INTERIOR DESIGN has always been integral to hospitality and the hotel industry. There’s a magazine solely dedicated to it, Hospitality Design, and now, more than ever, experience is a key differentiator when selecting a hotel venue.
Liz Lambert, the famous Texas-based boutique hotel designer/owner, has been a force behind innovative interior design for nearly 20 years. And just as the boutique hotel trend has continued to heat up over the course of her career as a trailblazing hotelier, she, too, continues to make waves with new and exciting hotel projects. The Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, which opened in 2008, is a perfect example of how attitude and atmosphere combine to create a truly unique venue.
When Lambert bought the Saint Cecilia, she started imagining what the 1886 Victorian former B&B could be converted into, explains General Manager Lisa McGivney. "[Lambert] instantly thought of the Rolling Stones hanging out at Nellcôte [the French mansion-turnedrecording studio leased by the band in the ‘70s], or the Beatles staying in grand palaces while on tour in Europe," McGivney says.
"It was rock ’n’ roll meets royalty," McGivney says. "The five rooms of the old house and the lounge of this private hotel are full of beautiful antiques, light fixtures, rich fabrics and Designer’s Guild wallpaper. The nine poolside bungalows and studios offer more of a bohemian- modern feel, with warm wood floors or beautiful blue encaustic tile, blue velvet sofas and huge windows with natural window shades."
Many of the unique design pieces such as the neon SOUL sign above the pool and the taxidermy peacock in the lounge were found by Lambert, but she also incorporates Ligne Roset headboards, Togo couches, Noguchi tables and Nelson benches, among other items. McGivney adds that the art collection includes vintage Cuban movie posters and original pieces by artists such as Michael Miller, Gary Baseman and Julie Speed.
With five uniquely designed suites and six poolside bungalows, there is plenty of privacy for guests-even if they arrived for a group function. The Saint Cecilia’s many cozy corners and secluded seating arrangements are ideal for breakout sessions, while small groups can rent the hotel’s bungalow for the night. It easily accommodates 10 to 12 guests.
Most recently, Lambert has brought her inspiration to San Antonio in the form of the Hotel Havana, a 1914 Mediterranean revival structure, originally built by a prosperous local grocer as a residence hotel for his buyers.
"We played on the idea of Havana, a city that is essentially stuck in the 1950s and unable to import new materials because of the embargo," says Sandra Puente, the hotel’s general manager. "This meant 1950s paint colors, vinyl-covered furniture, a patina to the walls and antiques."
According to Tenaya Hills, design manager for Lambert, they then added the element they felt was missing, one that was more about San Antonio, its culture and people, in order to put the hotel into context.
"There is an overlap with Cuba and San Antonio-the saturated colors, the Old World feel, the patina, the Latin culture," Hills explains. "We wanted to infuse those elements and the hotel’s history with things like the imagery of Hemingway in Cuba, and that’s where our own touches came into play, such as old rugs, exposed light bulbs, red candles and vintage light fixtures."
With on-site restaurant Ocho and roomy banquet facilities, catering is a breeze at Hotel Havana, where the lounge and riverside patio can accommodate up to 74 attendees for seated dinners and 100 for cocktail events.
In addition, there is a second-floor terrace that can accommodate groups up to 60 reception-style (40 seated) with more room to mingle in the front courtyard and band stage area.
Another standout in hotel design, The Prairie By Rachel Ashwell in Round Top, is the brainchild of British designer and shabby-chic queen Rachel Ashwell.
According to Kim Thweatt, events and reservations coordinator at The Prairie, a book about Rachel’s Texas venue sums it up perfectly: "Rachel’s love affair with Texas started many years ago when she began her yearly pilgrimage to the Round Top antique markets. Her romantic, soft, and pretty signature style found its partner in the rough, soulful and so very beautiful Texan landscape."
To that end, shabby chic has found a home at this unique and lovely venue, with its soft linens, original rustic wood and re-loved furniture. "The Prairie has seen everything from formal country affairs to rustic down-home dances," says Thweatt.
In addition to the main house, there is a charmingly rustic barn that offers temperaturecontrolled comfort. This venue, known as the Pearl Barn, has 2,000 square feet of venue space for special events and corporate retreats. In addition, the 46-acre property has a number of outdoor patios for cocktail receptions and seated dinners.