Direct Booking

Book directly with us.

Guest Enquiry

Not ready to book just yet? Submit an enquiry and our team will be in touch within 24 hours.

30 October, 2023
| Royal Malewane

Art and Design at Royal Malewane’s Waterside Lodge

Written by: The Royal Portfolio
read more about contributor

“This is not a lodge, it’s a sanctuary, a retreat, a connected village” – Liz Biden

Waterside is much more than “just” another luxury lodge – it’s a destination with a unique sense of place, where Liz Biden has lovingly crafted a bold new African canvas on which guests can write their own safari stories.

Liz’s signature style expertly combines bright, opulent artworks and intriguing designs to create a sense of harmony, and gives warmth and fascination to every space.

Waterside has a unique atmosphere that complements the beauty of its natural surroundings – there’s magic to be found around every corner, just as there is in the African bushveld.

A place like no other

“When I go on a game drive, I don’t look for animals, I look for trees, and it’s the trees that drew me to Waterside. One of the first things I did when we started work on Waterside was to plant an additional 100 Fever, Tamboti and Thorn trees to welcome more birds into the camp. We even named our new spa ‘Reflections’ because, after the pandemic, we felt we had found the perfect location for guests who needed a place to rest and reflect.”

Liz reveals that she chose the site for Waterside with her husband, Phil, because the bustling waterhole and the surrounding fever tree forest instantly spoke to them… As Liz describes it, “there is something special about these ‘Nkelenga’ trees. Their traditional Tsonga name translates as “the light from afar”. The tall stands of trees around Waterside act as a beacon, calling to curious travellers and thirsty creatures alike”.

Fever trees are both spectral and vibrant at the same time. Their steadfast yet enigmatic presence is reassuring as well as mysterious. Come, they seem to say, and discover familiar comforts while you renew your sense of wonder.

The lodge itself is built in the dappled shadow of a magnificent stand of mature Nkelenga trees, with their gold-green mystery shading the open-air bar with its views out over the waterhole. The focal point of the lodge provides the ideal setting in which to come together and appreciate the sights and sounds of nature.

Inspired by the colours of Nature

“I live in such amazing colour in my own home, and it makes me happy. I felt that guests would love it too. Injecting a flush of modernity, we decided to recruit a young, charismatic and dynamic team to match the cheeky and playful addition to the Royal Portfolio family.”

In designing Waterside, a key consideration was to reflect the beauty of Nature, and to amplify and celebrate the colours of the bush. After all, as Liz points out, the bush isn’t just green, and for too long, safari style has only been expressed in shades of khaki.

Waterside’s confident, expressive use of colour is changing the face of safari. The palette references the orange of the aloes, the electric blue flash of a malachite kingfisher in flight, and the dusty pink of the impala lily.

Liz has also called time on the ‘out of Africa’ school of design – Waterside is an African lodge, and everyone who has worked on it was seeking new ways to express the joy and miracle of living in Africa.

Re-loved items

“I love finding the jewels of the bush and we have tried to make Waterside our jewel of the bush!”

Nothing goes to waste in the bush – every skull, feather, seed pod or fallen leaf is repurposed as food, a new home, or a marker on some secret trail known only to a few. Liz adopted a very similar approach to selecting discarded things, then adding colour to give them a new lease of life, and refreshed meaning.

Liz explains that the team sourced items that had good bones and history and a classic style, and then added a bit of fairy dust to give them some pizazz. The juxtaposition of old and new adds even more excitement to each moment at Waterside.

The spaciousness of the suites offered the space for Liz to be expansive in her selection of signature pieces of furniture. Vintage dining tables were lovingly restored, sanded and varnished to start a new life as writing desks, while the drinks cabinet in the library was once a medicine cabinet. There is continuity here, too, as in its new role it continues to dispense a type of cure!

The yellow chest in Suite 5 is another great example – “I had stored it for 8 years, waiting for the ideal moment for it to assume a starring role.”


Liz is an avid collector of fabrics, and for Waterside, she threw open the doors of her closet and brought out pieces she had stored for years, just waiting for the right moment. The process of choosing can be almost instantaneous, with design decisions happening right there and then. Seemingly unlikely connections are made – they just seem to work. Liz has an abiding love of the unexpected and relishes the synergy that can be found in contrasts. When you set foot in Waterside for the first time, this is immediately apparent. Just as with the exceptional cuisine and stunning wine cellar at the lodge, it’s often all about the pairing.

The human touch

“I like to put into each room something old, something new and something that’s fun!”

A late personal friend of Liz’s created sketches on pages from old registry books. Blown up and framed, their wild colours and crazy expressions anchor the rooms. Ralph Krall was an inspiration to Liz for over 40 years, and his artistic spirit will live on at Waterside.

Each Waterside guest suite has a personality of its own, suffused with light and always containing the element of surprise. Captivating details abound; even the swimming pool mosaics are in tune with the suites.

The team

To bring her vision for Waterside to life, Liz worked closely with 3 artists living on site during the organic process of construction and décor. The free-flowing creative energy united the team in a shared experience of coming together and finding new and surprising synergies.

As a team, the artists brought colour, spice, excitement and reinvention to the work of restoring and painting. Taking the approach that nothing is too old to get a new look, artist Marguerite Brunsdon transformed old African table lamps into new works of art.

Continuing the journey

Waterside offers every guest those quintessential bush moments – the sundowners where you inhale the scent of the potato bush, the lazy lunchtime siestas when the African sun kisses your daydreams, and the still afternoons when you rock yourself gently into a contemplative state whilst lying in a swing bed, watching nearby nyala grazing…

At Waterside, these key experiences are backdropped by the colours and textures of the bush, as depicted and reflected by Liz Biden in her most vital, triumphant décor scheme yet.

“The Royal Portfolio is unique because we have a circuit. There are so many beautiful experiences and immersions – bush, sea, gourmet and city. Many others want to, and have tried to, replicate the circuit, but it’s not easy to find the right properties in diverse locations, and then offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences, while ensuring it’s your brand and your style.”

Back to all blogs
Share this blog:

Leave a comment

Related stories you might like

28 August 2023 | The Royal Portfolio

A greener solution for Waterside

The Waterside hydronics system is primarily powered by the sun, for guilt-free luxury.

Lodge Rooms
26 July 2018 | Nicole Sorour

10 Questions with Liz Biden

We recently caught up with Liz to glean a few insights into her unique style of design.

03 May 2023 | The Royal Portfolio

A typical day on safari at Royal Malewane

From the chorus of dawn to the starlit skies after sunset, this is what to expect from your day on safari.