Win­ter bolt­holes

De­signer Porky He­fer’s de­but ar­chi­tec­tural project hatches in Namibia

Wallpaper - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy: Katinka Bester writer: emma o’kelly

A Namib­ian su­per-hut, a Bahraini en­ter­tain­ing pad, a Greek beach house, and an Amer­i­can eyrie

From the gates of Namib Tsaris Con­ser­vancy, a pri­vate re­serve lo­cated in a re­mote val­ley of the Namib Desert, it’s a 30km drive to The Nest. The jour­ney is best un­der­taken dur­ing the day, for at night, stars alone il­lu­mi­nate the dirt roads, and leop­ards and hye­nas prowl the land. On ap­proach, a swim­ming pool and a grid of so­lar pan­els are the most vis­i­ble signs of hu­man life, for the iso­lated hide­away it­self, with its thatched roof and soft light­ing, is a barely-there sil­hou­ette in the land­scape. The near­est town is 125km away and wildlife, which con­gre­gates around a flood­lit wa­ter­ing hole, pro­vides the only com­pany. Seclu­sion is just one of The Nest’s sell­ing points. On hand are a lo­cal chef, but­ler and guide, as well as a he­li­pad. It’s a short flight to the World Her­itage Site of Sos­susvlei, home to glow­ing red sand dunes, and Dead­vlei, a grave­yard of 700-year-old camel thorn trees. It was on this same spot that, eight years ago, South African de­signer Porky He­fer and Swen Bachran, owner of the 24,000-hectare con­ser­vancy, camped out. They had come to sur­vey the site as a lo­ca­tion for a dwelling that could be a scaled-up ver­sion of the ‘nests’ – pod-like fur­ni­ture – that He­fer was be­com­ing known for (last year, one of his ‘Hu­man­est’ hang­ing chairs, hand­wo­ven in koo­boo cane, sold at Sotheby’s for £12,500). While they dreamed up their crazy scheme (He­fer had never de­signed a house be­fore and ma­te­ri­als would need to be trans­ported from 480km away), they ob­served the vast, labyrinthine nests of the lo­cal so­cia­ble weaver birds. Such nests can house hun­dreds of birds, who gather in dif­fer­ent ‘rooms’ – outer, cool spa­ces dur­ing the day, and warm, in­ner ar­eas when night-time tem­per­a­tures plum­met. Why not ap­ply their ef­fi­cient

tech­niques to a house for hu­mans, thought He­fer? ‘It was an or­ganic process. We built ev­ery­thing on site us­ing lo­cal ar­ti­sans and ma­te­ri­als in the tra­di­tional style of the area. Build­ing off the grid was both a dif­fi­culty and a bless­ing,’ ex­plains the de­signer, who spent three years find­ing a lo­cal builder up to the task. ‘It meant we could do what we wanted but lo­gis­ti­cally it was in­sane.’ Au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion was also a hin­drance: ba­boons dis­man­tled the out­door shower and a leop­ard cub shacked up un­der the foun­da­tions.

He­fer and his wife, de­signer and cu­ra­tor Yelda Bayrak­tar, be­gan work on the in­te­ri­ors, later hand­ing over to Cape Town spe­cial­ist Maybe Cor­paci. They opted for ‘built-in fur­ni­ture, much like that of a nest, ac­cented by a few great pieces with a mod­ernist touch’.

While He­fer drew every last de­tail, Bachran was on a quest of his own. In 2010 he had bought the orig­i­nal plot of land, a for­mer farm, as a week­end es­cape from Wind­hoek and Cape Town, where he runs prop­erty busi­nesses. He soon ac­quired more land and, ‘fu­elled by a pas­sion for na­ture’, he set about ‘re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the re­sults of a hun­dred years’ worth of bad farm­ing prac­tice’. The area was once pop­u­lated by abun­dant wildlife, thanks to its al­most year-round nat­u­ral pools and water­falls. Bachran in­stalled new roads, re­moved miles of fenc­ing and is grad­u­ally rein­tro­duc­ing an­telopes, ze­bras, gi­raffes, big cats and ro­dents. There are plans to rein­tro­duce the en­dan­gered black rhino too.

Bachran will con­tinue to grow the re­serve. He­fer, mean­while, is work­ing on more ver­nac­u­lar houses else­where. Next up is a co­conut palm-thatched treehouse for a new re­sort in the Maldives, and some ‘Tadao Ando-es­que de­signs’ in Rwanda, where he is work­ing with lo­cal ar­chi­tects who build with sticks and mud us­ing an­cient tech­niques.

While the Namib­ian hide­away was tak­ing shape, so too was He­fer’s rep­u­ta­tion: his nests and, more re­cently, his over­sized seat­ing pods de­pict­ing en­dan­gered species, hand­made from eco-friendly ma­te­ri­als, have pro­pelled him onto the world stage as an eth­i­cal de­signer with a mis­sion. ‘For years, I pitched my nests to sa­fari camps and lodges. Peo­ple didn’t get it, but I kept on truck­ing. Fi­nally, I met some­one mad enough to say yes,’ he says. ‘Swen and I are a pair of ob­ses­sives who never take no for an an­swer.’

left, the nest’s thatched roof is sup­ported by a steel frame and stone walls; the struc­ture took five years to com­plete below, lo­cal ki­aat hard­wood pan­elling is soft­ened with skins and shag piles in a bed­room

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.