Well before Namibia hit the tabloids as the birthplace of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s daughter, this sparsely populated southern African country was a favorite below-the-radar destination for savvy travelers smitten with its wildly beautiful, otherworldly landscapes. These days, Namibia is attracting more curiosity and many more visitors, owing in part to a barrage of spectacular new lodges and restaurants—many of them the work of visionary interior designer and fourth-generation Namibian Heidrun Diekmann.
Diekmann is well aware that her country offers a radically different environment for visitors at a time when homogeneous design and been-there-done-that travel experiences are the norm. Travelers to Namibia find themselves in a dramatically rugged and wide-open place—one that inspires serendipitous, exploratory drives around the country more than it does fervent searches for the “big five” (the elephants, leopards, lions, buffalo and rhinos that lure tourists on African safaris). Every turn along Namibia’s dusty roads reveals a breathtaking scene: from the massive, rolling, fire-red dunes and mysterious spheres tattooed in the dune grass of the Namib—thought to be the world’s oldest desert—to the whale bones and shipwreck remains that dot the infamous Skeleton Coast like ghostly sculptures.
Through the design projects she has undertaken over the past few years—which range from a boutique hotel in an old castle to the country’s most prestigious restaurant and cooking school to ultrachic tented camps—Diekmann has been instrumental in creating a modern Namibian aesthetic. Her approach takes full advantage of the natural and cultural environment, and it differs substantially from the bush-lodge style found elsewhere in Africa. “I’m aiming for the handmade factor, which makes a space feel more tactile and special in a world where everything is mass-produced,” Diekmann explains. Each of the lodges and restaurants she designs has its own idiosyncratic style. Her signature lies in her use of the strikingly original objects, textiles and tabletop items she finds or commissions from some of the most talented artisans in southern Africa.