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<< Back to Robb Report, December 2012

Out of Africa

Erika Heet

Golf legend Gary Player is partial to the South Carolina vacation home his son Marc built. "We have something very special here," Gary says of the forested property at the Cliffs at Mountain Park residential community. He and his wife, Vivienne, and their six children and 22 grandchildren all share the property, which Marc owns with his wife, Claudia. The residence—situated on 8 wooded acres overlooking the seventh green of the community’s Gary Player Signature Design golf course—is a tribute to the family’s South African roots. "There’s a little bit of Africa infused throughout the home," says Gary.

Marc, founder of Black Knight International—a firm that represents Gary’s business and philanthropic endeavors—supervised the design of the home, which was completed in 2011. He and Claudia enlisted architect Tom Markalunas, of Resort Custom Homes, in Greenville, S.C., to create the mountain refuge, which showcases African art and other decorative elements.

The exterior of the 8,300-square-foot home, with its pitched copper standing-seam roof, is in keeping with the mountain setting. To incorporate the plantings and the hardscape around the entry, Markalunas worked with Charlotte, N.C.–based landscape architect Pam Granade. "We wanted the approach to the house to feel natural," he says, "like driving down an old stone road."

Upstairs, Downstairs | “The idea for the interiors was to bring the outside in,” says Marc. “Even when we’re inside, we feel like we’re sitting among the trees.” For the upstairs lounge, interior designer Suzy Lubner—who outfitted Marc and Claudia’s vacation home in South Africa’s Plettenberg Bay, where Lubner is based—kept the palette light so as not to detract from the view. “Every single piece in the home has come from Africa, from the Cape to Morocco,” says Marc. These objects include lampshades made from guinea fowl feathers; Zulu dowry necklaces; and ironwood tree trunks from Mali that were chopped and made into ladders before being rendered as sculptural forms. The African horse-head statues near the fireplace are nods to Gary’s stud farm in South Africa.

For the walls of the main hall, the architect employed granite, which he tempered with areas of wide-plank hickory flooring. Modernizing the space are the steel-and-cable stair railing and a work by the South African artist Phillemon Hlungwani. The stairs lead down to a second lounge, where a Nigerian wedding garment made from tiny shells hangs above a fireplace, near ankle adornments from the Maasai tribe in Kenya. To distinguish the room from the upstairs lounge, Lubner introduced more shape, texture, and color with ostrich eggs, painted African baskets, and patterned fabrics. Beyond the two-sided fireplace is a family room that leads to a terrace where the younger children—including Marc and Claudia’s sons, Damian, 9, Sebastian, 7, and Gabriel, 4—like to gather. “We can see each other, but the children can still have their own informal area,” says Marc, whose primary residence is in Palm Beach, Fla.

“We’ve got a United Nations of grandchildren living all over the world, thousands of miles apart in their respective countries,” adds Gary. “Just spending time here with them means so much.”

Family Style | Marc and Claudia asked for an open kitchen and lounge where the family could congregate. “It’s the most used area of the house,” says Marc. “In the mornings it’s a hive of activity, and in the evenings the adults will have a glass of wine or go out to the patio for a braai [barbecue] on the adjacent terrace.” The African references continue in this space, down to the smallest detail—even the flowers. “The Players always have South African proteas in the house,” says Lubner.

For formal meals, the family takes to the adjacent dining room. “It’s quite typical of South African families to cook and share meals together at home rather than going out,” says Marc. “Being together is part of our lifestyle—it’s the way we operate as a family.” Above the fireplace, whose herringbone pattern echoes that of the rest of the house’s fireplaces, is a painting of an indigenous South African Nguni bull. “That bull belongs to a friend of mine, and we know the artist who painted it,” says Marc. “Most things in the house have some special significance.”

A Suite Deal | When in residence, Marc and Claudia retire to the downstairs master suite. Hanging on the wall above the headboard is a contemporary photograph of a baobab tree. “The African baobab trees grow to thousands of years old,” says Marc. “They look like they’re upside down, as if the roots are reaching to the sky. They hold rainwater, and the baboons come and drink from them. It’s very symbolic of Africa.” The iron chandelier was custom made in Cape Town. For the master bedroom’s seating area, Lubner set a pair of generous lounge chairs near the window, which looks out to the golf course and is covered in layers of linen draperies for privacy. “I carried the ostrich feather onto the lampshades to remind the Players of their beloved Karoo back here [in South Africa],” says Lubner. “We didn’t want anything to look like tourist stuff from the airport,” says Marc. “All of the objects are authentic and real, and they all have a story attached to them.”

Gary and Vivienne stay in a separate suite upstairs; its bath features dark wood cabinets, marble floors, stone walls, and a high-set window with treetop views.

Human Nature | Ironwood limbs–cum–art pieces grace the pool terrace—one of the children’s favorite spots. Another well-utilized space is what the family refers to as the outdoor room, where an antique Moroccan platter hangs above the fireplace. “This piece, which is more than 200 years old, would have been used by a large family for a meal,” says Marc. “It has an amazing patina to it, and you can just imagine generations of families gathered around it. We put it in a place of prominence because it symbolizes our family—my brothers and sisters, our parents, and all the kids being together.”

In the forest on the property, which abuts one million acres of parkland, the family commissioned the South African artist Porky Hefer to build a human-size nest modeled after that of the industrious weaver bird. “The kids take a backpack and a picnic up to the nest. We even had my parents in the nest, though it took a bit of pushing to get them up there,” Marc says with a laugh.

For the family patriarch, nesting in nature is essential to the experience at the Cliffs. “Here, we can take the children swimming, or down to the driving range, or for a walk in the trees,” Gary says. “Being in nature gives us a real sense of peace.”

Resort Custom Homes, 864.233.6800, www.resortcustom.com; Suzy Lubner, +27.82.443.2167; Pam Granade, 970.949.1700; The Cliffs at Mountain Park, 866.411.5771, www.cliffscommunities.com

This article was originally published in the December 2012 issue of Robb Report. Click here to read more articles from this issue.

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