houses, Renovations

Cape Town's 15 on Orange Hotel is Transformed into an Urban Oasis

Cape Town’s stylish inner-city hotel, 15 on Orange, Autograph Collection, was recently transformed into an airy, light-filled space that exudes casual elegance.

Karl Rogers

How do you succeed in structurally altering a hotel’s public spaces without disturbing its current guests? This was the challenge facing SourceIBA’s creative director Mardre Meyer during the three months he and his team recently spent on refurbishments of 15 on Orange Hotel, Autograph Collection in Cape Town. 

The revamp of this city centre landmark was major. Changes involved breaking through concrete slabs with jackhammers, demolishing walls and building new stairways. 

‘We phased the project to allow the hotel to serve guests in a series of temporary venues,’ says Meyer. ‘To avoid noise, certain works were done during the course of the day when guests were out, and we blocked off work areas with black velvet curtains. The biggest challenge was time. Here the strategy was for the team to get quick client decisions and sign-offs.’

Built nine years ago in the shell of the massive old Dutch Reformed Church Synod next to the Company Gardens, the hotel has a spectacular atrium that gives it a futuristic feel. Back in 2009, its decor was all about sharp-edged, bling-driven glamour. As a result, the whole place had to be uncompromisingly sleek. 

Since the hotel’s main market was the nearby parliamentarians and lawyers, it exuded an aura of exclusivity, increased by curtained-off private rooms and public spaces that lacked people-friendly flow-through. 

In the recession that hit soon after the hotel opened, however, the ultra-glamorous look had its downside – and has now been overturned by the inspiring new upgrade. The aim, Meyer says, is to move the hotel ‘from urban glamour to an urban oasis, with public spaces that feel softer, more  layered and welcoming. Zones of activity and visibility [are important, plus] as much greenery as possible’.

The most obvious structural changes were to the front part of the hotel. Gone are the all-concealing velvety bordello curtains in the dining area in the mezzanine of the Murano Bar (which has been renamed Atrium Bar). Now this whole section is open to wonderful views of Table Mountain and the beautiful stone buildings of the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art right next door. 

The Atrium Bar leads out onto a vastly enhanced exterior space overlooking Orange Street, an area that’s now accessible to the public via a staircase from street level. With its new pool and extended deck – perfect for convivial after-work (or post-dinner) drinks – it’s a logical spot for locals and tourists who have tired of the excessive busyness of Kloof Street. 

On the level below, the former conference room is being converted into lettable street retail space, further enhancing the hotel’s interaction with the street. Meanwhile, the soaring atrium foyer has been given a more human dimension by an elevated and stylish central bar. Areas furnished for quiet conversation or discreet meetings now soften the atrium space as well, while an abundance of greenery throughout the refurbished foyer – beautifully offset by rich green velvet upholstery on the tub chairs at the bar – also make the space feel much more welcoming in general. 

Other structural changes include the conversion of the coffee bar into a comfortable private dining room, and the creation of a plating kitchen for the Judges’ Lounge, now a venue where celebrations can flow on to the lovely long patio overlooking the city.

Overall, this is a revamp both practical and aesthetic, retaining that irresistibly bold edge that has always been the hotel’s signature while taking it forward in confidently contemporary style.