“Our lifestyles are modern; nature is raw and primal,” says lead architect Stefan Antoni at ARRCC. “It is in that honest contrast that a beautiful tension occurs. The architecture exists to enhance the experience of the outdoors — not to mimic it, but to complement it so that guests may experience the bush more directly, more immediately.”
Surrounded by an exceptional panorama where nature reigns, a new lodge, Cheetah Plains, is situated in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, at the southwest corner of the renowned Kruger National Park — one of the largest wildlife reserves in Africa, covering an area of 1,810 square meters. Through this project, the ARRCC team (based in Cape Town) developed an integrated concept where architecture, interiors and furnishings meet, pursuing an objective of creating a new safari experience with nature at its heart. “The buildings and interiors are symbiotic,” says ARRCC Director Jon Case. “They are one idea shared in a truly unique location.”
Rather than organizing the lodge like a traditional hotel space based on a public area surrounded by rooms, Cheetah Plains consists of three separate components, called the Plains Houses (with a capacity of four to eight guests per house): Mapogo, Mvula and Karula are each made up of clusters of buildings comprising a private arrival courtyard with covered canopy, an expansive open-plan lounge, a dining and bar space with adjoining air-conditioned wine room and a private, family-media room. Around them are four suites, which feel like mini-lodges. Each suite has an open-plan lounge, kitchen with a dedicated chef and bathroom that opens up to the exterior, where dwellers will find a terrace and a heated pool. For owner Japie van Niekerk, introducing sustainability in this project was key, and drove him to partner with renewable energy experts. As a result, guest accommodations at Cheetah Plains are off the grid.
Made of straight lines and angular forms with cantilevered roof structures, the architecture of the lodge was inspired by the area’s Acacias. To preserve the natural beauty of the site, the trees were preserved and the lodge was built around them. The sculptural structures frame the views and enhance the lodge’s integration with the environment while inviting guests to become immersed in the surroundings thanks to the seamlessness between interior and exterior. One of the main objectives was to “create a new safari experience of nature from within,” according to the ARRCC team.
While the architecture is mostly linear, the softer interior design creates the perfect balance. Raw and locally sourced materials — including concrete, stone, steel, glass and timber (to add warmth to the spaces) — were used throughout and combine with earthy tones, rich textures and sleek details in gold, bronze and black.
“The interiors retain this sense of rawness and complement it with plush and luxurious furniture and fittings,” the designers say.
Many of the furniture pieces were custom designed by ARRCC and design studio OKHA in collaboration with local craftsmen such as Colin Rock, Pierre Cronje and Gerrit Giebel, reflecting a unique Afro-minimalist aesthetic. Each made from a single sheet of leadwood, the dining tables occupy the center of each house where handblown glass chandeliers by Martin Doller are suspended above them. Bars were hand-carved from a single block of travertine.
“The story of the design is a collaborative vision that carefully explores the considered design of every element and their materials to reveal their natural beauty and purest form, shaping elements that are raw and transforming them into objects of luxury,” says ARRCC Director of Interior Design Mark Rielly.
Artworks by South African artists (such as Lionel Smit, Emilio Eftychis, Conor Mccreedy, Loyiso Mkize and Greatjoy Ndlovu) and sculptures by Arend Eloff and Gail Catlin adorn both the interior spaces and the outdoor areas, providing visual surprises in every nook.
“The idea was to redefine luxury and usher in a new language of African design for safari,” says Rielly. “The result is interiors that are at once uniquely African, yet undeniably modern with natural finishes and sophisticated detailing.”
Photographer: Adam Letch