Written by David Muirhead. David Muirhead & Associates specialise in bespoke hospitality and high-end residential projects.

When it came to transforming Jozi’s much loved Grace Hotel into the sleekly luxe 54 on Bath, I faced a fortutous challenge. How to integrate the building’s traditional aesthetics, while coaxing it into a five-star boutique hotel space?

The Grace Hotel was without doubt one of my favourite buildings in Joburg. I had always appreciated both the architecture and the vibe a sort of classic brownstone in Rosebank if you like, that smacked of an elegant residence rather than a many-storied hotel. The atmosphere was familiar, comfortable, and very much part of the city.

The challenge lay in how best to take it forward, to create magic while respecting its reputation and aesthetic qualities. Service was key it had always been known for its well trained, experienced staff.

Then of course there was the architecture – quietly iconic and a fantastic backbone with which to work. It was also designed to form part of the Rosebank upgrade – all of which contributed to our concept of a luxurious, bespoke hotel. Fortunately our client Tsogo Sun allowed us the creative license to significantly raise the glamour stakes!

The grande dame boasted some superb features, including a substantial art collection, antique pieces and fabulous chandeliers. For me, the key lay in the editing, and in acknowledging what had value. We rejuvenated the existing paneling, for instance, painting it a cool courageous grey. Mirrored columns added a luxurious shimmer and glow, and where possible we re-framed artworks and reupholstered seating. To place the hotel firmly in context, contemporary landscape photography by Ryan Hitchcock provides a visual walkabout of Joburg.

I think 54 on Bath is very much about comfort and connection, whether it’s listening to the baby grand in a velvet armchair, or savouring a glass of Veuve Cliquot next to the roof-top pool. The palette is sophisticated; the finishes detailed, tactile and many-layered. We had a field day with wallpapers, from smart geometrics and damasks, to vine motifs and ladies in hats. And I still say you can’t beat black and white stripes for a sense of drama.

Above all we’ve managed to retain a sense of authenticity, despite a fairly radical transformation. It’s a privilege (and intensely hard work!) to rejuvenate a well-loved hotel. The reward lies in balancing the best of the past with what’s needed right now.

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