The people who helped me bring Klein JAN to life
Had it not been for Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer’s belief in my dream to create something truly South African on home soil, Klein JAN would never have seen the light of day. From the moment Jonathan first introduced me to Boscia House, I connected instantly with this place – and somehow the bond felt like it had always been there, even though I’d never been to the Kalahari – the familiarity was something like reconnecting with an old, dear friend. In the coming years, the fates all joined together and brought me in touch with the most incredible people who, each in their own way, helped me bring my vision to life. In this gathering of memories, some of the core team behind Klein JAN reminisce about this incredible project.
From my rudimentary sketch on a serviette, Klein JAN began to take shape in the sketchbooks of Adrian Davidson, the architect. “We knew from the very start that we could not tamper with this poetic scene of an old homestead sitting in the middle of this vast open Kalahari plain,” says Adrian, “Spaces, places, and buildings are not mere props in our lives; they can come to symbolize personal histories and shared events. As such, we imagined all the stories and history of this 100-year-old home and wanted to see how we could sensitively bring the past alive and weave its tale into a new and completely unexpected experience.”
But the Klein JAN experience doesn’t begin and end with Boscia House. “The main restaurant is still totally invisible, as it is submerged into the earth, and only reveals herself when you enter the concealed door in the side of an old water reservoir, “Adrian constinues, “Sustainability being a key consideration in our design approach, our research showed a submerged building would require less energy to keep cool in the heat of the day, or in the chilly desert night. So, the decision to set the restaurant into the earth was not only for the utility of hiding the structure, but also due to the known benefits of “thermal lag”, found in pit architecture. The design intent was always to have indoor and outdoor spaces to flow seamlessly into each other so although the arrival journey is underground, we placed the building so that the dining opens up with a view over the Kalahari Savannah.”
From there, I saw life being breathed into Klein JAN’s bones as Peta Bank, Client Representative and Project Manager, headed up a team of incredible builders and craftspeople led by Kobus Duvenhage, who worked closely alongside one another to bring every element together with the utmost skill and care for the fragile environment in which Klein JAN lives today.
“The vastness and colours of the Kalahari truly touch one’s soul,” says Peta, who was also Project Manager for the Motse Lodge upgrade. “The contrast between Boscia House and the journey underground until one enters the main restaurant speaks to one’s senses in every way: the carefully curated music, the sound of the water is a palate cleanser for the senses as one walks down the stairs of the petrichor – the sequenced lighting, the bespoke joinery of the root cellar showcasing the bountiful local produce – the aroma of the freshly baked bread in the Sop en Brood, and then the grand finale of entering the main restaurant, glass doors sliding back to reveal the ever-changing landscape as the sun sets and turns the sky into vibrant orange and red hues, undulating mountain ranges in the far distance… there’s no experience like it.”
To Peta, Klein JAN was one of the greatest highlights of her career. “As I stood in the Root and Wine cellar surrounded by our team, waiting for the glass doors to open prior to the filming of the launch dinner, the sense of pride, achievement and camaraderie was palpable.”
Every element of Klein JAN – and so, the people behind it – share Peta’s passion for the project. “I didn’t fully understand what I was about to get involved in,” remembers Dean Jacobs, who was responsible for the shopfitting and joinery. “As time went on, I got a better feel for the vision for Klein JAN and Jan Hendrik’s passion.”
Although he’d done this kind of work a hundred times before, he knew instantly that this was going to be different. “It was late March and I arrived at Klein JAN for the last few days of our installation. This time I entered through the Petrichor –the water feature was on and the music was playing – the door shut and I walked down the stairs. I got to the bottom and looked into the root cellar, I slid the doors open, first the smells then the cold, my eyes trying to take in everything as I walked through into the wine cellar and then Sop en Brood. It hit me then what we had achieved……. Klein Jan is out of this world. I can’t explain it, you have to experience it.”
Boscia House, however, remains our guests’ first impression, and I wanted this century-old farmhouse to convey a sense of nostalgic theatre and an actual window into the past. I wanted it to feel like a still life painting come to life. For this, I asked Hannes Maritz to create the scene.
“I wrote a story of what I want people to feel when they are there, reminisces Hannes. “I grew up in the Kalahari, so I am very familiar with the environment, the shadows, sounds, smells… My main focus was storytelling so I started sourcing elements and products that tell a familiar story and that made me feel a certain way.”
Hannes’ approach extended into every aspect of his task, from the sourcing to the styling. “I visited numerous second-hand shops, markets and antique shops, gathering as much history on every item as I could get.”
But there was another layer to Hannes’ work on Boscia House. “Each piece also had to be functional, whether it was an old oil lamp or a riempiestoel,” he says. “There was no list or 3D render. I brough the pieces home with me and unpacked them in my cellar to see everything together to start building a visual with all the detail.”