• Mahali Mzuri Safari Camp / Real Studios

Architects: Real Studios  
Location: Maasai Mara,  Kenya
Project Team: Real Studios + byDESIGN
Interior Décor: Real Studio
Project Year: 2014
Photographer: Virgin Limited Edition
Website: www.virginlimitededition.com

It is a sight of beauty, a merging of man and nature, a design endeavour that only fans of both architecture and nature "archinatures" can experience in its entirety. Real Studio sort to touch the earth lightly and blend in it with these terracota canvas pieces gently placed onto the Motorogi Conservancy in the Maasai Mara, perhaps one of the most famous wildlife sceneries in the world. And it is within this mixture of lush green and dry savanna environment that the Mahali Mzuri safari camp rests. 

Richard Branson, the gregariously eccentric billionaire sort to expand his distinctive retreats portfolio in the 'Mahali Mzuri' luxury safari camp located 240 kilometers west of Nairobi in Kenya’s Olare Motorogi Conservancy in the Maasai Mara. Sustainable design were key features here with the project configured to minimize environmental impact with lightweight structures that promote low carbon footprints and a further collaboration with the neighboring community ensured local labourand use of regionally sourced materials.

From the Project Architects:
Twelve unique tented suites are strung along a ridge above a river, with spectacular views out over the Motorogi Conservancy at the northern edge of the Maasai Mara. From the design of the tent to the bold prints that adorn the walls and sofas, Yvonne has worked closely with local Kenyan designers and makers to bring a real integrity and organic beauty to the interiors. 

Yvonne says: ‘It’s great to work with a client that gives you a lot of creative freedom. It’s also wonderful to spend time on the ground, finding the local craftspeople, designers and furniture makers and using as much as possible of local talent and local materials. In this way our designs can convey a real respect for the environment and culture in a contemporary way, and also in a way that reflects Virgin Limited Edition’s key brand values.’ 

The striking, contemporary safari tents have been created specifically for Mahali Mzuri by Kenyan manufacturers Canvas by Design. These bespoke, steel framed, architectural dwellings are clad in robust terracotta canvas and elephant grey lining with color inspiration drawn from the natural environment around the area. Local textile experts helped Yvonne to source exuberant African prints from the markets of Kenya and Tanzania; these she has deployed for strategic sweeps of uplifting colour in every room, giving each tent its own distinctive palette. Yvonne also unearthed the best local furniture makers to create a stylish and eclectic array of indigenous wood and basketwork furniture and fixtures, which range from clean cut contemporary to organic and retro in style. Yvonne commented: ‘We want it to feel rich and homely, stylish but welcoming.’ 

Each tent features a spacious bedroom – some with four-poster beds - and a luxurious bathroom. Ten of the 12 tents are designed to sleep two adults and all can be split into twin beds. The remaining two tents are configured so that the sitting area is enclosed with sofa beds accommodating up to two additional guests. Private deck areas are shaded by the tent’s wide curved canopy. Neutral upholstery and natural materials provide the perfect setting for the vivid African prints used in cushions, rugs and – most strikingly – in a bold fabric backdrop behind each bed; here rich patterned sections are mixed with more subdued, locally woven ‘ticking’ style fabric, in a tribute to the happy eclecticism with which local people layer Maasai patterned robes with coastal prints. 

The tents are linked by decking walkways which lead towards the centrally located communal tent that comprises the dining/bar/lounge areas; adjacent to this is the spa treatment room and swimming pool with surrounding sun terraces. At breakfast and dinner, guests will dine together at a communal glass-topped table supported by a magnificent length of untreated Cedar tree trunk. Coffee tables made from sliced cross-sections of deadfall trees enhance the organic, natural vibe, as does a central fire pit feature in the lounge, adding warmth and a welcoming gathering place for cooler safari nights. 

Great care has been taken over the tents’ designs, facilities, materials and operations in order to minimize Mahali Mzuri’s environmental impact and maximize benefit to the local communities.


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