares Tengile’s commitment to good environmental practices. A steel frame structure minimised the need for intrusive foundations and excavations, and the design called on the colourful early-Kruger era through the use of repurposed steel sheets, sleepers and stones from the old Selati line. Plewman is particularly pleased with the roofs. “They were waterproofed using a PVC membrane coated in sand drawn from around the site. They blend into the environment more flawlessly than any design, with the exception of turf roofs.”
The project’s piece de resistance is its concrete floors made from the old Selati line. The final polishing revealed beautiful variety of colours in the aggregate. The dark greens, shades of rust and black were worked into the rich interiors by designer Michele Throssell. She took other cues from the dappled shade and textures of the surrounding indigenous bush and the historic romance of the area’s pioneer Harry Kirkman, the hunter-turned-conservationist who had a homestead at Kirkman’s Camp in Sabi Sands, also in andBeyond’s stable.
Her use of unrefined dark steel, sandblasted timber, stone and burnished cane orchestrate strong interiors that are saved from feeling heavy by high ceilings and shafts of natural light. The textures of tree bark and animal hides play out in the use of fabrics like velvet and frayed-edge upholstery. Huge lighting features stretch out overhead emulating trees while stone, steel, marble, wood and leather lend warmth and layering. Michele called on Cape Town artist Emma Nourse to create a beautiful organic oil on canvas for each bedroom, with interesting wool and stitch details. Organic elements meet the contemporary and modern-colonial ones in a seeming contradiction. The result is a collaboration of SA design with stupendous wow factor, but also the self-assurance to step back as a frame for the bush experience.
Architect: Nicholas Plewman Architects, www.plewmanarchitects.co.za
Interiors: Michele Throssell, www.michelethrossell.co.za
Commissioned canvasses by artist Emma Nourse.
Rugs designed by Michele Throssell, manufactured by Lund Rugs, www.lundgallery.co.za
Egg Designs did lighting and some furniture, www.eggdesigns.com
Coral Stephens Handweaving made the throws and scatters, www.coralstephens.com