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Hoteliers Reinventing the Boutique Hotel

Liz Lambert

Allison V. Smith

Liz Lambert

The Texas Dreamer

You’ve got to be fearless to take on street criminals in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. To turn a run-down motor court in Austin, Texas, into a boutique hotel—spearheading an entire neighborhood’s renaissance—you’ve got to be both fearless and visionary. That’s Liz Lambert, who ditched her career as prosecutor to create the Hotel San José, which opened a decade ago. The 1936 motel in the South Congress area of Austin “happened to be across the street from my favorite pub,” Lambert recalls. “When I was in town, I would think, Someone really ought to redo that place.” She spent three years transforming it into what it is today—a wildly popular retreat. Last year, Lambert opened the Hotel Saint Cecilia, a Victorian manse nearby, with an eclectic look based on two imaginary muses: a decadent, velvet-draped glam rocker in the Mick Jagger vein and a globe-trotting gay uncle whose house is stuffed with artifacts from his travels. The result: everything from chesterfield sofas and old photographs to handmade Swedish mattresses. Even more eccentric is El Cosmico, in Marfa, Texas, made up of vintage trailers, yurts, and a tepee. This past April, she finished her latest project: restoring the historic Hotel Havana, in San Antonio, Texas. “We reused all the original furniture, and it was the world’s quickest turnaround—one hundred and twenty days.”

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