Design Destination

Artist Porky Hefer supersizes his signature nests to create luxe lodge

You've long been able to sit in one of Porky Hefer's weaver's nest-inspired creations; now you can holiday in one too

11 November 2018 - 00:00 By Julia Freemantle
The Nest @ Sossus, a private villa in Namibia designed by Porky Hefer, was a project 10 years in the making.
The Nest @ Sossus, a private villa in Namibia designed by Porky Hefer, was a project 10 years in the making.
Image: Katinka Bester

Porky Hefer is a design maverick and pioneer whose desire to drive trends rather than follow them has resulted in ever-innovative work.

A former ad man, his transition into product design bears the conceptual thinking of his previous occupation as well as a truly artistic devotion to craft and materiality.

With a passion for context, his signature nests have become an instantly recognisable trademark.

Hefer has been designing these environments for years, each collection building on the one before and exploring the idea further by experimenting with new techniques and textures. This long-standing affinity for natural habitats and advocating for vernacular architecture and methods have made him a respected figure in the design community.

"Design is about a continual evolution of a product or object. Environments are continually changing and products need to as well," says Hefer.

Porky Hefer's Kubu Nests were inspired by the nests of weaver birds.
Porky Hefer's Kubu Nests were inspired by the nests of weaver birds.
Image: Katinka Bester

Starting with the more literal iterations - integrated into gardens and parks from Babylonstoren to Tokara - and moving on to his more conceptual living pods, where the creatures themselves serve as the habitat, his designs have progressed.

Hefer's most recent collection is a set of art pieces that don't contain anything as such, but explore the wider issues of the man/nature dynamic, such as conservation - his Endangered collection, commissioned for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, is made of recycled materials by artisans in Cape Town.

But why nests? "My father was a keen birder and we spent many hours of my youth following and studying South Africa's amazing bird life. Birds and their architecture started me thinking about seasonal, sustainable architecture based on simple functional forms.

"Weavers also make the most variations of nest shape than any other family of birds. They are spread out over more varied climates and vegetation and have managed to adapt their nests and technique to survive," he explains.

The large-scale culmination of his journey, The Nest @Sossus, takes the concept back to its roots but also to its next stage of evolution.

The Nest @ Sossus and the inspiration behind its design, a communal weavers' nest.
The Nest @ Sossus and the inspiration behind its design, a communal weavers' nest.
Image: Katinka Bester

This luxurious private villa in the Namib Tsaris Conservancy, Namibia, was inspired by the sociable weaver birds' communal living designs that occupy whole trees. It's built almost entirely from thatch, roof to floor, and the interiors feature no right angles – everything is built in, as a bird would do – simple and streamlined for ease of movement within the shell.

Set on tract of dramatic Namibian wilderness, The Nest @Sossus draws on its surroundings for design cues. A vision a decade in the making, it is a considered study in context and appropriateness.

WATCH | Take a virtual tour of The Nest @ Sossus

"I am a big believer in and follower of vernacular architecture. We have been building like that for thousands of years, so why change? Animals are vernacular architects and we can learn a lot from them about materials and form," says Hefer.

His human-scale environments merge fantasy and function, and their playfulness belies deeper thinking. "It's the future of the next generation that I am concerned about and the state of the world they will inherit. Looking after our animals and Earth is one thing, but also the preservation of human skills, crafts and traditions."

QUICK Q&A WITH PORKY HEFER

You're a trend innovator rather than a follower but are there any current design directions that resonate with you?

I'm very happy to see the return to handcraft and a celebration of local traditions and techniques. It's extremely important to preserve these. Making things by hand is the most sustainable way to produce.

Porky Hefer in one of his creations: a wall-mounted sleeping pod called the Mud & Dauber Nest.
Porky Hefer in one of his creations: a wall-mounted sleeping pod called the Mud & Dauber Nest.
Image: Supplied

Do you have anything you collect?

I like handmade things, like beautifully crafted wooden toys. I love toys. My favourite toy at the moment is a solar-powered dancing monkey I found in Basel - it starts dancing when the sun comes up and doesn't stop till it drops. It makes me smile every day.

Which artists and designers do you admire - what is it about their work that you enjoy?

Bruce Goff is an American architect who woke me up. His unconventional buildings and use of space and materials is still groundbreaking. He's credited with inventing the sunken lounge of which I am a big fan.

Mexican organic architect Javier Senosiain's buildings push the boundaries of what is possible. I love the layers and textures of Athi-Patra Ruga's work. Francis Bacon too - for not being scared to reveal his true self and mind.

What is your favourite piece of design of all time?

It's between Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, which he started building in 1882 and is still not complete. Or the Great Mosque in Djenne, a temple to vernacular architecture.

What skills that you gained during your time in advertising have been useful in design?

I was fortunate to be part of Hunt Lascaris in its heyday and I learnt a lot from John Hunt. I also learnt about disruption from Jean Marie Dru, who taught me never to be the same as my competition, and always reinvent the category.


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