Zenful Austin


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Last weekend we went to Austin to visit St. Edward’s University – we are currently looking at colleges for the famous blogger This Card is Maxed Out (who also happens to be my daughter.)    St. Edward’s small campus, sheltered by centuries old Live Oaks,  was a visual surprise – the main building is quite impressive and as it is located on one of the highest points in Austin,  the view is breathtaking.  



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Of course the main building was clad in native Texas limestone – what building in Austin isn’t?




Austin09 009The winding double staircase was visual treat. 






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Why don’t we still build buildings like this?




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Downtown Austin


Coming out of the main building, the view of downtown is amazing.  One of Austin’s main attraction, The University of Texas, is down there – past all the tall buildings.   Ben and I both went to UT – and of course we had hoped our daughter would continue the tradition.  But, several years ago – the admission rules for Texas state universities was changed to better serve minorities:  the infamous 10% rule.  The university automatically accepts any Texan who graduates in the upper 10% of their class – regardless of how easy or how hard their school’s curriculum was.   The popular UT quickly fills its incoming freshman class with 90% of top ten students. The remaining 10 percent comes from the top 25 of their class – that is, if they get lucky, play a sport, an instrument, or have some exceptional artistic ability.   At smaller state schools, the competition to get admitted isn’t nearly as tough  – but UT is the crown and everyone wants to be king.    St. Edward’s has greatly benefitted from this 10% rule.   Once a small Catholic university, it is now filled with students who want to be in Austin but can’t get into UT.    And so, here we find ourselves, seriously looking at a college that is unknown to us.   It’s a good school, we want to make it work – it’s close to Houston, it’s not terribly expensive, it’s not that hard to get into.   Will it be a match for a girl who waltzes into their Orientation Weekend looking like she just came from a photoshoot for Vogue magazine?




You get the idea.




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After dropping off our fashion plate for the night at St. Edward’s, Ben and I headed to the trendy Hotel San Jose for the night.   Usually we treat ourselves to a rare night out of town at the Austin Four Seasons.   But, it’s a splurge we know we should avoid.   We do sometimes try to get reservations at the less expensive Hotel San Jose, but that is almost an impossibility – they stay pretty much booked up year round.    We got lucky this trip – they actually had several vacancies and we even got to chose the type of room we wanted.   Hotel San Jose opened in 1939 to great fanfare, but eventually became a run down haven for drug addicts and prostitutes (that popular duo.)   Located on South Congress before it became known as SoCo,  lawyer Liz Lambert bought the motel in 1995 on a  hunch that the area was ripe for a major revitalization.  She continued to run the derelict motel as it was for a few years while she finalized her plans for the major renovation and got the financing together.  David Lake of Lake/Flato the renowned architectural firm from San Antonio, was the architect.   The buzz was huge – anything Lake/Flato is associated with is first class.  By the time the new San Jose opened, SoCo had become a Mecca for shopping – its once empty boarded up buildings that lined the street were now home to the hippest shops, vintage and decor stores,  coffee houses – anything that would attract the coolest of Austin.   SoCo today is a major destination and a great place to spend an afternoon, going in and out of all the shops while listening to the music escaping from the eateries.  It is also great people watching.    Luckily, Hotel San Jose is right in the middle of  SoCo – and that is part of its great appeal, especially when your daughter is a major shopper.    BTW – she lasted about four hours at St. Edward’s before we got the phone call to come pick her up.   I wasn’t surprised when she announced that she thought she would fit in better at a larger school.



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Once you enter the gates of the San Jose, the bustling shops seem miles away.   The San Jose is a true oasis with all its towering trees, gravel paths, and lush landscaping.  



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The courtyards are one of the more wonderful things about the San Jose.



Austin09 049 The lobby is very simply decorated – as are the rooms.  You can rent vintage typewriters to “write that novel you’ve always dreamed about.”   You can borrow CDs and movies from their extensive library filled with obscure titles.   Bikes are for rent as are Polaroid cameras.  Their wine list is personally created by Lambert – you won’t find any chardonnay here – it’s not hip enough.



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Mr. Slipper Socks Man checks in – a process that takes ages.   I finally go in to see what is taking so long and find him engrossed in telling the clerk his sob story about leaving his daughter at St. Edward’s for the night.   Typical.  He has never met a stranger.



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The motel originally had two wings with a large parking lot in the middle.  Today, there is a two story building along with an open air bar and swimming pool where the parking lot once was.    At night, this bar is hopping.   Great music loudly plays 24/7.   If you want absolute peace and quiet, the San Jose is probably not for you. 



Austin09 025 The swimming pool is hidden behind a fence of bamboo. 



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The gravel paths that surround the building are very lushly landscaped  – it gets hot on SoCo in the summer, so the shade is much welcomed.   The landscaping is mainly green – there are no bright flowers or colors here that stand out. 



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Hotel San Jose has different types of rooms – from a few that share a bathroom to large suites.  We settled for a junior suite that is located in an original part of the motel.   Sharing a bathroom with strangers isn’t our type of thing!   I wonder who really books those rooms?





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We had Room 14 – when you enter there is a day bed with Indienne fabric pillows and a cow hide rug.  The floors are concrete, which Ben didn’t really appreciate.  The snack bar on the side table was filled with unusual eats.



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There was a long desk with an original poster from the famous Continental Club which is located right across the street on SoCo.



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The bed had more Indiennes fabrics – don’t ask me if it was comfortable.  Elisabeth took my space on it and I was left to bunk on the daybed!






Austin09 073 There was a new flat screen TV with FOOTBALL on!  What a surprise!  The bathroom was behind a large sliding chartreuse colored door.  The Havaianas are for sale – I couldn’t resist!



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Each bathroom has a poem tacked to the wall by the sink along with a supply of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap .  Check out Mr. Slipper Socks Man’s foot.  He’s exciting, I know.



The only room service is breakfast which comes in really hip (I know, I know – you could die from the hipness!) Japanese bento boxes.   We had to order in dinner from a nearby restaurant.   That was when Ben announced this was the last time he would stay here.  He really enjoys his room service!



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Ready to hit the shops on SoCo before we head home.  Mr. Slipper Socks Man is all decked out in his UT finery, his burnt orange shirt, his UT hat, and his beard!  Yes, he is NOT shaving until UT loses a football game (they won again tonight.)   UT has not lost a game this year – so he’s looking a little like a grizzly bear right now.    Did I tell you he was a football fan??  After I took this picture he walked around the San Jose’s courtyards and decided that he actually really did like it here despite the concrete floors and no room service policy!  I’m sure Lambert will be pleased to hear this.



 On the opposite side of the property, there are large, airy courtyards outside the rooms.




All the rooms are slightly different.  

(Room pictures from Flickr.)



I would have loved to have this room with it’s vintage poster of Bob!   Wow. 





Or, this room would be nice with a poster of the late, great John Lennon.  I love the way the rooms are decorated!



image Some of the furniture, like the bed platforms,  are handmade.  All rooms have at least one piece of classic mid century design likes an Eames chair.   Notice the daybeds and chairs are covered in washable white denim.   Johnny Cash is pictured here. 




The single rooms with a shared bath have red painted floors instead of concrete.  Despite the simple wooden bed frames, linens are of the highest quality – Frette, and the pillows are soft down. 




This bathroom was styled for a photoshoot in the late Home magazine. I love the bright colors against the gray concrete and white walls. 






This photograph gives you a good view of the new building built in the former parking lot between the two motel wings.  The largest suites are located here.




The front facade now, and……


image Then.   The hotel is remarkably the same.  On the left is the wing where the larger courtyards are.  The right wing with the enclosed gravel courtyard is not pictured here.   The buildings were all painted a unifying gray.   Out front, fences were erected stretching from the main building to the wings to the enclose the property.   The driveways became the courtyards.   The large new two story building was erected behind this main one – the bar and pool are between the two. 



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The shopping fun begins when you leave the San Jose.  Turn left and you head right to Jo’s, a popular coffee shop that is also owned by Liz Lambert.  At the end of this street, about two miles to the left,  is the Capitol of Texas building.  South Congress  or SoCo was once the main thoroughfare of Austin – until the freeways were built and the street practically died.    All its buildings and storefronts were left empty for decades until the revitalization of SoCo – about ten years ago. 



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Turn to the right and there is store after store after store of wonderfully diverse merchandise. 





Who IS Liz Lambert - the stylish  brains behind the Hotel San Jose?    A self described Hippie, her roots in Texas run deep - she hails from one of Stephen F. Austin’s original 300 families – and she grew up in the legendary oil rich town of Odessa.   Starting adulthood as an attorney, the San Jose changed her life allowing her the creative outlet she was starved for while practicing law.  Today, the corporate world she runs in is decidedly of her own making.  Bunkhouse Management – started by Lambert and her partners, was created as a vehicle to sell their hotel expertise to others in the business.   Besides Bunkhouse, Lambert is busy with other endeavors.   After the San Jose, she opened Jo’s, a coffee shop next to the hotel, and then added another one in downtown Austin.  She redid, then sold,  the derelict Thunderbird motel in Marfa, turning it into a West Texas version of the San Jose.  Another boutique hotel, the 14 room Hotel Saint Cecilia located in a Victorian mansion,  opened to rave reviews earlier this year.  Plans are in the works for hotels in Houston and San Antonio,  and there is a condo building to be erected adjacent to the San Jose.    But, her most interesting project without a doubt is El Cosmico – a ranch in Marfa that is being turned into a sort of vintage, yet green trailer park.




Lambert and her posse, with whom she is always said to travel with, take a break from hard work at El Cosmico.


Still in its building stage after several years, El  Cosmico promises to be a green hippie kibbutz where trailers, yurts, hammocks and wooden hot tubs will converge in a circular configuration around a large swimming pool.  The project is near and dear to Lambert’s heart and was designed by Liz and David Lake of Lake/Flato.  Located in Marfa, a far west Texas town made famous by the artist Donald Judd,  El  Cosmico is proving to be a large, back breaking endeavor.   Hopefully – it will open soon and will be another triumph.   Lambert lives part time on a nearby ranch in the desert with her partner, singer/songwriter Amy Cook.



Lambert in Marfa:


Liz Lambert has been a large influence on Austin and Marfa style.   Her hotels and her houses have been featured in countless magazines and newspaper articles.   In Marfa, Liz  and Amy Cook, live on a  large Lambert family ranch in the middle of the desert.   Here, a 1930s rock water tank was converted into a swimming pool. 




The ranch house was decorated with assorted textiles collected from Mexico and other parts of the world.   Of course there’s a horse saddle on an old rusty oil barrel – this is west Texas after all!




Capture3The cow hide rugs are reminiscent of the San Jose Hotel.  The old billboard once read:   Marfa Texas One Mile.



image Painted concrete floors and vivid designer blanket. 




On the covered porch – Lambert made a table out of old oil barrels.




Close up of the porch table.




What a faucet!  What a window!  What a view! 



 Capture6 In the guest house, the beds are placed on wooden platforms as at the San Jose.  A stained glass window was turned into a door here. 



Lambert in Austin:

image  Lambert’s South Austin house was featured in Cottage Living.   Lambert, next to the end, divides her time between Austin and Marfa.  Lambert looking at the laughing, blond Amy Cook is a music lover and it factors into all aspects of her life.   Be sure to visit Amy’s web site to listen to a sampling of her music – it really puts you in the mood for a campfire in Marfa!



imageLambert, on the stairs, has styled her house in a manner similar to the San Jose.  She uses cow hides like others use seagrass.  




image Lambert paid $1 for her Austin house – which she then moved to this corner and totally restored!!!  Amazing!  The tin roof is authentic Austin styling – as is the zen-flavored landscaping. 



Hotel Saint Cecilia, Austin:


 Lambert’s newest venture – The Hotel Saint Cecilia - is located near the San Jose in an old Victorian mansion.   New bungalows were added to the property to give the hotel a total of 14 rooms. 



image The back side of the hotel Saint Cecilia with its bar/cafe. 




Inside the Hotel Saint Cecilia bar - where the vibe is totally different than the San Jose.  Lambert said she envisioned a hotel where Mick Jagger might have stayed in the heyday of the Rolling Stones.    I love the black and white patterned tile floor against the peacock blue wall color.  Each room is decorated quite differently in this hotel.   Both the San Jose and the Saint Cecilia are part of the Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s hotel group.


 imageLiz Lambert created the Saint Cecilia to look totally different from the San Jose.  The Yves Klein blue runs throughout the hotel.   This room is in the new bungalows which overlook the pool area.


Jackie Caradonia took these fabulous pictures here and below of the Saint Cecilia.




Each room is completely different – a mixture of new and old, with mid century modern thrown in to the mix.



 image The Saint Cecilia is the only hotel in America that has Hastens beds!  




imageThis bathroom is unreal for a hotel!  What a tub!!!!!   The faucet!!   The tile!   I’m going to bribe Ben to see if we can stay here the next time we are in Austin – it looks so fabulous!!! 



I can’t wait to see what Lambert does to the Hotel Havana on San Antonio’s Riverwalk.  It is set to reopen this spring.   The Houston project is much slower going.   To visit The San Jose web site go HERE.  To visit the Hotel Saint Cecilia web site, go HERE.  I hope you have enjoyed this peek into Austin Zen country!  

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