Feature mosaics and paintings by local artists give the walls of the porte-cochère a colourful flavour. On entering the home, the walls reflect feminine overtones, and I can almost hear them whisper… “I have carried the world since the dawn of time.” A portrait of a Xhosa woman sitting quietly amongst her peers, smoking her pipe, gazes out from the canvas that brings her to life, her contemplative mood reflecting all that she has witnessed. These magnificent pieces are the emotive work of Laura Fraser. And as I slip away, I see the playful art of children adorning the walls, paying homage to a revered ‘father’.
The Tactile Handcrafts factory near Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, was commissioned to weave the carpets. Weaving the patterns by numbers, they used the ancient middle Eastern technique of hand-knotting quality wool and Mohair on linen warp. Each row of Turkish knots was tied, and then a linen weft was woven through and beaten down. This process took experienced workers a month to produce 2 square metres, working to highest quality standards and producing a dense pile weighing 7kg per square metre. The effort is rewarded with a luxurious feeling underfoot as I wander through the house.
Thatching is as much an art as a trade, and even more so when laid, beaten and cut into layers featuring attractive, traditional African patterns. I sense the harmony with the African bush as I gaze up and admire this wonderful, age-old technique.
Extensive use was made of natural materials in decorative elements, such as the Leadwood tree trunk supports from Limpopo for the porte-cochère and the intricately carved Rhodesian Teak door frames. The front door frame was carved by Matsemela ike Nkoana, a master craftsman. Introducing this Mozambican style of carving was a fitting tribute to Graça Machel’s heritage, as well as honouring former President Nelson Mandela.
Margaret Fine, a Soweto manufacturer of soft furnishings, was commissioned to make all the curtains and cushions, using mainly silk material with bead trimmings and decorations to add a special touch of African magic. Some of the furniture was imported from Italy, such as the leather suite in the sitting room. The Italian designers were enthusiastic about the project and designed a special Madiba range as the perfect complement to the hand-woven African carpets. This amazing blend of contemporary and traditional design brings together the inspired vision of this remarkable place of peace.