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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.