Their client list reads like a roll call of the most respected safari brands on the planet: andBeyond, African Bush Camps, Gondwana, Morukuru Family, and Aramness. Each offer award-winning wilderness lodges that have graced the pages of travel and décor magazines the world over. And behind each of them sits the down-to-earth duo of Fox Browne Creative.
Debra Fox and Christopher Browne first met while working at high-end safari operator andBeyond: she as COO, he as creative director. In 2009 they struck out on their own, and Fox Browne Creative was born with a vision of developing bespoke luxury destinations.
In the years since they have designed and opened more than 60 award-winning lodges and hotels across nine countries, creating and curating everything from architecture and design to the in-house culinary experience.
From a humblestart-up begun at the proverbial dining room table, today the company has grown to 15 staff across design, architecture and operations, split between offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Key to the success of Fox Browne Creative has been their ability to create a dialogue between the architecture, décor and surrounding landscape. And to accomplish that, their designs always begin at the very same point.
“It’s always the place, first and foremost,” says Browne. “It sounds like a cliché, but we really do wander around and look at pieces of bark, and the trees, and try to tap into the soul of the place. That’s always number one. For us the ultimate luxury is creating a true sense of place”
If place is the first step, the second is creating an architectural, design and interior look and feel that is fresh and eye-catching enough to entice well-heeled safari travellers, while ensuring the lodge has longevity.
“For us it’s about bucking against the trends. To not follow what everyone else is doing,” says Fox. “We believe we have a responsibility to our clients, and the guest, and the environment, to build something with longevity. We have to design something that goes beyond the zeitgeist.”
Sustainability is increasingly a key element of brand positioning, but it’s also been a part of the Fox Browne Creative ethos from the beginning.
“I have an aversion to waste, and I can’t stand the level of waste that we often find in this industry,” says Browne. “With a refurbishment there are always perfectly good items that, with a little restyle or remodel, are good to go again. And apart from being more sustainable I think that also adds to a sense of continuity, a bit of layering and nostalgia. And those all conspire to make a space more interesting.”
The studio also has a strong focus on celebrating African arts, artisans and craftsmanship. Where possible, décor, furniture and fittings are sourced locally, putting a spotlight on regionality while supporting local economies.
Another key trend the pair sees coming to the fore is a demand for embedded wellness and immersive travel.
While a spa and beautiful treatment spaces now come standard at luxury lodges, Fox Browne Creative are extending that to unique experiences ranging from outdoor gyms to forest bathing.
Another theme informing their new work is connection, whether that’s with other people or the natural surrounds.
“Lodges have become so luxurious that people are now looking to reconnect,” says Fox. “So the question for us is, how do we simplify and get back to nature, while keeping the luxury?”
That manifests in increased outdoor spaces, from daybeds in private poolside salas to luxury sleep-out options beneath the stars, while creating opportunities for human connection.
“And what’s really changed over the last few years is that guests do not want to sit in the vehicle,” adds Fox. “They want to walk, they want to e-bike, they want to track, they want to canoe. They want to be active and immersed in the activity. It’s why I think private concessions will be huge for the industry in the future, where you have the freedom to create those experiences.”