The Luxury Travel Bible - Q&A Liz Biden

Q&A  LiZ Biden

ceo, The royal portfolio

Liz Biden has had an eclectic career. She has been a teacher, a debt-collector, made lampshades, designed jewellery and worked with husband Phil at a travelling disco. Liz and Phil first experienced commercial success as key players in the South African fashion house Jenni Button. Selling their shares in the brand in 1997, the pair turned their hands to luxury travel, building the impressive The Royal Portfolio of hotels which include Royal Malewane in the Greater Kruger National Park, La Residence in Franschhoek and Birkenhead House in Hermanus. Their latest project The Silo hotel Cape Town has caused worldwide waves. No wonder then that Biden was chosen as one of Vanity Fair’s Game Changers of 2016, “Liz Biden is one of the visionaries who is putting the hot into hotelier.” Said the magazine. We have to agree.


What are your biggest design inspirations?

I love to take inspiration from my travels around the world. There is nothing more inspiring than visiting a wonderful new hotel or a historic building. And from magazines – I love magazines.

Do you draw inspiration from the local culture where your hotel is located or do you design something unique?

Absolutely. I love travelling internationally, but I travel a lot within South Africa as well and I definitely draw inspiration from our local cultures. There is so much vibrance, colour and energy in Africa. And I love to adapt things to suit a certain space. Where possible I like to support local designers and manufacturers.


We understand that your first luxury hotel project, the plan to convert your holiday home on a private game reserve into a luxury lodge began on a whim.

I knew nothing about running a hotel, but I knew what I liked” recalls Liz. However, “the fact that I’d never been in this industry before didn’t cause me to hesitate for a moment. It must have been a fit of madness.”

What are the most unique features of your hotels? Can you comment on any specific features?

Each hotel is unique with a very different feel and energy. But more than that, each room and space is unique. I spend a lot of time at each hotel. Everything is chosen and put together by me, so I hope that guests will find something interesting and delightful around every corner.

Describe your design process?

I start with the premise that each room must be different. But in terms of a process, it’s more a case of me finding inspiration in something and going from there. It might be a certain painting that sets me off. Other times it might be a carpet or an interesting piece of fabric…

Does architecture play a role in the design process? If so, how?

Until now, my husband Phil and I have designed and built the properties ourselves – adapting them from the original holiday homes. But The Silo is different. The Silo is an original structure – a historic building built in 1921 that has been re-imagined by industrial designer Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio in London. It’s a modern, stark and industrial space which will certainly require a different style to the other Royal Portfolio properties.

Is there something you include in all of your properties, no matter the theme?

Always wonderful art. But The Silo will take our art experience to a new level. The Silo will be located above  Zeitz MOCAA which will be  will be a modern art museum to rival the likes of MoMA in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Prado museum in Madrid.

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 support local industry and local manufacturers –  insisting throughout on the highest quality materials and the highest standards of craftsmanship.

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.

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.

Heatherwick Studio describes The Silo as a building of “reinvention”. Does this influence your approach and style?

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.

This interview first appeared on

Posted 11/5/17

Copyright © 2024 The Luxury Travel Bible