When South Africa-based designer Lisa Rorich was asked to create an uber-luxurious resort getaway on an island that is only reachable by overnight boat ride or private plane, she had her work cut out. “The logistics of getting building materials on to an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean led us to experiment with local building materials such as the Casaurina tree and we were also able to work with an incredible and skilled local workforce,” she says of the biggest lesson she learned while working on the stunning Madame Zabre Spa Retreat on the exclusive Desroches Island in the Seychelles.
The three-bedroom retreat is spread out over 767 square metres, and each bedroom comes with its own pool and expansive indoor/outdoor bathroom. There is a state-of-the-art gourmet kitchen, a sprawling dining and entertainment area and even a private spa pavilion. Lisa’s clients asked her to create a space that could be used as one large home, or as three individual rooms on nights when the entire residence wasn’t booked. So she decided a clever system of partitions that would allow for flexibility, privacy and ease of circulation was in order. For inspiration, Lisa crossed the Indian Ocean to Borneo where traditional longhouses include large timber doors that completely conceal or reveal interlinked spaces. These houses weren’t originally built to accommodate air-conditioning or electrical lighting, so bedrooms were in the shady, cool back part of the house, while living spaces were in the dynamic, bright front.
With the building’s architecture planned to a tee, Lisa set out to create its interior story. Her main aim was to design a sanctuary completely at one with its surroundings. She had plenty to work with for inspiration, from the deep azure of the sea to the shades of charcoal in the rocks and bleached colours of the sand and driftwood from indigenous island trees. Finishes seamlessly integrate interior and exterior, and include timber decking, bamboo for ceilings and furniture, bleached timber wall coverings and terrazzo floors selected to match the beach sand. Large pieces of driftwood feature in tables and delicate shells are used as light fixtures. There is even the occasional floating bamboo swing chair.
While the seamless indoor-outdoor feel of this expansive retreat is its main attraction, it was also one of Lisa’s greatest challenges. Light and airy is all good and well on temperate evenings, but what about the rainy and hot seasons? And what about bugs? “We had no air conditioning in the front living spaces so we designed them so they would have natural ventilation,” she says. “To prevent rain from getting in we created woven natural bamboo screens that allowed air movement, but gave protection from the elements.”
When asked to identify her favourite space in the three-bedroomed retreat, Lisa says with a smile, “It’s actually not in the building itself but rather on a sun lounger under the beautiful palm trees on the beach, totally in nature and just as we intended the villa to feel like – the breaking down of all boundaries between inside and outside.”