Interview: Hotelier Bea Tollman

This interview was especially inspiring to me because we touched on 1950’s glamour, creating ambiance at home and sound advice for women who run their own business. Mrs. Tollman has created an abundance of success, and has done so while also being gracious, elegant and feminine. I’m always intrigued by signature style, and love how she has found her ideal hair style, a signature bob, and stuck with it for decades. She takes the time to pin on a beautiful broach, which has become a conversation piece for years. She has really figured out how to do things her way, and created a brand in tandem with her ideals. The interiors of her hotels are purposefully all very different, from bold Art Deco black and white palette in London, to classically done country estates complete with tailored fabrics and four poster beds . I hope you find something in the interview that brings you inspiration.

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Natalie

Hotelier Bea Tollman is the epitome of grace. She is a business woman who has made her own rules, treats people with kindness, and has put her heart into each development project – from the décor, restaurant menus, and most importantly, into the very essence of what it means to experience a stay at one of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection properties.

Beginning her career in the kitchen preparing starters and desserts in their first hotel property in Johannesburg called The Nugget, newlyweds Bea Tollman and her husband Stanley Tollman set out to create something based on a dream and desire. It was 1950 and the immense glamour of supper clubs in New York City were all the rage. It was the absolute place to be and be seen. Waiters whisked by, with chilled champagne en route, as dazzling couture dresses, laughter and flashbulbs of society writers lit the room. To witness a place such as this in New York and then set out to create an establishment equal in stature in South Africa took vision, and most importantly, belief in ones self.

“Here I was, this young bride, with little life experience. I had initially set out to be a schoolteacher, and imagined that my life would be fulfilled in this way. But our trajectory was placed in hospitality, which is really the business of caring for people, and I just jumped right into it” says Mrs. Tollman. She soon took on more responsibility in the kitchen and learned to fuse the best of local cuisine, with elements of European and traditional comfort food.

 Newlyweds Stanly and Bea Tollman

Newlyweds Stanly and Bea Tollman

Word spread like wild fire, and soon people were asking to meet the illustrious, if reclusive, chef of The Nugget Hotel, but at the time this could not be. “There were no women chefs at the time! And we didn’t yet have the means to fly in a chef from Paris, so I was it!” says Mrs. Tollman with a laugh, “We had to always make something up. Usually we told them that ‘he’s just left for the night’ or something like that to dodge people”.

With four young children, Bea Tollman remembers their foray into the hotel business with fondness. It took immense flexibility on her part, to get the children off to school, get off to work at the hotel, and then in the evenings she would put them to bed and get back to work in the restaurant, but she could see the bigger picture beginning to take shape. The signature elements of their properties, and continued success in the industry, were being formed. “I knew that I firstly, wanted to create an experience for guests. I would not have rooms that look the same. I didn’t feel inspired by an all-neutral palette – I wanted something different for guests. I knew that there was this vision inside of me and I set out to create it”.  Just as she did when stepping into the role of chef, Mrs. Tollman took the reins as the visionary behind the décor. Each guestroom is different, in the idea that guests can have a different experience with each stay, or find a style that most feels like home to them. At times when it would have been immensely easier to create a more typical lobby with stone floors and a floral arrangement at the entrance, Mrs. Tollman would dare to dream. “I would come up with these grand ideas – like having these beautifully painted red ceilings, with colorful rugs brought in from my travels. I wanted it to feel unique, and to have moments that guests will never forget,” she says. Mrs. Tollman always keeps her eye out for unique furniture and décor elements, and the majority of pieces in the hotel are purchased on her travels.


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Ashford Castle

From working in the kitchen of their first small supper club, Bea Tollman will go on to be one of the leading hotel owners in the world. This is the majestic Ashford Castle in Ireland which is run by the Tollman family.

 Presidential Suite at Ashford Castle

Presidential Suite at Ashford Castle

The Prince of Wales bar at Ashford Castle

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Egerton House

Simple elegance in London

 Afternoon tea in the Drawing Room at Egerton House

Afternoon tea in the Drawing Room at Egerton House

 A study of monochrome color and interesting texture. Suite at Egerton House

A study of monochrome color and interesting texture. Suite at Egerton House

Bea Tollman is a woman who undertakes great responsibility with grace, charm and strength. With her lilting accent and chic personal style, she is a conversationalist and cares deeply about her family and also her staff. At a time filled with social media and the fast-paced lives that we all live, speaking to Mrs. Tollman and hearing her musings on a life well lived is such a welcomed experience. I’ve learned a great deal from her about being a woman in business. “There is no point of being a woman in business while changing yourself to act like a man” she says “Ask for help when you need it, but always treat people with respect. This will get you farther than something like acting harsh when this isn’t your nature. Use all of your strengths, from your compassion, to your creativity and multi-tasking ability” she says.

 The Milestone Hotel in London is located opposite Kensington Palace and Gardens

The Milestone Hotel in London is located opposite Kensington Palace and Gardens

 Conservatory in bold black and white

Conservatory in bold black and white

 The Viscount suite. Mrs. Tollman sources much of the interior design elements at local antique stores and markets in Europe. Note the chairs covered in blue which she repeats in the artwork and crown of the bed.

The Viscount suite. Mrs. Tollman sources much of the interior design elements at local antique stores and markets in Europe. Note the chairs covered in blue which she repeats in the artwork and crown of the bed.

A woman’s whose life’s work revolves around creating ambiance and style, I had to ask Mrs. Tollman to share her thoughts on creating the perfect room, and personal wardrobe.



This is her advise on how to set up the perfect room:

“It doesn’t have to be grand, but it does have to be comfortable. There is something lost today as everyone is so busy, we rarely have the chance to enjoy each other’s company. Even if you live alone, you should be charmed by your surroundings”.

  • Place a simple candy dish filled with beautiful chocolates on a side table

  • It doesn’t have to be a brimming bouquet; even a simple bud or two will brighten and bring life to a room. A few favorites are orchids, iris, and roses.

  • Gather your favorite books and subscribe to a magazine that interests you, whether it is fashion, design, travel or the arts. Then talk to your partner about something that you’ve read and enjoyed – share in simple experiences

  • As I said, the space does not need to be grand but it must have beautiful lighting. Even one or two table lamps and a simple white candle will do the trick. A dimply-lit room at the end of a long workday will be a simple oasis from the world.

  • Design in a way that is a nod to yesterday, a hint of today, but not too far in the future. You don’t want the room to be far too modern and stark. Look at the architecture and history of the home for clues. If a color provides happiness, surround yourself with that.

  • Antiques shops and pieces found while on travels will give your space a sense of your own personal style and will recall happy memories



    Mrs. Tollman’s musings on personal style: “Keep it simple and tailoring is key. Have your pieces fitted to best compliment your body. Choose a few meaningful accessories, and a nice pair of shoes. This doesn’t mean that you need a huge wardrobe, but find a few timeless pieces that can be held on to for years to come. Chanel heels, an Armani blouse – these will take you through countless seasons”. When asked about one of her favorite jewelry pieces, she mentions something utterly unique. “A broach in the shape of a frog” she says, “I love it because it really lifts the mood of a simple blazer and it’s a piece that provides an opportunity for conversation”.

 Bea Tollman, right, wearing a signature broach, tailored jacket, talking with Catherine Deneuve in France.  Image credit Ralph Grizzle

Bea Tollman, right, wearing a signature broach, tailored jacket, talking with Catherine Deneuve in France. Image credit Ralph Grizzle

With a hotel group that spans continents; from London to Geneva, Ireland to South Africa and the United States, what began as a vision to create memorable beauty for guests has become a lasting family empire. The larger message of Mrs. Tollman is to dare to dream. To be good to those in your life and your family, and remain true to yourself and create a life that you love.

Interview: Hutton Wilkinson

 A layered interior by Hutton Wilkinson

A layered interior by Hutton Wilkinson

The interview is all about celebrating maximalist design.

I love all things classic glamour. I’m working on a few new projects for winter 2018 where the aesthetic is decidedly minimalist – with layered neutrals, great lighting, and lots of negative space allowing for sweeping city views from the high-rise windows. This is different for me as I’m usually working on renovations of antique Brownstone homes. I try to create one moment of drama in each interior, even in the most modern, discreet spaces. Drama has gotten me thinking about maximalist interiors and those who really live for the unexpected.   

I have had the pleasure of interviewing iconic designer Hutton Wilkinson, who is basically the king of dramatic, maximalist, dazzling spaces. He mixes materials and furniture sourced across the globe. His career began with famed decorator Tony Duquette, who is responsible for some of the most iconic, classic Hollywood interiors. In this day of quick texts and clipped conversations, Hutton speaks with a refreshing mix of flourish and charismatic ease. 

I hope that you enjoy, 

Natalie 

Glamour and opulence transcends through all of your projects in such an innate way. Can you tell me about your upbringing and early influences that may have shaped your aesthetic? 

My childhood was a fantasy life. We lived in a big house in Hancock Park, an upscale old fashioned neighborhood in Los Angeles, we had antique furniture, and what I considered important paintings in massive gold frames, and mountains of silver, and baccarat crystal and French porcelains, five servants and parties all the time. My mother wore clothes from the French Room at Bullocks Wilshire, and constantly changing jewelry, but on a regular day she had five carat diamond earrings on each ear.  I thought we were rich and definitely privileged especially since my nanny, who had been my mother’s nanny filled my childish head with stories of vast wealth, gold mines, and French furniture, dressing for dinner, and ponies as she recalled “the good old days” back in Bolivia where my mother’s “legendary” fortune emanated from.  It was only later that I learned the sad truth that that’s exactly what it was“a legend”! The truth was we didn’t have a dime, lived like kings, the servants were “old household retainers” who got room and board and no money, and the furniture, paintings and jewelry were all left over from “before the troubles” also spelled “1928". The extravagances came from my father, a hardworking, extremely talented architect who thought he had married a rich wife, and who had wonderful taste in clothes which he selected for her from the French Room at Bullocks Wilshire, a store owned by his uncle P.G.Winnett…but purchased retail without benefit of “family discount”!  All of these combined circumstances instilled in me a knowledge of beauty, family pride, flights of fancy, southern hospitality, (my father’s family were from Alabama and my mother’s from South America… so I considered myself “thoroughly southern”.)  My love of decorating, and jewelry was easily picked up from the surroundings at hand.  All of this and the weekly visits to the local “Wiltern Theater” an art deco movie palace only five blocks from home which should the newest films from the last of Hollywood’s Golden Age instilled in me a desire and respect for what was to come later.

Interior Design by Hutton Wilkinson

 Your personal style is as iconic as your interiors, who are your style icons?

When I was little, and I mean, still in grade school, my heroes were;  Tony Duquette, Cecil Beaton, Oliver Messel, The Baron de Rede, Arturo Lopez Wilshaw, Emelio Terry and Carlos de Beistegui.  I was determined to meet them all (accept for Arturo Lopez Wilshaw and Emelio Terry who were already deceased). I was fortunate to meet them all except for Cecil Beaton who died before I had the pleasure and Carlos de Beistegui although I did meet his nephew Juan who invited me repeatedly to the fabulous Chateau de Groussay.

Parties, jewelry, lavishness and jet-set glam are personified in much of your work. It is so inspiring to wear a piece of your jewelry, it is like the perfect adornment—both elegant and modern. When you begin sketching your design, how do you find inspiration?

We work with a collection of stones and they tell us what they want to be. The trick it to listen…and actually hear them! Unlike other jewelers we don’t draw a picture first, like a picture of a butterfly for example and then have the stones “tortuously” cut to fit the picture. In fact we rarely if ever do any lapidary work, but rather take the stones “as is” and make them work for us.  This can be an expensive process as most of our stones are not “calibrated” and therefore each setting must be made individually.  Because of this  each of our pieces are one of a kind. Because they are made by hand they have not been punched out by a machine and that is why our work is special. And different and has no correlation to what other jewelers are doing.  I like to think of “one of a kind” as the definition of  luxury something made only for you it doesn’t matter if it is expensive or inexpensive, if it is made just for you, that is the definition of luxury.

 Photo: Stephanie Hanchett; Courtesy of Tony Duquette/Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry & Abrams Books

Photo: Stephanie Hanchett; Courtesy of Tony Duquette/Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry & Abrams Books

 What is your favorite memory of Tony Duquette?

All the trips. We traveled around the world, the four of us, Tony, Beegle, Hutton and Ruth probably ten times together. Then there were the trips to Europe, Asia and South America. We never really “did” America although we often discussed getting three Winnegagos with drivers and shopping across the country, but that never happened.  Those trips we took were amazing. Tony knew everyone, everywhere, and we were invited and feted and shown little known treasures and secret places. We shopped and shopped, and more importantly laughed all the time. The Duquette’s had wonderful stories to impart, and we soaked it all in. They were like our parents but better than parents  because we choose each other so there was no baggage attached… just mutual respect and a shared sense of adventure and fun.

 What is your favorite party moment?

There was a big night at the old Duquette Studio and all the stars were in alignment and for whatever reason everyone looked amazing  there were no slouches  the women wore couture. I remember Louise Good wore Dior… all beaded and sequined to the floor looking like an iridescent mermaid and Beegle wore Galanos couture which he had made for her and given to her as a gift and amazing jewels. I remember my first pink sapphires that night (worn by Mrs. Delmar Daves and Loretta Youngs diamond and Imperial jade deco earrings. I went up to Jimmy Galanos and said, “Jimmy everyone looks so fabulous tonight and so many of them are wearing your gowns  and Beegle has never looked more beautiful” and he said “yes, she does look beautiful, but she has the dress on backwards!” and I said “well, it’s a backwards party” and we all took our dinner jackets off and put them on backwards and started walking backwards and just being plain silly…but it was amusing!

What project are you most proud of?

The interiors of the 12th century Palazzo Brandolini on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. These were done for John and Dodie Rosekrans and are now destroyed (my definition of decoration is “doomed to destruction”!) I did this job in partnership with Tony Duquette and it was our last project together before his untimely death at 85 in 1999.

Do you have muses?

My wife Ruth fills this role for me.

Tony Duquette is known for his work with Old Hollywood glamour, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. Can you tell me an anecdote about an Old Hollywood starlet?

Tony and I worked for so many (I even knew Mary Pickford).  I think his most eccentric clients were David O. Selznick and his wife Jennifer Jones.  Selznick bombarded Tony daily with “memo’s” about every single detail in the house from the trim on the lampshades to the type of “key hole escutcheons” on the door hardware. His wife, Jennifer Jones on the other hand could never make a decision and never was asked, she rarely attended meetings and rarely attended her own dinner parties because she could never decide what to wear or had decided herself that her makeup or hair wasn’t presentable…not even for her decorators to see.  (I was ordered out of the living room once so that she could pass through because she didn’t want me to see her without makeup!). Tony needed to talk to her about something and she wouldn’t come down for the meeting so he went up to her room and found her standing in the middle of a mountain of Charles James gowns not being able to decide which one to wear to the meeting.  Later when she was married to the industrialist Norton Simon we decorated her beach house and again it was the same old story!

What advice could you give to emerging designers who are influenced by you and your style?

Never compromise. Go from the gut. Listen to your inner voice and you cannot fail.

See some of Hutton Wilkinson's work below. 

Images copyright Hutton Wilkinson, originally appeared in Upscale Living Magazine available in Los Angeles.