Reclaimed Motels Are America’s Hottest Hotel Trend
From Saratoga to Santa Barbara, here are 11 retrofitted properties worth a road trip.
By Sarah Firshein
July 26, 2017
Shuttered warehouse, meet dilapidated motel. The latest hospitality trend sweeping the country is a throwback to the Americana era, when the U.S. Interstate system was developed, Howard Johnson’s became a symbol of a nation’s wanderlust, and roadside motels emerged as functional, no-frills stopovers for road warriors. Time has eroded many of these 20th-century vestiges, but in recent years they’ve been catching the eye of hoteliers—and designers—eager to parlay retro charm into stays that appeal to contemporary tastes.
Anvil Hotel, Jackson, Wyoming
Rundown motels are like catnip for Brooklyn-based firm Studio Tack, which has left its mark on Wyoming ski country with Anvil Hotel. Opened this winter, it’s outfitted in rich, saturated tones, beadboard walls, and Waterworks bath fixtures. The bar program, run by New York’s legendary Death & Co., sure beats a minibar.
Austin Motel, Austin, Texas
Thanks to the wizardry of Liz Lambert, the white-hot hotelier behind Bunkhouse Group, two side-by-side 1930s South Congress motels now have vibrant new lives. While San Jose Hotel’s enduring popularity is as strong as ever, all eyes are on the newcomer Austin Motel, a bold, at times bawdy, revamp of the so-called “Phallus Palace,” whose neon, penis-shaped sign still presides over the exterior. Nostalgia is delivered in droves, from the Magic-Finger vibrating beds to ’80s-era phones shaped like lips to Richard Simmons–style water aerobics classes in the pool.
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Nobu Ryokan, Malibu, California
Nobu Matsuhisa and billionaire Larry Ellison refashioned the former 1950s Casa Malibu Inn above Carbon Beach as the Nobu Ryokan, just steps from the chef’s celebrity-filled Malibu restaurant. The 16-room property, designed by Studio PCH, Inc., along with Montalba Architects and TAL Studio, is a contemporary take on a traditional Japanese inn. A minimalist sea of teak, bronze, and limestone is offset by eastern-inspired elements such as tatami mats, shoji screens, and wooden soaking tubs.
Scribner’s Catskills Lodge, Hunter, New York
Another Studio Tack special, the 38-room Scribner’s Catskill Lodge in the ski town of Hunter showed some dubious aesthetic choices when the owners bought it . (A subterranean replica of the Playboy mansion grotto and kitschy rooms with Swiss-cottage décor are just a couple of examples.) Now it has become the go-to getaway in the Catskills, thanks to a soaring lobby with a stovepipe fireplace;, a pool table; Alpine-style cuisine and maple old-fashioneds at the restaurant Prospect; and a just-opened outdoor pool. Coming this winter: the debut of the renovated grotto.
Rivertown Lodge, Hudson, New York
First a movie theater, then a motel, Rivertown Lodge feels like Hudson’s coolest hangout, and that’s exactly the vibe that design firm Workstead hoped to achieve through a stovepipe fireplace, locally made furniture, and cozy corners piled with books. Located in Hudson, about 120 miles north of Manhattan, its surrounding streets include an in-the-works museum by artist Marina Abramovic, an annex office for e-commerce site Etsy (which is headquartered if Brooklyn), and several storefront galleries.
The Goodland Hotel, Santa Barbara, California
California design firm Studio Collective incorporated influences from retro Westside surf culture into Santa Barbara‘s Goodland Hotel, a 158-room Kimpton property with an onsite record shop and an Airstream trailer parked in the front. Stop by the restaurant Outpost, which turns out Cali-inspired street food such as pork-belly bao-buns and battered-cod tacos.
Pioneertown, Pioneertown, California
The heyday of Western films is long gone, but the Pioneertown Motel, built by Roy “King of the Cowboys” Rogers in 1946, keeps the era alive with wood-beamed ceilings, vivid Native American textiles, and cowhide rugs. It’s located in a boho desert settlement, on the outskirts of Palm Springs, that has come into fashion in recent years thanks to urban refugees looking to get off the grid and the exploding popularity of Coachella.
Coachman Hotel, South Lake Tahoe, California
Rubber flooring and plywood closets in the 42-room Coachman Hotel, a five-minute walk from Heavenly Gondola, suggest grit and durability to withstand ski gear. But the ‘60s-style property, retrofitted by Studio Tack, has plenty of luxuries, including Malin + Goetz toiletries, Frette linens, a café bar serving Stumptown coffee and local beers, and fire pits to roast s’mores. In a nod to the motels of yesteryear, one of the suites even comes equipped with a heart-shaped Jacuzzi.
Amigo Motor Lodge, Salida, Colorado
Undeterred by the floral bedding and wall-to-wall carpeting in the 1950s motel they purchased in central Colorado, the couple who own the 16-room Amigo Motor Lodge unveiled their finished vision—including sleek white linens, graphic floor tiling, and various skulls—last year. The southwestern vibe will be amplified even more next year with the addition of three refurbished Airstreams and a yurt. For a look at the renovation process, check out their blog.
The Verb, Boston
Built in 1959 as the Fenway Motor Hotel—it’s right behind the ballpark—the 93-room Verb is an enthusiastic tribute to Boston’s rock ’n’ roll history; details include a gallery wall of vintage concert posters and a typographical mural of Ted Nugent’s famous quote: “If the music is too loud, you’re too old.” Architecture firm Elkus Manfredi counterbalanced some of the kitschy bric-a-brac with midcentury furniture pieces: Herman Miller chairs and Artco Formica desks in the rooms; Knoll Risom lounge chairs and sofas by sculptor Joshua Vogel in the lobby.
Brentwood Hotel, Saratoga, New York
From its handsome board-and-batten exterior to its crisp interior palette of black and white, with brass and wood, the Brentwood Hotel, another Studio Tack project, offers a sharp alternative to the old-timey inns common in Saratoga. The 12 rooms are stocked with hand-dyed French linen blankets and C.O. Bigelow bath amenities; Aquina Roasters coffee is on pour every morning in the lobby, which is also the place to return for well-executed cocktails at night.