Nestled in a corner of the Korannaberg mountain range, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve offers just what the imagination conjures up when thinking “Kalahari”.

Tswalu means “new beginning” in Tswana and South African-Namibian architecture firm Savile Row took this very much into account when presented with the project of revitalising Motse, a “village” of nine private houses in the reserve. “The project upgrade client brief went something like this: ‘Returning regular guests must immediately notice the upgrade in comfort, luxury, intimacy and attention to detail, but it should all still feel comfortingly familiar’,” says Adrian Davidson, director at Savile Row.

In order to avoid compromising on luxury while maintaining a strictly eco-conscious stance, Savile Row’s main focus was to create a symbiotic flow between the lodge and the landscape beyond, making a seamless transition between the two spaces. The result is that guests never feel a divide between themselves and nature. “Our intention was to emulate the ecology of [the area], resulting in an approach that sees the small and rare being as beautiful and valuable as the vast and awe-inspiring,” Davidson says. “As much emphasis was placed on small details as on the architecture, and many of the furniture pieces are one-off pieces designed by our studio.”

As Motse is set in the largest private game reserve in South Africa, it would be easy for a lodge to get lost among the expansive grandeur of nature here. But Savile Row successfully brings the landscape and the human scale together via alterations to the public buildings and each individual legae (Tswana for dwelling). Areas of openness contrast throughout with pockets of intimacy designed for private and contemplative moments. “To this end, we created extensive shaded private outdoor patios at each unit, which allow guests to take in the stars at night or just enjoy relaxing during the day,” says Davidson.
In addition, a pared-back and functional aesthetic offers Motse’s guests an authentic safari experience without the over-the-top visual clichés seen at many other reserves. The main bedrooms and bathrooms were extended to allow more light into the spaces as well as visual connection to the outdoors. Each bathroom opens onto a private garden with an outdoor shower, for example.

THE AESTHETIC HERE IS ALL ABOUT “CASUAL ELEGANCE” WITH NATURAL MATERIALS, COLOURS, TEXTURES AND FORMS.

The expansive sleeping areas posed a challenge in terms of creating intimacy while at the same time elegantly incorporating the requisite mosquito net and paddle fan. Savile Row’s unique solution was a suspended canopy over the bed, featuring a unique canvas map – illustrated by Davidson – of the entire Tswalu property. The result is an intimate room within a room, reminiscent of children’s games in which space is enclosed with sheets or blankets to create a special, extra-private zone.

Also introduced was a new entrance and welcome bar area, which once again features uninterrupted views of the face of the Korranaberg. And then there is the much-heralded new restaurant Klein Jan, headed up by South Africa’s renowned Michelin-starred chef, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Scheduled to open at the end of 2020, it is set to elevate the level of dining experience at Motse to match the ultra-luxurious lodge and its spectacular natural surroundings.

“A lot of effort went into replanning the kitchen and creating opportunities for indoor and outdoor dining experiences,” says Davidson. “The aesthetic here is all about ‘casual elegance’ with natural materials, colours, textures and forms being used as our palette [for everything] from the building to the decor.” Motse’s gym, spa and a boutique store with art gallery were relocated to repurposed outbuildings, and a final new addition to the facilities is a photographic studio. Here, guests are able to spend time capturing and editing pictures taken during their stay, learning new photographic skills and making tangible mementos of their unique Kalahari experience.

Add the Kalahari in the Northern Cape to your list of local destinations to explore once lockdown regulations allow.