Belmond Savute elephant lodge, Botswana
Following a complete design overhaul last year, the Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, set in the heart of Chobe National Park in Botswana, is open once again. Features Editor Sophie Harper spoke to designer Inge Moore to find out how she managed to create a resort so at-one with its surroundings.
The Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge in Botswana opened its doors again in October following an extensive redesign by Inge Moore of Muza Lab and the architects of Luxury Frontiers. Located in the spectacular Chobe National Park, the lodge has become a tented retreat infused with the romance of a bush camp. Here, guests can discover and connect with the natural world, and slow down to the rhythm of the land that surrounds them. “I have a huge love and
respect for nature and the wilderness: it’s something we, as human beings, need to cherish and protect. So, working on this project has been a real passion, honour and a huge responsibility,” says Inge. “My design not only seeks to create spaces where people can embrace the experience but does this with the greatest of care for the environment.”
The public areas are entirely new, each tented room constructed on a timber-based platform to minimise environmental impact. Together, they form an intimate cluster of tented rooms on a smaller footprint than before. Luxury Frontiers, the architects of one-of-a-kind tented resorts, worked closely with the Muza Lab team in refurbishing the existing guestrooms and in creating and installing the new public spaces. These include a kitchen/dining room, lounge and bar, library, spa and arrival lobby, as well as a very special viewing hide where guests can sit and watch the wildlife at eye-level as they gather to drink in the watering hole. “The viewing hide is the ultimate place to slow down and embrace the experience of the lodge,” says Inge.
The concept behind the design was to allow guests to get really close to nature and to experience their surroundings as a modern-day explorer. The park is not only the home of abundant wildlife, it is the location of the fabled Savute (meaning unpredictable) Channel, which flows for years like a river into the Savute Marsh, and then, without reason, dries up before eventually flowing again, creating a dynamic and ever-changing habitat. The area is also home to the Gubatsa Hills, formed 980 million years ago during volcanic movement, which rise 90 metres high out of a completely flat landscape and bear reminders of the nomadic San people in their rock art.
Talking about her initial involvement with the project, Inge comments: “Chobe National Park is Botswana’s most biologically diverse park with one of the largest concentrations of game in all of Africa, and [the Belmond Savute] is in a beautiful location, overlooking a watering hole where wildlife gathers. However, the lodge had become tired, it was not engaged as an experience with its location and it did not reflect Belmond’s commitment to sustainable development.” And with this in mind, Inge and the team at Muza Lab and Luxury Frontiers set about reinvigorating the resort to reflect not only the brand’s principles, but to showcase the natural beauty of its locale.
Framing views is key to the arrival experience and the entry buildings have been moved to perfectly capture sights that will always be remembered. Textural, light timbers clad the walls and individually selected pieces of timber have been used in the making of a large reception table, produced in southern Africa. A cluster of carved poles is stationed just inside the front door, inspired by the carved sticks used by the San people as tent posts or for making a fire. Groups of simple lanterns provide light when it becomes dark, giving a reassuring but gentle glow so as not to compete with the stars of the night sky.
Outside the arrival tent there is a large fire pit tripod to welcome guests at dusk – one of many fire pits around the camp, which act as beacons for guests walking at night and are a traditional place for people to come together. “We have created a tented retreat infused with the romance of a bush camp,” says Inge, “It’s all about helping guests slow down and connect with the natural world. The design is deliberately simple and local – but beautiful materials and textures have been used.”
LOUNGE & BAR
Designed to make each guest feel that the space is ‘their lounge in the bush’, the tented room has the ambience of a place that has been here for a long time with layers of collectibles and lived-in comforts. The tent itself has a latte (local thin timber struts) edge with a traditionally random crisscross pattern. This design has also been used in decorative screens to the back-of-house buildings and together they cast dappled shadows around the space. The tent sides can be rolled up or down depending on the weather, and seating spills into nature outside. Furniture is a collection of large custom-designed rattan tub chairs contrasting with natural timber and leather detailing. Traditional library furniture helps divide the space and creates an intimate seating area; there are tables for games and painting, books about nature to read and comfortable chairs to relax in and enjoy the views. Fabrics combine bright geometric prints with earthy tones and two large chandeliers inspired by local clay pots form focal points in the ceiling. Behind the lounge, there’s a library with a concealed TV, a small bar to gather around and a desk for writing or working.
The kitchen is at the heart of the lodge and guests are encouraged to use it like their kitchen at home. There is an open cooking area in the centre and dining tables and chairs located to provide fabulous long-distance views. Again, materials are light: limed timbers, white painted floors, geometric fabrics, rattan sofas with high backs and a beautiful handmade layered timber screen. The residential-style cooking counter is made of timber and above this there is a sculptural light crafted by South African designer David Krynauw out of Panga Panga wood with brass shades. Guests are invited to reduce their plastic use by re-filling water bottles supplied by the lodge from the water dispensers located in this space.
POOL & SPA
The new pool is smaller than its predecessor, reducing water consumption and allowing for more space around it to relax. It is constructed of fibreglass with a low-energy heat pump keeping the temperature above 26oC and has a stone coloured interior so that it blends seamlessly into its surroundings and becomes one with the landscape. Loungers and seating are set up with views over the plains. Next to the pool is a multi-function space that can be used for private dinners or yoga with another fire pit to set the ambience of a truly serene and relaxing atmosphere.
The spa tent is positioned at the edge of the camp surrounded by thick bushes for privacy. Its sides can be completely rolled up, allowing the breeze to flow through. Its palette is sage green with hand-glazed green tiles and a simple white painted floor; a beaded chandelier takes inspiration from pods and plants and wicker furniture adds to the natural feel. There is a large terrace with low-slung chairs, perfect to relax in.
The main feature in the 12 guestrooms is the bed with a bright blue leather-clad sofa at the end, both facing out to the view. Once again, carved nomadic poles are a source of inspiration, this time translated into lime-washed timber bed posts over which a mosquito net is softly draped. Handmade blue and ivory-toned string chandeliers hang over the coffee table and in the bathroom, creating beautiful shadows at night. Rattan seating, made by southern Africa’s Blind Society, is upholstered in a blue-toned fabric inspired by local wax cloth. Existing timber flooring was re-used and stained in a light hue. “Key to the design were the light colours of the timbers on the floors, the latte roof structure and the bedposts, off-set by bright, local fabrics in cotton, linen and string and our wide use of leather and rattan. Everything looks, feels and is handmade and natural.”
The terrace is large – a living space outside for guests – and decking is in a composite bamboo. The statement piece is a huge daybed with its own canopy and African-inspired carved side panels – in effect an outdoor four-poster, ideal for an afternoon nap. There are also low-slung armchairs, side tables, and an exquisite locally carved cocktail cabinet. “Carved bedposts make the bed a feature and safe haven under the mosquito net, large guestroom terraces are furnished to become a personal space outdoors and the lounge has the ambience of lived-in comfort. We wanted each guest to feel that the lodge was their home,” adds Inge.
The bathrooms have a large timber and marble-topped vanity with handmade pottery basins painted with an abstract of natural grasses. Outdoor showers are generously sized and connect guests to nature.
THE LOCAL ENVIRONMENT
In the course of reconstruction, existing concrete structures were removed, crushed and reconstituted as hardcore for making bricks and other building materials in the local area. Internal flooring in the public areas is crafted from regional Saligna, a Forestry Stewardship Council certified timber. External decking and fasçias are constructed from composite bamboo. Guest tent roofs are thatched with grass purchased from communities in northern Botswana.
Containers used to transport furnishings and equipment were used as temporary storage on site before being converted into new laundry and storage areas.
In the first of its kind in Botswana, the lodge is now powered by a 212kWp Tesla Photo Voltaic Solar system, which is integrated with generators to ensure a single uninterrupted supply of power. Lighting is LED based and all fans are low wattage and power efficient.
Hot water is supplied to guests via a thermodynamic geyser that uses a combination of ambient temperature and power-efficient heat pumps to heat the water. A new anaerobic sewerage treatment plant has been introduced along with environmentally friendly cleaning products and guest amenities that are biodegradable and free of parabens and excessive nitrates. A biodigester has been installed for kitchen waste, which is then turned into compost for community-based farming projects.
Talking more about the project and design brief, Inge says, “Belmond has a compelling brand narrative. Its theme is properties with soul, brought to life through their location, culture and heritage. For Belmond, their properties need to create the essence of a luxury escape and they do this by choosing designs that honour provenance, embrace all the senses and are sustainable. The company’s brand principles of genuine timelessness, understatement, and inspiration, layered with quirkiness, drama, comfort and craftsmanship, form the foundation of their design briefs.” She tells us how the project was a real collaboration between brand and design, with a strong focus on the company’s overall values, and that Inge and her team were given the freedom to do what ‘felt right’. “For me, it was the opportunity to re-plan the public areas since they were entirely new. We designed each tented space as a separate experience whilst maintaining links with the other tents. So there are endless opportunities for guests to discover new things and engage with the context.” Clearly a labour of love, it goes without saying that the Savute Elephant Lodge is a picture of calm that pays homage to its unique location and, what’s more, has accomplished exactly what it set out to be – a luxury retreat for budding explorers to relax in, and explore, and a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with nature.
DESIGN: Inge Moore, Muza Lab
ARCHITECTS: Luxury Frontiers
SUPPLIERS: Furniture: Moorgas & Sons, Blind Society Africa, Cane Time, Phases Africa, Weylandts, Greg Grant, Natural Edge, Paco Johanna James, La Grange, Halogen, Melville & Moon Lighting: David Krynauw, Mud Studio, Restoration Hardware Mattresses: Sealy Textiles: St Leger & Viney, Hertex, Warwick, Mavromac Glassware: Ngwenya Glass Custom ceramics: Meryn Gers Ceramics Accessories: Cecile & Boyd, Creative Copper, Pezula, Amatuli, Penguin Books Artefacts and collectibles: Toguna and Amatuli