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Afrotel: a unique concept in African hospitality

Theo Swarts
In my previous life as a fashion designer, I stayed in some spectacular hotels around the world. Manufacturing in Hong Kong meant I was occasionally a guest at The Jervois, with interiors by designer Christian Liaigre. And as most of the fabric fairs take place in Paris, when there I alternated between Hôtel du Petit Moulin by fashion designer Christian Lacroix and Philippe Starck’s Murano Urban resort. Press liaisons were in New York, so when budget permitted, I slept at the classic-meets-contemporary Crosby Street Hotel by British writer Kit Kemp. These hotel stays have informed my aesthetic in general, but they also got me thinking about what I’d do if I were ever asked to create a hotel’s interiors. I would jump from choosing a severely minimalist but sophisticated interior like those of The Jervois, or something with a more eclectic personality, such as the Petit Moulin. I was reminded of those trips and my notebook full of ‘hotel ideas’ when walking through interior studio Source IBA’s 100% Hotel proposal at this year’s 100% Design South Africa in Joburg. Named Afrotel, the space struck the perfect balance between my fetish for minimalist interiors and imaginative, characterful rooms. Source IBA creative director Mardre Meyer saw the process as a chance to explore African typologies mixed with textures and material technology. No wonder Afrotel scooped the fair’s Best Stand award for 2017, as it contained a very particular and sophisticated vision for Africa’s booming accommodation industry. ‘As African designers, we have always used this vibrant continent as a sourcebook of inspiration and cultural sensitivity,’ says Meyer. ‘We believe Africa deserves its own hospitality directions, and this stand is the starting point of a larger Afrotel concept.' The design featured honest materials such as concrete, glass and locally sourced wood, with the idea being that all materials needed to be available in different parts of Africa – and reflect those places responsibly, giving the environment an opportunity to blur the line between formal hotels and traditional resorts. ‘Although Africa is developing rapidly, it has infrastructure challenges, so we need to develop hospitality models that are far more proactive and responsible in handling resources,’ says Meyers. Collaboratively created decorative pieces, such as the Brutalist planters by Wiid Design x Indigenus, created scale and also carefully articulated the material versus locale conversation. And overall, a muted palette of dark tones layered with textures created a calm but bold statement that felt fresh yet quintessentially African. With many African cities still developing and the constant related expansion of their hospitality services and facilities, hotel proposals like these – which truly embrace local resources while exploring a more contemporary take on traditional craft and design – look set to facilitate a bright future for the continent. AFROTEL