A sudden midsummer storm hammers down on the lawn at The Robertson Small Hotel. For this part of the Western Cape, the rain is unseasonable but welcome, leaving a refreshing petrichor in its wake. ‘The balcony is my favourite spot on the property,’ says Lana Groenewald, who’s been the boutique hotel’s manager – and part of the family – since 2012. As she sips coffee on the sheltered patio, she looks out to a vista framed by the broekielace arches of the Victorian manor house.
It’s easy to see why Lana favours this area over all the revamped nooks in the hotel. With its view of the leafy, tropical garden, it’s undoubtedly a peaceful place to spend a lazy summer afternoon, holiday read in one hand, expertly mixed negroni in the other. Then again, from the sun loungers next to the two blue pools to the cosy bedrooms bedecked in a calming earthy palette, there’s no shortage of zones in which to relax. ‘I love the EM bar,’ says co-owner Abigail Rands of her favourite space. ‘Each tile was hand-painted by [artist] Michael Chandler, and I smile every time I walk into the room.’
In early 2016, when Abigail was tasked with breathing new life into her family’s beloved property, she immediately got on the phone with her childhood friend Sophie Ashby of the London-based Studio Ashby. ‘Sophie is a bold and courageous designer,’ says Abigail. ‘I’ve always been inspired by her approach to texture, colour and space.’
For these two friends, updating the hotel meant bringing in some of the country’s most visionary creatives as collaborators: for the dining room, architect and designer Renée Rossouw created a tapestry featuring an abstract depiction of the surrounding landscape; hanging above the tables are organically shaped lampshades moulded by ceramicist Lisa Firer; in each bedroom, an occasional chair by Bofred showcases distinctly local, hand-woven design; and throughout the hotel, you’ll find intricately crafted bespoke upholstery and textiles by Alexis Barrell, as well as contemporary collections of art curated by Smith Studio. Even The Robertson Small Hotel’s welcome guide, which – like the rest of the hotel’s publications – was designed by Cape Town studio Hoick, is an exercise in cool restraint. ‘This project was less about forming an identity than providing a canvas upon which South African creatives could express what The Robertson Small Hotel is all about,’ says Hoick creative director, Dale Lawrence.
Inside the dining room, it’s not just the design that tickles the senses. The fare is modern and elegant without being overly stuffy or pretentious. From pan-fried squid with romanesco purée and chilli oil, and bucatini with fennel, sultanas, anchovies and pine nuts, to char-grilled sirloin with chimichurri, it’s all about fresh produce with European and South African influences. ‘The principle of using great local and seasonal ingredients remains,’ says Abigail. ‘We met with local farmers and winemakers who were a great inspiration.’
For Abigail, one of the standout parts of this journey has been working with talent from the area. ‘The curation of the project came naturally,’ she explains. ‘The golden thread that runs through it is working with people who have a fascination with the world.’
This feature originally appeared in House & Leisure’s March 2017 issue.