Lovers of both lavish European elegance and rich Texan history will find a perfect marriage in Palazzo Lavaca in Austin.
So many people have become charmed by Palazzo Lavaca, in fact, that owner Giselle Koy decided to turn what was initially her residence into an event space.
Palazzo Lavaca is one of the oldest buildings in Austin, built in 1890 as one of the city’s first fire houses. In the 1940s, T.C. (Buck) Steiner purchased the building, transforming it into the Capitol Saddlery. The boot and saddle shop operated in its downtown Austin location for more than six decades, supplying saddles for Montgomery Ward, Sears and Roebuck, and illustrious clients like Al Capone.
After the Capitol Saddlery moved from Lavaca Street, the building lay vacant. Koy, an Austin native, purchased the property in 2008. At the time of her purchase, little had changed in the former saddle shop.
“It was just as if someone had closed the door to the saddle shop and walked out,” Koy says. “I started from scratch, with beautiful floors and beautiful proportions and 16- foot ceilings.”
Inside, she found a trap door used to drop hay to the firehouse horses, a 1905 Otis elevator and a still-intact frieze from the firehouse with images of old-fashioned hydrants across the border. Koy kept the “Capitol Saddlery” sign outside and refurbished the building’s original elements, including the elevator and pine flooring. She then added décor inspired by her love for Venice and great European apartments.
“People like the feel of the building,” Koy says. “It reminds everyone of a different era, when things were grander and more refined and not so homogenized. It’s warm and inviting, very formal and very casual at the same time.”
Koy has decorated Palazzo Lavaca with 18th-century antiques, European chandeliers, a gold-leafed ballroom and Fortuny Paper wallpaper and velvets.
She completed work on her new home in 2010. After fielding numerous requests to use her residence for photo shoots and events, Koy decided to open Palazzo Lavaca as an event space in 2013. The building now regularly accommodates groups of 10-165 people for everything from seated dinners to standingonly receptions. Some groups choose to use the entire multifloor space, while others use just the downstairs floor, Koy said. To provide flexibility, planners may use the vendors of their choosing for most services at Palazzo Lavaca. However, all beverage service must be provided through the venue’s preferred vendor, Sterling Events.
The foyer features a 1905 Otis Elevator, a chandelier reclaimed from The Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas and ebony long leaf pine floors. Upstairs, the Greatroom features the proportions and scale of a European drawing room, with 16-foot coffered ceilings and a period Maria Therese chandelier. Guests can enjoy a view of the Capitol of Texas, located two blocks away. The Greatroom can accommodate 65 for a seated dinner. The Kitchen includes three chandeliers, the painted frieze from the old firehouse and a collection of historical busts.
Downstairs, Koy transformed what was formerly the storefront for Capitol Saddlery into the Grande Ballroom. The gold-leafed ballroom features a wooden dance floor, gold leaf paneling and a Violet Flame Bar, which includes frescoes, pink rose ceramic lamps and amethyst velvet curtains.
Koy continues to add to the space: “We’re constantly evolving,” she says.
The Grande Ballroom was completed less than two years ago. In the past year, Koy renovated the property’s 1,050-square-foot courtyard, adding outdoor lights, a bar and an outdoor booth. The courtyard features a 1964 Cadillac, is mostly covered and can accommodate food trucks in the property’s alley.
Hosting regular events suits the almost 130-year-old building, which has its own bit of magic. “The chandeliers make every room magical,” she says. “[The space] turns on when people come into it, with all the wood, all the history and great proportions. The building ensures that people have a good time.”