WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Micky Hoyle PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes
A stylish independent Design Hotel has opened in the historical heart of Cape Town, and it is truly gorgeous.
The story of Gorgeous George is one of connection. There’s the literal connection of architecture and eras: two historical buildings, one Art Deco, the other New Edwardian, on one of Cape Town’s oldest streets, St George’s Mall, rather haphazardly connected to each other some time in the ’50s or ’60s. There is its recent renovation, which, while preserving the building’s character, has also integrated its two parts and connected them to the present with steel and concrete and contemporary design. And there’s the hotel itself, a place that invites connection with the city centre and with one another.
“Hotels for me have always been magical places,” says owner Tobias Alter. “Restaurants in hotels are different from freestanding ones. There’s constant life going on in those rooms; there are stories happening – tragedies, great moments – so I think there’s just greater soul.” At Gorgeous George this space takes the form of Gigi Rooftop – the restaurant, bar and terrace with a pool where guests and visitors can mingle.
To say this is a passion project for Tobias would be underplaying it. From the perspective of a property developer from Munich, he saw an inner-city address and beautiful heritage facade as assets. Over the past three-and-a-half years, these are the very elements that have proved to be the most challenging, especially for a first-time hotelier. And they are also the traits that make Gorgeous George so distinct.
As the renovation revealed structural issues, the team had to adapt. “When we started on the project, we wanted to look for traces or moods left from the original buildings,” says architect Klaus Neumann of Urbane Citizen Architecture. “What we found was a mood of abandonment, a butchering of the old buildings. We revealed the concrete superstructure and steel alterations, a blank canvas of sorts.”
In the 20 rooms and 12 suites, that industrial rawness creates a cool metropolitan feel. Besides the facade, the rooftop retains the most significant traces of the former buildings in the brick gable and tower, the latter converted to house the pool. Creating Gigi Rooftop was a way of solving the two buildings’ disparate heights. “For heritage reasons, the New Edwardian roof shape is retained, but in steel and glass to hint at modernity,” says Klaus.
The interior design is a considered mix of vintage and modern classics, collectibles and curiosities, and contemporary art. Tristan du Plessis credits a flexible client for allowing him to go against the grain of traditional hotel design. “We mixed local and international design brands in the space: Moooi, Jieldé and DCW éditions sit beside Gregor Jenkin, David Krynauw and Wiid Design.”
This approach has worked: Gorgeous George is the first hotel in Cape Town to join the international Design Hotels stable. Each of the privately owned and operated hotels in the collection of 300 are known for their distinctive creative expressions rooted in a city’s design, architecture and hospitality culture.
So who is George? “George is everything – he’s the curious, he’s the sensitive, he’s the adventurer,” says creative director Kara Furter. “George is a person who would live in the hotel,” adds Tobias, who himself moved into the hotel before the opening, in part to be hands-on and in part because his home in the city is empty from bringing pieces to the hotel he thought might work in the space.
“One thing that made me come to Cape Town and choose to stay is the Capetonians – the attitude, the open-mindedness,” says Tobias. “I’d be happy if Capetonians were to accept Gorgeous George as a living room. Making a place for locals is more challenging than making one for tourists, but in every big city there is a hotel like this that appeals to its residents, and I hope that’s what we can be for Cape Town.”
For more information about the hotel, visit gorgeousgeorge.co.za.