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Meet the Designer Behind Bunkhouse’s Stylish and Award-Winning Hotels

Senior Vice President of Design, Tenaya Hills, shares an inside look at some of Austin's most beautiful hotels

Hotel Saint Cecilia - Lobby (photo by Nick Simonite)

We sat down with Tenaya Hills, Senior Vice President, Design & Development at Bunkhouse Hotels, to learn about her background and inspirations. In a most impressive year for Bunkhouse, Hotel Magdalena was named “Best City Hotel, Austin” in the 2023 edition of Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. Additionally, beloved Hotel Saint Cecilia recently revealed some new renovations, including a brand new intimate event space, the Sun Room. Another Bunkhouse property, the Carpenter Hotel also unveiled a handful of light renovations and upgrades to bring their signature design touch to the space this past year.

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
Bunkhouse’s design expert Tenaya Hills (photo courtesy of Bunkhouse)

Please tell us about your background and previous projects.

I do not have a formal interior design background. I received an MS in Historic Preservation from the UT Austin Architecture School, then started working for Liz Lambert in May 2008 as St. Cecilia was under construction. So my education was on the job. The hotel opened in December 2008, so the six months leading up to opening were assisting her in pulling the remainder of the hotel interiors together.

The next project we did was the Havana, which was like a design TV show. We took over an existing 27-room hotel and had a limited budget and 90 days to purge it, make updates to HVAC and the roof, paint and landscape. Since we were reusing the existing furniture (which were amazing antiques sourced by Cheryl Coleman in the hotel’s previous life), we also had to refinish, powder coat and fix it all. And then add in our touches — the robes, linens, bath amenities, etc. It was intense but a cool project to work on.

On this project, we worked with David Clark, Thoughtbarn, Mark Word, Jack Sanders, Robin Kelley and so many others to pull it together. It was fun and collaborative — lots of great memories with that one. From there, I worked on El Cosmico and then our first new build was the San Cristobal, which gave us all great experience working in Mexico.

Tell us about your role at Bunkhouse. What does a typical day look like?

As the Senior Vice President of Design, I oversee the aesthetics of all our new projects and ensure they align with our brand’s vision. Collaborating with a talented team of ten individuals in the design department, we handle everything from the minutiae of selecting soap dishes to crafting comprehensive interior designs for our hotels.

Hotel Magdalena

How would you describe Hotel Magdalena’s style?

Hotel Magdalena’s style is a beautiful mix of vintage charm and modern elegance. It’s like stepping into a 50s Lake Austin house that got an update in the 70s. The textures, colors and patterns all come together to create a timeless and soothing vibe. It’s that perfect balance of Texas Hill Country warmth with a modern twist.

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
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Bunkhouse – Hotel Magdalena pool (photo by Casey Dunn)

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
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Hotel Magdalena (photo by Nick Simonite)

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
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Summer House on Music Lane at Hotel Magdalena (photo by Nick Simonite)

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
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Hotel Magdalena (photo by Nick Simonite)

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
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Hotel Magdalena (photo by Nick Simonite)

Bunkhouse Hotels Magdalena Austin Design
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Bunkhouse Hotel Magdalena (photo by Nick Simonite)

Can you tell us about Equipment Room at the Magdalena?

We recently opened Equipment Room, which is underneath Magdalena, together with Amar Lalvani and James Moody. It’s been a fantastic addition to the hotel, and it’s all about celebrating the musical history of the area. You’ve got to check it out — it’s this beautiful basement bar and we’re really proud of how it turned out.

Equipment Room (photo by Nick Simonite)

Hotel Saint Cecilia

How would you describe Hotel Saint Cecilia’s style?

Hotel Saint Cecilia is layered, a little decadent, but with a lot of depth. During its inception, the story centered around the Victorian home at the center of the hotel, which is the Miller Crocket house, and how to celebrate its great bones and architectural details. It’s also a celebration of music in Austin and the different way people experience it here.

The hotel is named after the patron saint of music & poetry, Saint Cecilia – so the style is a mix of those elements – good, classic design with an added element of music, or more specifically, the rock ‘n’ roll attitude and romantic lifestyle. The bar in the lounge is from 1930s Belgium – it arrived oak, but we painted it black and added a Carrera marble top. Many items in the lounge and old house were sourced vintage from Round Top, then reimagined with new finishes and fabrics from Austin upholsterers.

The experience is meant to be transportive, and so a sense of European hospitality and design was key, which is why we have the red French café chairs, some European antiques, and the absolute best breakfast service. At the pool and poolside bungalows, the style is decidedly more California Modern, and that was in reaction to the bungalow architecture architect Emily Little designed at part of the hotel. There’s just so much to see and uncover—an extensive collection of eclectic vintage art, antiques, handmade ceramics, Bitossi—all presented with a self-assured, curatorial vibe.

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Hotel Saint Cecilia – Lounge x Indoor (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Hotel Saint Cecilia Pool (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Hotel Saint Cecilia (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Hotel Saint Cecilia – Lounge x Outdoor (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Hotel Saint Cecilia – Room x Suite (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Hotel Saint Cecilia (photo by Nick Simonite)

What can you tell us about the new suites and multipurpose venue at Hotel Saint Cecilia?

The Sun Room was introduced to address the needs of our guests and members. From private dinners to unforgettable meetings, it is the perfect place for any type of intimate gathering. Furnished with a mid-century modern conference table, upholstered meeting chairs, and a built-in bookshelf that has everything from a television to a hidden, rollout bar, the space can easily transform if your daytime meetings turn into a happy hour. The black and white stone tile floors give a nod to the original pattern on the patio below. Windows extending the length of the room are framed with decadent velvet curtains and provide views of the property’s lush landscape. And, of course, there is patio overlooking the pool if you need a breath of fresh air.

Hotel Saint Cecilia – Sun Room (photo by Nick Simonite)

Carpenter Hotel

Please share what new design touches have also been added to the Carpenter Hotel in the past year?

Over the past year at Carpenter Hotel, Bunkhouse has installed a new reception desk, updated the retail shop, and given Carpenter Coffee Bar a refresh. Guests are now greeted by a custom terra cotta and longleaf pine reception desk built by Quarterlab, a local Design Build company based in Pflugerville. Additionally, vintage shelving was introduced to the shop to better display the hotel’s custom retail offerings. In the Carpenter Coffee Bar, we made adjustments to help the space easily shift from its daytime offerings of fresh-baked goods and coffee to hand-crafted cocktails and bites in the evening. This included new millwork featuring fluted wood cabinetry, fresh menus, and new decorative, mood lighting. The goal was to layer in subtle changes that had minimal impact on the existing design, but still added a sense of warmth to the space.

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Carpenter Hotel – Lobby, (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Carpenter Hotel – Lobby (photo by Nick Simonite)

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Carpenter Hotel – Pool (photo by Andrea Calo)

What places and/or activities influence your design?

As far as influences, travel and reading are a must when it comes to being in a creative field. You can not Google your way to a good design. My husband and I travel when we can, and in my department, it’s important we have exposure to things outside of our office and Austin. We like to go to the design trade shows and showrooms in New York City once or twice a year. I also travel a lot to scope out potential projects, which has been a great way to see new cities and places we haven’t gone otherwise.

What do you do when not at work?

I have two young sons, so outside of work I aim to be pretty present in their lives. Besides children and a full-time job, I do have little side gigs here and there. I was on the team that just opened Uptown Sports Club, which was a dream come true.

What’s your favorite thing about Austin?

The city provides an exceptional platform for personal growth and realization. The artistic community, the diverse culinary scene and the strong sense of community create an atmosphere that fosters innovation and creativity.

Also, I just want to express my gratitude for the incredible opportunities I’ve had at Bunkhouse. Working on these projects and being part of such a creative team has been a dream come true. Every day, we get to tell a unique design story, and it’s an absolute blast.

MORE: Explore Austin’s Best Hotels with Tribeza’s Curated City Guides