Four Austin Hotels Combine Luxury Hospitality with Distinct Designs
Frances Modern Inn, Hotel Lulu, Kimber Modern and The Tommie draw inspiration from history, nature and the great state of Texas
By Lauren Jones
Lead photo by Pär Bengtsson
For some, a hotel room is simply a place to rest their head, yet for others a boutique experience is one of the most important aspects of planning a vacation. Whether you’re in camp A or camp B, these four Texas hotels don’t disappoint. Each goes above and beyond when it comes to unique design and oasis-like properties located in the heart of the action.
Frances Modern Inn
Nourishing the Curious
Photos by Madeline Harper
Austin’s east side has seen its fair share of gentrification, but one hotel, the recently renewed Frances Modern Inn, aims to remind visitors of days past. Designed by Kim Lewis, the “little lady with big ideas” known for her work on “ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” has cooked up another spot-on destination. The property, which was previously Hotel Eleven and the Cat Noir, channels the spirit of grand-millennial style with its 14 rooms awash in bold House of Hackney wallpaper, bright color and vintage Turkish rugs.
“It’s pattern-on-pattern with big decor, a nod to grandma chic, but it’s unique and more trendy,” says the designer. Then, there are the unexpected extras like the oversized throne, the Ming chair from Arhaus, in room 3; women’s portraits in room 8, crafted by local artist Gregory Rainford, and whimsical door knockers sourced from the UK. “There are curiosities everywhere,” Lewis says. While the hotel has a modern, industrial exterior, inside it welcomes guests with moody, cozy spaces.
At The Frances Modern Inn, genuine hospitality can always be expected. “It’s our opportunity to make people happy,” says proprietor Vicki Faust. It’s apparent that the small staff, which act like a family, are passionate about making a difference in the 11th Street District and beyond. Guests are walked to their rooms upon check-in where they receive personalized notes on the hotel’s new stationary. They may even be welcomed by the property’s notorious friendly stray cat, Louie.
This spring, Faust and Lewis are excited for the soon-to-be completed room 15, a potential flex space that will include a king bed and soaking tub, as well as the ground-floor restaurant from Nicaraguan-American chef David Cordúa that will include a bold, tropical scheme and menu celebrating cuisines of the Equator.
Dash of the Desert
Photos by Chase Daniel
Think of The Tommie as The Thompson Austin’s cooler little brother. The hotel, which draws inspiration from the plains of the West Texas Desert, makes a trip to Marfa tangible. Skip the eight-hour drive and book at The Tommie instead.
Designed by Studio Collective, its well-crafted interiors embody the rugged desert landscapes with comfortable, warm, tactile furnishings; Southwestern materials; geometric patterns and photography from Kenny Braun of the Guadalupe Mountain Range and Big Bend.
“It’s important as designers that we can have our guests and staff feel inspired, to be aspirational, and hopefully leave them with an uplighting or positive ‘wrinkle on the brain,’ if you will,” says Christian Shultz, partner and design director at Studio Collective. While the airy guest rooms certainly feel relaxing, the hotel’s common spaces are just as curated.
Some of Schultz’s favorites include the tile-lined pool, a collaboration with artist Jessalyn Brooks and ceramicist Jose Noe Suro; the custom Austin Etoile wallpaper designed with Flavor Paper’s Dan Funderburgh and the 10- by-6 entryway mural from local artist Tom Jean Webb. The Tommie’s honey oak ceilings, limestone floors and hand-made custom tile further transport guests.
For those looking to explore the hotel’s fourth-floor restaurant, Wax Myrtle’s, the laid-back Texas charm is palpable. The mezcal bar, carved from a large slab of Texas Pecan, is certainly the perfect spot to enjoy a drink and start a vacation off right.
Photos by Pär Bengtsson
Round Top, one of the state’s smallest incorporated communities, swells to a population of 250,000 during its biannual Round Top Antiques Fair, yet its built-in Southern charm, passionate locals and growing dining scene keep them coming back for more. Hotel Lulu, which opened in 2021 after a 15-month historic renovation, is the latest in exciting happenings. The property not only provides privacy for the market’s celebrity guests and designers, but is a cornerstone of Texas culture.
“The history of it is what’s so exciting,” remarks Matt Johns, Director of Marketing at Palacios Murphy. In collaboration with interior designer Richard Holley, Cinda Murphy de Palacios and Armando Palacios, owners of the boutique hospitality group have resurrected the site’s six primitive bungalows, as well as three off-site cottages, into luxe retreats. Canopy beds with custom upholstery and hand made blankets woven in Pakistan pair with vintage finds, juxtaposing original cedar walls and plank flooring.
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The structures, which date to the mid-1800s, were moved to their current location just 40 years ago by Faith Bybee, a Houston native who made it her mission to restore the German town.
“In the 60s, she began the restoration, renovation and rescue of old architecture, specifically these bungalows,” Johns says. One such bungalow is Bybee’s former vacation home. The one-acre block, once home to Bybee Square’s storefronts, have been taken back to their historic intentions thanks to Palacios Murphy.
“It was important to keep the energy of Faith and her legacy alive,” Johns adds. “Cinda was an architect in a former life and acted as general contractor on the project since we did this during the pandemic,” he adds.
The hotel also features brand new landscaping, an herb garden, Round Top’s only hotel pool and newly opened bar, Il Cuculo, designed by Dennis Brackeen Design Group. The maximalist dive features rare mid-century furnishings, a hand-painted mural by artist Andrea Condara, tiger-print bolsters, bold banquette seating and velvet curtains.
Photos by Casey Dunn
Settled amid the bustling walks of South Congress lies the Kimber Modern. An unassuming and sleek white structure inspired by the timeless, mid-century modern architecture of Palm Springs, it is the optimal spot for the independent traveler. Our guests seek “a secluded oasis in the heart of Austin near downtown, steps away from the wonderful restaurants, shops, and music on South Congress,” says Kimber Modern Owner Richard Lent.
“Our typical guest is digital savvy and sophisticated, appreciating consistency and quality, functional and thoughtful design,” he adds. The hotel, which was shrewdly designed by Baldridge Architects, rests on an unusual triangular site and was constructed to flow with
the lot’s tricky curves. Since its inception in 2008, it has been recognized by publications such as “Dwell,” “The New York Times,” “Fodor’s” and “Conde Nast Traveler.”
If the architecture isn’t a pull, it’s a great choice for those wanting a high-tech check-in. Original hotel co-owners Kimber Cavendish and Vicki Faust installed keypads, ideal for those who tend to lose their room key. There’s an open-air courtyard, plus sustainably designed rooms with sleek furniture and art, Egyptian cotton towels, hypoallergenic pillows and Beautyrest Black mattresses.
For those planning to visit, it’s currently undergoing a full refresh and rebranding this winter, inspired by Japanese ryokans and the unpretentious hospitality of Omotenashi.