Inner City Sanctums
Only in Austin: Rock and roll exile inspires Zen-like Hotel Saint Cecelia
In 1971, the Rolling Stones needed to shake off some serious tax-related turmoil, so they fled the UK (and a handful of pricey lawsuits) and took up residence in Keith Richard’s villa in the south of France. They spent six months at Villefranche-sur-Mer, the extravagant 16-bedroom mansion, hiding out from Britain’s taxmen like a gang of rock god refugees and recording their iconic album, Exile on Main Street.
Saint Cecilia's perfect balance of soulful bohemia and enlightened elegance suggests that maybe everyone needs a lavish, self-indulgent escape every once in a while.
This now-famous example of artistic escapism inspired Liz Lambert, owner and designer of the Hotel Saint Cecilia, to create her own inner-city escape. So much so that she renovated a historic 1800s Victorian home right in the middle of Austin's bustling South Congress neighborhood and transformed it into a Zen-like boutique hotel, named after the patron saint of music and poetry.
Saint Cecilia's perfect balance of soulful bohemia and enlightened elegance suggests that maybe everyone needs a lavish, self-indulgent escape every once in a while. That’s not to say you’ll record a seminal album like Exile after a stay at the Cecilia, but there is a definite element of inspiration in the hotel’s atmosphere that seems to encourage a heightened state of self-reflection.
Every detail is approved personally by Lambert to fit seamlessly into Saint Cecilia’s philosophy: “A hotel shouldn’t just indulge. It should enrich,” ensuring that no luxury is too small to be overlooked and nothing superfluous is around to distract.
The exquisitely diverse decor includes everything from antiques Lambert has discovered on her extensive world travels to pop modern designs and custom-made installations designed specifically for the hotel. Examples include the Adam Bork video installations and a 1969 Verner Panton light fixture with a glowing red hive of clustered polypropylen balls, each engraved with the designer's signature. Or the Hastens Beds, handmade in Sweden with all-natural horsehair, cotton, wool and Swedish pine. (The Excelsior and 2000T models run between $17,500 and $27,500.) Saint Cecilia is the only hotel in North America to feature them exclusively. The bathrooms have their own swoon-worthy features, like the antique bathtub in Suite 3 with a direct eye line to the HD flat screen in the bedroom and Cote de Bastide bath products.
Music is the patron saint at Cecilia, and there’s more than enough soul to go around. Every room is equipped with a Geneva sound system and Whetstone Audio turntables (Riga P1s), waiting with pins up for guests to arrive, unload and get down. The poolside “SOUL” neon, acquired from Evan Voyles of Neon Jungles and reclaimed from an antique sign originally reading "Louisiana," is now a characteristic piece of the estate.
Original prints from the Morrison Hotel Gallery of artistic iconoclasts and soulful sophisticates of the sixties and seventies, like The Rolling Stones and Hunter S. Thompson, hang throughout the hotel's 14 unique units, but Lambert’s design seems to aim above and beyond the mere homage of a fan.
The mystic ambience of this modern day refuge seems more apt to inspire an entirely new generation of poets and musicians. Maybe all they need is an exile from the city and a little time to see the right light on the wall.