An Interview with Liz Biden
Liz isn’t giving too much away when it comes to the interior design of The Silo but we gleaned a few precious insights in this short interview with the founder and CEO of The Royal Portfolio.
The Silo hotel towers over the surrounding buildings in the silo precinct of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. At 65 metres tall, the hotel will offer spectacular and unique perspectives of the Mother City’s natural beauty.
Slowly but surely the development is revealing itself. An evolving collaboration of industrial design, contemporary art and eclectic style. A historic building dating back to 1921 that has been tasked with guarding the future of African art; weaving diverse backgrounds into the fabric of now – attracting foreign eyes and local interest.
This marrying of periods is reflected by Liz Biden in her interior design.
1. Heatherwick Studio describes The Silo as a building of “reinvention”. Does this influence your approach and style?
Decorating this property has welcomed new challenges. It is very different from the rest of The Royal Portfolio. Space for one is restricted by the two core elevator shafts running through the building as well as the cubic geometry of each floor.
We have really had to think carefully about the use of space, reinventing the classic formula for a hotel suite to showcase the magnificent views through the five metre tall glass windows which make up the majority of the wall space in each room.
My goal has always been to pay tribute to luxury and comfort for our guests. This has meant balancing the stark and industrial style of the architecture with aspects of classic glamour and modern comfort.
“Liz Biden is one of the visionaries who is putting the hot into hotelier.” Vanity Fair
2. How do you go about creating your signature “timeless look”?
I think timeless design is about finding harmony. I love layering exotic silks with traditional hides, flawless marble with indigenous wood, bright accents with monochromes. It’s a game of mix and match – something worn with something new, something classical with something contemporary. The Silo will showcase the best of Africa while setting an international standard for luxury hotels.
Wherever possible we are supporting local industry and local manufacturers – insisting throughout on the highest quality materials and the highest standards of craftsmanship.
"South Africa’s most respected independent hotelier."
3. Zeitz MOCAA will house Africa’s largest art collection. How have you incorporated this cultural significance?
We have been privileged to purchase the works of some amazing young artists, learning a great deal about the burgeoning African art scene in the process. The Silo hotel will certainly complement the Zeitz MOCAA collection while at the same time offering some unique pieces that we love.
Notable works will include artists such as Mohau Modisakeng and Cyrus Kabiru. I really see The Silo as an amazing opportunity to showcase the talent, mystery and perspectives of these young African artists to our overseas visitors.
Image courtesy of Mohau Modisakeng and WHATIFTHEWORLD.
Image and copyright courtesy of the artist, Cyrus Kabiru. And thanks to SMAC Gallery.
4. There has been a lot of interest in design and architectural circles around the “pillowed glass windows” inserted into the façade of the grain elevator portion of the building. How does this key feature affect the views and light?
The bulging windows are an amazing feature for both the insider and outsider. Inside they totally transcend the space, allowing guests to look outward and directly below from a position of warmth and safety. The effect will be quite unusual and utterly mesmerising. The geometric lines of the windows are very modern and almost masculine, which I have tried to temper with the use of texture and colour.
Light will play a large part in The Silo experience as Cape Town’s shifting moods are reflected in the mountains and through the early morning sea mist drifting across the harbour.
From the outside, the building will glow like a gently inflated beacon in the harbour.
5. The Silo could be described as an Industrial Heritage site. Will the hotel pay tribute to this significant heritage?
We have extensive archives on the building itself and in particular its agricultural significance for South Africa. We want to incorporate these stories into the DNA of the hotel.
For example the very first shipment of grain to Europe was on board the SS Willaston. I think that would make a lovely name for one of our bars.
6. What are some of the notable pieces of furniture that we can expect to see at The Silo?
Don’t be so nosey. You’ll have to wait and see for yourself.
7. We know that you like to decorate every nook and cranny of The Royal Portfolio hotels yourself, but have you had any help on this enormous project?
I gave my old friend Ralph Krall a call and asked him to come through from the Karoo and stay with us to lend a hand with the furnishings. He always challenges me to be my best and he has such a wonderful feel with colour.
And my dear friend Colleen Kosoy has been extremely generous in helping me from the very beginning. Of course nothing would have been achieved without the help of my husband Phil Biden and our son Matthew. This has been a huge undertaking for our family and none of us could have done it on our own.
We managed to catch Ralph one morning before he and Liz set-off for the day.
1. What is it like working with Liz?
Liz and I have worked together for over 30 years so it’s a very easy relationship – we have the occasional tiff, but most of the time it’s amiable. It’s uncanny how often we see the same thing at the same time. We are doing what we do best – taking the successes of our past projects and adapting them to this new venture, but adjusting for the time and space. Even though this is a modern, industrial space, comfort is paramount.
2. What has been the biggest challenge at The Silo?
Walking up and down! I can’t wait for the lifts to be installed.
3. Liz said that you have a wonderful feel for colour. How do you work with colour, do you have a secret recipe?
I think there are many good designers out there, but many of them are let down by colour – it’s not something that you can learn – it’s a gut feeling and you have to be brave. But the magic lies in the careful fusion. The Silo is certainly going to be a magical space and I cannot wait to see this dream come to life.
Keys Available from 1 March 2016