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Hotel Magdalena on South Congress Captures the Spirit of 1970s Austin

The stunning 89-room hotel takes inspiration from the city’s connection to music and nature

Even if you don’t know of the Bunkhouse Group, you know its hotels. Hotel Saint Cecilia. Hotel San José. The remodel and management of Austin Motel and Carpenter Hotel. El Cosmico in Marfa. Hotel Havana in San Antonio. Hotel San Cristóbal Baja in Todos Santos, Mexico. While each of these properties has its own identity, there’s still the Bunkhouse stamp. Cool vibes, comfy robes, minimalistic designs and intoxicating scents permeate each hotel, welcoming guests to relax and stay a while.

Magdalena sign from neon designer Evan Voyles.

So, it comes as no surprise that the year-old Hotel Magdalena, neighboring Saint Cecilia on Academy Drive, oozes similar milieu throughout each of its 89 rooms, lush courtyard, inviting lobby and airy restaurant, Summer House on Music Lane. Built on the site of the former Austin Opry House, owned by Willie Nelson, the hotel embraces its 1970s history in almost every facet of the design, including the architecture of Lake|Flato Architects, landscaping from Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and interior design from Bunkhouse.

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“1970s Austin is interesting because of the richness of the music scene and the lore of the time — it was the era that created the Austin we know today,” says Tenaya Hills, Bunkhouse’s Vice President of Design + Development. “The story of the hotel is the story of Austin, of live music, the outdoors, and relishing the hot summers in our beloved rivers and creeks. That naturally acted as a springboard for the design elements of the hotel — the pool being our own little swimming hole, the buildings around it inspired by Austin’s lake houses in the 1950s, which then informed the materials and furniture systems we designed for the guestrooms.”

Walking around Hotel Magdalena — named for Mary Magdalene, who was both a sinner and a saint — you can’t help but feel like you’re in a relaxing oasis away from the bustling city. Guests enter through a downstairs lobby that quickly sets the ’70s theme with a curved wall decked out with vertical tambour wood boards, orange tufted sofas and a brightly-colored ceramic wall hanging by Michelle Quan. Heading upstairs to check in at the main lobby, Patchouli Forest incense warms the space, while eclectic Graham Harmon paintings, vintage couches and a custom Murano glass disc chandelier liven up the retro lake house feel.

“Creating a sense of place is always important to us in our projects,” Hills says.

Barton Springs inspired pool above Magdalena’s rolling outdoor landscape.

After checking in, guests head out into the courtyard to a verdant lawn, sunken rain gardens, native greenery and a trickling waterfall over limestones. To the left is the emerald tiled, open-kitchen eatery Summer House, and to the right an elevator to guest rooms. Once on your floor, there are open breezeways with Cane Line rockers dotting the community spaces. Several rooms have patios or private balconies, but all rooms have fully operational windows and doors to embrace the elements.

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“In the past people have thought about hotels as a place where they go into their rooms, close their blinds and lock themselves away. We worked to flip that concept to bring people outdoors into a vibrant, shared experience with a sense of community that so many are looking for right now,” explains Sophia Razzaque, Associate at Lake|Flato Architects.

Gorgeous green decor in Summer House at Music Lane.

Inside the guest rooms, colorful Spanish tiles — either in red, blue, yellow or green — inform the color scheme, from the custom walnut wood and laminate inlay desks to Christian Rathbone throw pillows (and even vintage phones). Moroso couches and chairs beg to be lounged on, and every room is adorned with a black and white Scott Newton photo, typically of Wille Nelson but sometimes of Ann Richards or Dolly Parton, to “give energy to the space,” according to Hills. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bunkhouse hotel without cozy, custom robes and scrumptious bath amenities (this time from Sangre de Fruta).

While the rooms are indeed inviting, the 900-square-foot sunken swimming pool beckons. The hotel’s pool is decidedly the pièce de résistance within the 14-acre-property. Crafted to evoke the feel of Barton Springs (without the perpetually freezing temp), the sloped Astroturf knoll beside the linear 80-foot swimming hole sends memories of drum circles dancing in your head. Adjacent is the terracotta and terrazzo pool bar, where speckled pink chairs adorn a wooden patio with stamped concrete tile walls, and frozen cocktails swirl inside margarita machines, making it an optimal place to perch after an afternoon of swimming.

Kitschy decor at the pool bar.

Hotel Magdalena is not all style without substance, though — or sustainability, for that matter. It is the first mass timber hotel constructed in North America, which essentially means that the buildings were assembled in pieces. This renewable resource is visible in the hotel room ceiling design and the exterior walkways. The use of this system was reported to produce a 38 percent reduction in global warming potential when compared to using all concrete.

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“The prominent use of wood as the primary structural and finish material invites guests to connect with the landscape and reduces the project’s overall carbon footprint,” Razzaque explains. “The mass timber wood structure was selected to honor the history of the site where the 1950s Austin Terrace Motel had been constructed of exposed heavy timber beams and columns in the mid-century modern aesthetic. The design team sought to reference the site’s history and materiality to create warm, inviting structures for guests to experience Hotel Magdalena as an oasis within one of Austin’s most beloved neighborhoods.

Exterior design features beautiful breezeways.