Inside East Austin’s Newest Hangout
Designer Kathy Steele sheds light on the global midcentury modern vibe of the East Austin Hotel
by Lauren Jones
Photographs courtesy of East Austin Hotel
Pink tile, vintage Danish fixtures, kaleidoscope curtains and curated 1960s furnishings give the East Austin Hotel an undeniable charm, one that is playfully reminiscent, its spirit akin to the good old days of beach party genre movies starring Annette Funnicello and Elvis Presley.
The first floor is home to a budding restaurant, Sixth and Waller, and a poolside bar bedecked with rattan chairs and lantern lights which maximize its staycation feel, while the rooftop Moroccan-inspired lounge has become the new place to see and be seen on any given weekend. The pool, which non-hotel guests can access by purchasing a day pass, is constantly abuzz with locals and out-of-towners looking to keep the Sunday scaries at bay. It’s the marriage of the hotel’s colorful palette with its energetic neighborhood, East Sixth Street, which has made East Austin Hotel the city’s newest hot spot.
“It’s such a diverse neighborhood and that in itself gave us the opportunity to do something diverse and energetic, [taking further inspiration] from the colors and textures that surround us,” says designer Kathy Steele, whose husband is the managing partner of East Austin Hotel.
Steele, who worked alongside fellow designer Robin Kelley, was brought in by La Corsha Hospitality Group, the company which manages Second Bar + Kitchen, Mattie’s and Salado’s Stagecoach Inn; the designers then enlisted the help of local makers and artisans.
The vision for the hotel’s design originated with the courtyard and its clean, modern lines that lent itself well to a midcentury modern look. Steele did research on the architectural movement, gathering inspiration online, while Kelley found the first piece which helped the team’s plans take off.
“She sourced these beautiful pendants from a Danish ceramicist,” Steele says. “They were from the 1960s or ’70s and had pink, blue and gold in them that we were so taken with.”
Sticking closely to those colors, the team began finding other pieces such as the gold pendants that now hang in Sixth and Waller and the one-of-a-kind midcentury furnishings for each of the rooms. They looked to local artists to further develop the rest of the design.
Artist Nancy Johnson created the 3D piece for Sixth and Waller flanking the east side of the restaurant, as well as the artwork for many of the guest rooms.
“We wanted something that was going to be visible and colorful enough to draw the eye of people passing on Sixth Street and something with enough detail to be interesting when viewed up close,” Steele says. midcentury chairs, pink drapery and living room-esque rattan and bamboo pieces complete the look.
“I spent months searching all our local haunts and meeting with retailers who were dealing with midcentury furniture and purchased as many authentic pieces as I could for the hotel and restaurant,” she says.
Tom O’Neill of Austin Table Studio did all of the mixed-tile tables, while wood and resin artist Pablo Miller worked on the poured-paint tables on Sixth and Waller’s patio.
In the guest rooms, local maker Shay Spaniola created custom psychedelic drapery playing off the blue and pink tones of the rest of the hotel’s decor.
While the restaurant and guest rooms showcase an on-the-nose midcentury style, the Upside rooftop bar feels more global. There, the design plans centered around a magnificent abalone table from the ‘70s.
“There, it’s more global encompassing all aspects of food and design with a little quirkiness,” Steele says. “We used the original midcentury palette but played up the darker colors.”
East Austin Hotel’s fun-luxe design satisfies locals and international travelers alike and has already become part of the fabric of Austin’s bold East Side.