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.
This global nomad is as much at home traipsing the high-toned cobbles of St Tropez as she is scouting fabrics from coco palm stalls in a Vilanculos mercado, so the idea of building and setting up a new lodge in a new town made Nicola Leitch's 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 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 labor." She says and roars with laughter. The final 480 square metres - the rooms and bathrooms are huge - abound in Nicola’s distinctive touch. It’s not a look that fits neatly into one 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're stashers. These people cannot resist dragging huge carved doors back from Rajasthan knowing full well they won’t fit conventional frames. They tuck away an antique bureau with fetching lines. They stuff the car with far too many finds while on road trips regardless of how uncomfortable it will make the 800km drive home. The key is that they always, always yield to that leap of heart when they sight a glorious and lovely thing. They tune out faithless vocalizing by unbelievers “But darling what’s it for ?” Most importantly, they have honed an inventiveness that skriks vir niks*.
"I scan everywhere I go and I stash massively. When I find 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 in the house? Tada! Prize position, baby, piled with cushions on the verandah. Safari Moon's interior is a treasure trove. There are the custom-made beds from Splinters, embroidered fabrics from Kaross, glassware from Sophia Conran, cutlery from France, framed Ardmore tablecloths framed and hung like canvases, tea towels converted into cushion covers, a woven daybed morphed into a coffee table, art by Lionel Smit, bronzes from Charles Grieg... And so it goes until Abracadabra! everything is drawn together into this inviting, lush panoply resonating joie de vivre; igniting the senses and proclaiming “here’s to life!”
*Afrikaans: “is afraid of nothing”