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Elegance and Style Hallmarks of the Oyster Box

“From the first day we bought The Oyster Box it was obvious what an important part this property played in so many people’s lives,” says Toni Tollman, who together with her mother Beatrice (Bea) Tollman, President and Founder of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, created the interiors of The Oyster Box in Umhlanga Rocks, Durban.

“The property was run down and ‘past her prime’, when the Red Carnation Hotels Collection took over the property in 2006,” says Toni.  “The greatest challenge we had, was to restore her in a way that was authentic to the period in which she was built, whilst maintaining all the elements of nostalgia and charm that made the Oyster Box so personal to so many of her visitors. 

The new hotel reflects South Africa, whilst maintaining the five-star service and quality ethos that is at the core of the internationally-renowned Red Carnation brand.  The Oyster Box successfully creates the balance of a visit ‘back in time’, but is simultaneously firmly planted in the present.

Much of the inspiration for the décor was taken from the original features of the hotel – the floors, the arches, the original tiles and the existing artefacts and artwork.  Reference to the period of the 40’s and 50’s when the hotel was at its zenith, can be seen in the furnishings and decor, and felt in the ‘ambience’ of the property. 

“I have always loved this period in design history,” continues Toni Tollman.  “It was a time of glamour, elegance and style and I have always found it to be inspirational and timeless. During the restoration I often referred to a piece of furniture, a great sofa…borrowing some elements from Elsie de Wolfe, Tony Duquette and Dorothy Draper.”

“In addition, I wanted to highlight some of the fabric and history of the vibrant lifestyle of Durban ‘then and now’. The decor in the various function rooms has been carefully selected along thematic-lines.  For example, the look and feel of The Durban July and Union Castle Rooms, provide a fascinating pictorial journey of the Durban July of the last 50 years and the history of the Union Castle Line, respectively.  The magnificent Pearl Room, resplendent with crystal, Venetian chandeliers add an air of elegance and sophistication, while the adjoining Shell Room, echoes the hues and moods of the ocean outside.”

“A key factor informing the furnishing of the new property is the importance of the ‘design suiting the purpose’.  Careful attention was paid to making the spaces liveable and practical as well as aesthetically beautiful and comfortable, whilst giving a memorable experience to the guests. It is important that the space and building work hand in hand and that the design reflects its surroundings.” 

Through the innovative use of colour, fabrics and furnishings each part of the hotel, sets a different tone. From the sense of being ‘right on the beachfront’ in The Oyster Bar and Ocean Terrace, with cool hues of white and blue to the exotic hot reds and bold designs and fabrics of the Lighthouse Bar. 

The arches and windows of the ‘Ocean Terrace’ allow wide vistas of the sea into the light and airy space.  The brightly coloured, hand-painted Turkish tiles on the roof and walls and the brass lanterns, which bring a casual ease to the room, compliment the architectural elements. The tiles are a direct link to the original owner, Kay Hill, who collected tiles and murals from her travels around the world and brought them back to the hotel.  

The colourful, quirky artworks in the Grill Room painted by Durban artist, Rene Rutgers, depict a time of fun and frivolity.  The contrast of the white furniture and navy walls, high ceilings, deep coffers and rich textures make the room very striking and elegant. 

The warm textures of the Clock Library, a private space for residents, is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet drink in a leather arm-chair looking out over the iconic lighthouse, write a letter or read a book...all those old-fashioned things that we don't seem to get enough time to do these days. Handpicked antique furniture and objects d’art and a collection of antique clocks, many of which are family heirlooms and books collected by the owners over the years, line the library walls.

The reception area is an eclectic collection with styles and furniture predominantly from the period in which the hotel was built.  “This is one of the only original parts of the hotel still completely intact, so the distinctive black and white tiles, the sweeping staircase and original revolving wooden door all provided inspiration. I wanted people to walk into the reception and feel that 'they were home'.  The clock bought on auction from Christies, fits beautifully into its new home at The Oyster Box.”

While some of the decor and furnishings, particularly the antique pieces, were sourced overseas at auctions and many of the fabrics used throughout the hotel, were specifically designed by Toni and Bea Tollman and manufactured in London by Bernard Thorpe, many local suppliers and products were utilised. 

Intricate, creative ceramic and mosaic murals by KwaZulu-Natal-based ceramic artist, Jane Du Rand, can be seen throughout the property, including The Spa and the gardens.  The hotel’s extensive art collection, which stretches to both the public and private areas, comprises works by European and South African artists, including a significant selection of paintings by local KwaZulu-Natal artists, curated by contemporary art dealer Michael Stevenson.

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The Oyster Box, Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu-Natal