Inge Moore and her London-based design team have completed the refurbishment of 48 guestrooms and suites in one of the world’s most iconic hotels – Cape Town’s Belmond Mount Nelson. The design intent was to recreate the original spirt of the grand old hotel, which opened in 1899 and was said at the time to be as elegant as any fine London hotel, while updating it in such a way to engage today’s connoisseur travellers and lovers of exceptional hotels.
Inspired by Heritage
Capetonian heritage and influences were therefore the foundation to the designers’ thinking and this was a narrative that proved to open up layers of design opportunity. Once, seafarers from around the globe discovered the Cape and made it home, embracing what she had to offer and combining this with what they had brought from their previous lives. Local materials, rustic timbers, beads and clay brought together with sparkling crystal, silver cutlery and fine bone china created a new vernacular that uniquely belonged in the Cape. It was this mixing of the old and the new, the refined and the artisanal that Inge has translated into the refurbished guestrooms. Importantly, just as the “Nellie” has always been, the redesigned rooms are comfortably residential in feel. For the many loyal guests who return year-after-year, the ambience of their room will be reassuringly familiar while there will be much to discover that is new and enchanting.
“The Mount Nelson is one of a small handful of hotels that epitomise the inheritance and soul of their location, so they must be subtly moved on within the continuum of their beloved personality,” says Inge.
Connected with Nature
The gardens, lovingly tended and matured over the decades since the hotel first opened, as well as the breath-taking view of Table Mountain mean that Mount Nelson Hotel is the place to contemplate both the majesty of untamed nature and the beauty of man’s work with nature. The redesign celebrates both. Windows and casings have been restored and painted white, while the new drapery pelmets are smaller than before, effectively opening up the windows and framing the views. Guests can now better connect with what is outside and take the emotion with them as they relax inside. The bed is the centrepiece of each room, focused on the view and, at the foot of each bed, there is a local ‘riempies bank’ – the bench introduced to the Cape by the early settlers and locally made. Each room has a “chair to dream in”, a deeply comfortable armchair placed at a vantage point to soak up the panorama and allow the guest a place to slow down and feel what is important to them, be it to think, read or just to be.
Other heirloom furniture includes dark timber tables and cabinets with brass and leather detailing, while some furniture has been specially designed as a modern take on traditional pieces. There are idiosyncratic pieces, such as a beaded mirror, introduced to balance the collection and ensure the rooms retain an air of light hearted residential randomness. In re-planning the rooms, wardrobe space has become as generous as each room allows to meet the needs of the many guests who stay for a week or more.
All materials are classic, timeless and locally sourced. Originally, the hotel had timber flooring. Now, new oak flooring has been introduced into some suites, scattered with rugs crafted by local carpet weavers. Natural leather and linen abounds and antiqued and bevelled mirror reflects the sparkle of crystal and the sunshine dancing through the room. Drapery is soft and calming in tone, locally embroidered with a flower motif to bring a biophilic context – a love of life and things natural and hand-made – to the design. The guestrooms are light and airy on sunny days but they will also be cosy and cocooning when the sea mists and rain roll in. “They are rooms for slow living, a place to nest and connect with one’s emotions,” says Stan Chan, a senior member of the design team.
Telling the Story through Art
Artwork is a major part of the experience and the rooms have been lovingly accessorised with collections of objects and over-scaled paintings curated by Janine Bath in collaboration with Inge. All of the art is by local artists, some is contemporary and some depicts the beautiful landscapes of this part of the world in a new way.
“I think that art in hotels is either just decorative or it has real meaning – there is nothing in-between,” says Inge. “When we have the opportunity to develop art with local artists, it creates the meaning of the project and sets the tone. For Mount Nelson, I wanted to celebrate the amazing Cape and bring this into the hotel.”
The new artworks have joined many fine existing pieces which have been re-framed in a contemporary manner, complimenting the traditionally classic images of landscapes and flowers. Guestroom corridors have been transformed with new art offering a journey through the work of some of Cape Town’s most interesting established and budding artists, combined with the existing collection. The introduction of additional chandeliers and crystal wall lights provides new sparkle as well as more light, the tones of paint replicate heritage colours favoured in domestic settings in the late 19th century and a new sisal-inspired carpet hints at the hard-wearing floor coverings of the turn of the century.
“I want guests to feel like they are walking through the corridors of a beloved aunt’s amazing home,” concludes Inge.
All photography: Micky Hoyle