October 06, 2022

After an all-day meeting on South Congress recently, I strolled down Music Lane to Hotel Magdalena, a boutique hotel that opened in 2020. I’d been wanting to see the place since learning that Ten Eyck Landscape Architects did the landscaping and LakeFlato designs, the goal is to encourage people to be outside, with natural breezes, fans, and shade creating comfort.

The hotel is also the first mass-timber boutique hotel constructed in North America. What is mass timber, you may ask? It’s “comprised of multiple solid wood panels nailed or glued together, which provide exceptional strength and stability. It’s a strong, low-carbon alternative to concrete and steel,” according to Think Wood.

Seating on the terrace bar

I only took a quick peek at the pool, where bathers were enjoying the sun and water. The angular shape of the long, narrow pool is reminiscent of Barton Springs Pool. A “live” edge where the stone paving meets artificial turf adds to the effect of a natural, spring-fed swimming pool.

Back on the main level I admired silvery blue palmettos under a Mexican sycamore.

A path leads…

…to a modestly sized event lawn, with string lights overhead and umbrella-shaded chairs all around.

The hotel’s restaurant, Summer House on Music Lane, is on my list of places to try. The patio is shady and inviting.

Every Bunkhouse hotel — Bunkhouse owns Hotel Magdalena along with equally hip Hotel San Jos?, Hotel Saint Cecilia, Carpenter Hotel, Austin Motel, and more — is given a story that informs its design. Lake culture informs Hotel Magdalena, according to an interview with Bunkhouse’s CEO in Forbes:

“Lake culture was an inspiration because it’s what people in Austin do in the summer to deal with the heat. It’s part of the fabric of the city and a big part of the vibe that people fall in love with. Simple pleasures, hanging out with friends and their dogs on the water, grilling, swimming, listening to or playing music. It’s fun, casual and relaxed, which is what this hotel is. The feel of the hotel draws inspiration from the 70s era which is specifically interesting just because of the richness of the music scene and the lore of that time – a sleepy but fun-loving and rebellious college town that somehow fused an underground free-love social culture with cowboy culture. It was the era that created the Austin people love today.”

Forbes, Sep 28, 2020

That such a nostalgic view of Old Austin inspires the look of New Austin is no doubt ironic to the old-timers hanging on in our booming, urbanized, suddenly ridiculously expensive city. Austin can feel unrecognizable from month to month, as apartments, hotels, and tear-downs sprout up seemingly overnight on once-sleepy streets. And yet Austin has somehow kept that friendly, laid-back vibe and wild, natural beauty that draws people here and tells them this is home.

Music Lane streetscape

I look forward to returning to Hotel Magdalena to enjoy a meal in that lovely courtyard and soak up Old Austin nostalgia in a New Austin setting.

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Digging Deeper

The Oct. 20th Garden Spark talk “Black Flora” by author Teresa Speight is on sale now, and you’re invited! Teri will be sharing stories of pioneering Black florists, floral activists, and flower farmers doing incredible work across the U.S. Her profiles of these unstoppable creatives in Black Flora are uplifting and inspiring; check out my book review for more info. Come join us and meet Teri at her talk and book signing. Seating is limited, and tickets must be purchased in advance.

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.

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