Earlier this year, local design company Bracey Interiors was tasked with a unique challenge – the opportunity to create a luxury safari style lodge in the heart of Bristol Zoo Gardens. Samantha Coleman takes a look around the new accommodation with interior designer Ben Bracey as her guide…
When local interior designer Ben Bracey – one half of Clifton’s Bracey Interiors (the other half is his wife Alison) – was asked to renovate an old keeper’s lodge at Bristol Zoo and turn it into luxury accommodation with a safari theme, he jumped at the chance. “It was an opportunity to let myself go a bit wild, have some fun and do things that I can’t usually get away with,” he says. And by this he’s referring to the bold jungle print wallpaper, striking green walls and brightly coloured floral print sofa.
The Lodge, as it is now called, is a secluded two bedroom apartment in the heart of the gardens, and the idea behind it is that it allows visitors to experience a behind-the-scenes stay at the zoo. So as part of the package you’ll take a twilight tour of the zoo when everyone else has gone home, eat breakfast with the gorillas and get a chance to feed the animals too. On top of this you’ll also be cooked for by a private chef, who will prepare and serve a four-course meal, so you can dine in style in the cosy dining room – or on a balmy summer evening, you can sit outside on your private balcony and watch the sun set over the zoo.
It’s this idea of a luxury experience of the zoo that Ben and his wife Alison had to bear in mind when they came to thinking about design inspiration.
“We wanted to create a tranquil haven where you can relax in luxury while being at one with nature,” says Ben. “In each room you’ll find zoo and safari themes, created through natural materials and textures instead of naff leopard print throws. We wanted to make the lodge as earthy as we could, so we’ve used a lot of wood and stone and neutral tones throughout, mixed with very loud prints and bright sparks of colour to give it an injection of warmth and a bit of an edge.”
As soon as you enter the apartment, you’re greeted with a beautiful wood effect floor, an abundance of light flooding through the half-glazed doors to the lounge area and curved green walls in the hallway, which took a lot of re-structuring and re-building to achieve. “They had to be curved,” says Ben. “I like curves. I like softened edges. I can’t stand hard edges all the time. Curves add space.”
After he said this I spotted curves everywhere – subtle, but everywhere: the smooth burnt orange marble table in the dining area, the lampshades, chairs, the shower cubicle, and even the stone basins in the bathroom and washroom. And in a relatively small lodge like this, it’s amazing how much space they seemingly do create. You could easily have a family staying here and not be in each other’s way.
Despite working to a tight budget and a six week time schedule, Ben and Alison have managed to create an apartment that reflects the zoo, its animals and environment perfectly.
The main living/dining area is inspired by plantation lodges with textures being the dominant feature. Tactile wood furniture gives a natural, rustic feel while the sofa has been covered in a beautiful Harlequin fabric of brightly coloured tropical flowers and vegetation. The back wall is covered by a wallpaper that hints at Colonial style shutters – a nice backdrop to the marble table and enormous indoor plant in the corner of the room. “I think it’s a really nice feature for this wall,” says Ben, “it’s as if you can open the shutters and walk out on to a terrace, creating the sense that nature is all around.”
Which it is, and can be appreciated in all its glory from the other living room further down the hallway. The first thing you notice is the bold leaf wallpaper and pea green sofa, but if you turn your gaze beyond the patio doors you’ll see views over the zoo gardens from a large outside seating area. And cleverly, Ben has managed to capture this serenity of nature in the main bedroom. A quieter, more reflective space, it features elephant motifs, grey tones and simple furniture, with shocks of orange and red in the soft furnishings to give it a warm and cosy ambience. The second bedroom has a very different feel having been designed around an amazing bright and bold jungle scene wallpaper which takes over a whole wall. “This is the perfect space for such striking wallpaper,” says Ben. “That was our starting point in the room and then we decided to bring the colours out in the blinds, cushions and accessories.”
In every room there’s a statement feature that really cements the lodge’s place in the heart of the zoo and each room, while flowing seamlessly to the next, has a different feel to it – just like the different zones in the zoo. “We wanted to make it a zoo experience internally as well,” says Ben.
It is obvious that there has been a great amount of attention to detail in the design of the lodge – from the soft carpets, animal artwork on the walls and mood lighting, to the luxurious furnishings and ornate mirrors. “A lot of pieces were made in the workshop at the back of our shop, such as the upholstered stools,” says Ben. “And I’ve been lucky enough to use local suppliers for everything else. The stone basins were donated by Mandarin Stone in Clifton Village, tiles are from The Tile Barn in Backwell and the marble for the dining table was donated by Avon Marble, to name just a few. When other businesses heard about what we were doing here, they were thrilled to help and be part of it. It was great to work on a project that is so close to the hearts of the local community. It’s been good fun.”
There is last minute availability for The Lodge during December – currently prices start at £750 per night.
For more information on The Lodge visit: www.bristolzoo.org.uk/explore-the-zoo/the-lodge and for more information about Bracey Interiors, who celebrate their 50th anniversary next year, visit: www.braceyinteriors.co.uk
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