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The Design-Savvy Texas Hotelier Who's Making the Desert a Destination (& 4 of Her Hotels We Love)

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The life story of one of Texas’ top hoteliers should put anyone grappling with a quarter-life crisis at ease: Liz Lambert was working for the attorney general in Austin when she felt her life needed a more creative slant. While out with friends one night, she knocked on the door of the seedy San José Motel to see if it was for sale, and ended up purchasing the property not long after. For a few years before Lambert was able to secure a loan, the property continued operation as a respite for the lost, broken, and recently-incarcerated.

Once Lambert was finally was able to get funds for much-needed improvements, the updated Hotel San José re-opened in 2000 to accolades and fanfare, catapulting the native Texan into the design-centric hotel business for good.

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The Hotel San José against an Austin sky.
The Hotel San José against an Austin sky. Photo by Nick Simonite

Eight years later, Lambert formed Bunkhouse Group to formalize her professional endeavors, and just last year the Standard Hotel Group purchased a majority share of the business, forever validating Lambert’s gutsy decision to leave her day job all those years ago.

Not so motel-ish anymore!
Not so motel-ish anymore! Photo by Nick Simonite

After Hotel San José, Lambert only accelerated her quest to provide experiential and communal vacation experiences. Below are three more Bunkhouse projects that do not disappoint.

Hotel St. Cecilia

The St. Cecilia opened near Hotel San José in 2008 as a more private and upscale travel destination. It has become a celebrity hot-spot, particularly during SXSW festivities.

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Picture yourself by this pool!
Picture yourself by this pool! Photo by Nick Simonite

In 2015, the Foo Fighters recorded an album at the hotel (fittingly titled "St. Cecilia"). “I honestly feel like we left a piece of our band there as we were being torn away from it," frontman Dave Grohl remarked.

Which probably what Lambert had in mind when she bought the 1888 Victorian mansion nearly a decade ago. (St. Cecilia is, after all, the patron saint of music and poetry.)

Inside the cozy lounge at Hotel St. Cecilia.
Inside the cozy lounge at Hotel St. Cecilia. Photo by Nick Simonite

El Cosmico

To say that El Cosmico, another Bunkhouse hotel, is for the non-traditional traveler is like saying Beyoncé is good at dancing. It's the understatement of understatements. The Marfa, Texas property offers accommodations ranging from refurbished trailers to teepees and Mongolian Yurts.

Safari tents at El Campico.
Safari tents at El Campico. Photo by Nick Simonite
Inside their "Battleship Trailer."
Inside their "Battleship Trailer." Photo by Nick Simonite

According to Lambert and her team, the property’s goal is to serve as a “temporary liberation from the built world.” Of all the Bunkhouse properties, this one seems most likely to have served as a Wes Anderson movie set in a previous life.

And inside a teepee.
And inside a teepee. Photo by Nick Simonite

Havana

The Havana hotel in San Antonio is my personal favorite Lambert venture (and it's not just because that’s where I’m from).

At room at Lambert's Havana hotel.
At room at Lambert's Havana hotel. Photo by Nick Simonite

It seems tucked away and secluded, and upon arrival, visitors walk through the dimly lit Havana Bar that's outfitted with low ceilings and dark wood. It's an introduction that makes the entrance into the powerful Ocho restaurant, bursting with vibrant aqua and overlooking the San Antonio River, all the more powerful.

And just like San Antonio as a whole, Havana is still a bit under the radar (or at least I’d like to think so).

Photo by Nick Simonite

In the world where everyone is plotting their next Instagram post, Liz Lambert's hotels reign supreme. Design is a primary consideration in these properties and part of what makes them so successful, but each location offers so much more: The Bunkhouse website reads, in a pseudo-manifesto statement, “Passion for design, tireless attention to detail and a commitment to creating authentic culture have earned our properties a unique place in the hearts and minds of those who visit us.”

It’s this attention to detail—and Lambert's ability to create environments that act as creative, inspiring, and fantastical universes unto themselves—that invites travelers to leave pretense at the door when they enter one of her artfully-crafted worlds.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated that Hotel San José opened in 1998, St. Cecilia in the late 90's, and that the St. Cecilia property was purchased nearly 20 years ago; we've corrected it to state that Hotel San José opened in 2000, St. Cecilia in 2008, and that Lambert purchased the St. Cecilia property nearly a decade ago.

What's your favorite hotel in the world? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: Texas, Bunkhouse Group, Liz Lambert