Stowaway at the Waterfront

PHOTOS: Micky Hoyle | PRODUCTION: Sumien Brink | WORDS: Johan van Zyl

The Dock House Boutique Hotel, hiding away in one of the Waterfront’s most beautiful historic buildings, is a showcase of how subtly classic and contemporary styles can be merged.

Allow yourself to momentarily ignore the pair of seagulls next to the swimming pool, engaged in a tug of war over a hot chip one of them snatched off little Amber-Galacia Daniels’ paper plate.

Imagine it’s late Saturday morning, a mere stone’s throw from the busy Victoria Wharf shopping mall, but you’re ensconced in a luxurious cocoon – completely isolated from the noise of the marimbas and hooting taxis, the lamenting of credit cards and cash registers, and the weeping of little Amber-Galacia (and mercifully also immune to her mother’s comforting scolding, “Naughty seagull, naughty seagull!”).

That’s because you find yourself in the former office-cum-home of a Capetonian harbour engineer, on a rock wall beside the well-known Timeball tower. The house was completed in 1863 and now, 145 years later, has been transformed into a chic boutique hotel, but without losing any of the Victorian magnificence: thick walls, lovely high ceilings (some of them steel), clean lines, and ornate cornices and dado rails.

The owners, Newmark Hotels (owned by the Markovitz and Swersky families), spared no money or effort in preserving the building’s heritage status. Gabriël Fagan Architects – or more specifically, John Wilson-Harris – was appointed to install “as many rooms as practically possible” while retaining the patina of age.

“That’s why many of the architraves around the doors are still slightly dented, the walls are not always absolutely smooth and the exposed timber floors reflect the marks of time. This, juxtaposed with the contemporary additions, creates an interesting dichotomy: you are aware of being in a grand old building but also know that it is avant-garde,” says John.

“A refuge above all”

The restoration project took 11 months from start to finish and the interior consultant, Francois du Plessis, was intimately involved in the process from the start.

Francois describes the interior of his own old Victorian home in the Bo-Kaap as, “South of France meets Karoo with dashes of faded glamour… very Faye Dunaway”. He says he usually prefers the individual interaction he has with private home owners.

“A good interior designer creates more than just a pretty picture – the most important characteristic is the ability to listen to the client. But hotels – as with any public spaces – are an interesting challenge as you have to please a wide range of people. I’m glad that I’m not known for having one particular style, and I’m fortunate that I’ve known the Markovitz family for 18 years – they weren’t at all prescriptive of the outcome.

“We deliberately decided not to go for that typical African feel, as it’s the predictable South African look. The hotel lies at the heart of the hustle and bustle but the sophisticated guest who will visit Dock House requires a refuge above all – glamorous, yet comfortable, private and safe. When you spend the night here, you can close the door on the world till the morning.”

“A calm blend of old and new”

Francois tackled the suite (65,4 m2) with its private garden, and the five rooms (38,4–52,8 m2; four with balconies) as individual projects. At least 90 percent of the free-standing furniture (wardrobes, beds and headboards) was specially, and locally, made for each room. He chose a soothing palette with delicate shades of grey, white and brown-grey, and shiny satin, silk and velvet to lend bright accents.

The result is a calm blend of old and new: dramatic headboards, lighting that goes from heavy crystal chandeliers to modern Italian designs, contemporary wingback chairs, baths with chrome taps, wooden and tiled floors and luxurious carpets, a texture- and wood-rich small library, a white breakfast room and art by local artists such as Johann Louw, Kevin Mackintosh, Daryl McGregor and Garth Erasmus.

But on this glorious Saturday morning, the best part is knowing that other mortals have to make a real effort to see this historical building in which you find yourself – even though it sits surprisingly high above the underground parking garage opposite the BMW Pavilion, with stunning views over the mountain and the sea. It’s the perfect halfway stop for playboys, magnates and rock stars who seek shelter for their souls close to the buzz of the mall.

Dock House is indeed the new inner sanctuary of the Waterfront – a place for someone like you.

• Dock House Hotel: 021 421 9334,,
• Francois du Plessis Interiors: 021 461 1166,