Even though it’s Bunkhouse Group’s largest property, with four buildings a stone’s throw from one of Austin’s busiest pedestrian walkways, the new Hotel Magdalena is not easy to find. Not even when you’re standing outside, looking right at it. “Hotel Magdalena is the first one truly developed from the ground up and is a hidden world unto itself just off South Congress,” says Amar Lalvani, CEO of Bunkhouse, contrasting Magdalena with the group’s other nearby properties: Austin Motel, Hotel Saint Cecilia, and Hotel San José, all historic renovations. The new hotel’s discreet design is a marker of the tranquil experience promised within. But tucked away on the quiet, winding Music Lane, its unassuming facade could easily be mistaken for apartments—which, if you’re familiar with the history of that slice of town, might impart a bit of déjà vu.

Back in the fifties, Austin architects Niggli and Gustafson broke ground in the same spot to build Terrace Motor Lodge. Its 366 in-demand rooms were accompanied by multiple restaurants, pools, shops, and a convention center. It was a bustling fourteen-acre stretch until a little over a decade later, when Interstate 35 opened to the east and brought travelers to that side of town, too. When Willie Nelson bought the complex in 1977, it had largely lost its charm. South Congress had become, as Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall described it, “a seedy stretch of crumbling motels, drug dealers, and working girls.” It was, however, an eminently affordable place for musicians and artists to live. Nelson transformed the former convention center into Austin Opry House, and he rented the mid-century modern rooms to musicians and their families as affordable apartments.

With the help of Lake/Flato architects, Bunkhouse designed the new hotel atop the same storied site. On a more intimate scale (89 rooms) but equally of-the-moment, the quartet of buildings encase a central courtyard, lush with fresh landscaping by Ten Eyck (whose principal architect recently shared planting tips with Texas Monthly) and anchored by the long sliver of a swimming pool. 

Many of the rooms look out onto that sparkling oasis, a fitting feature given the escape’s design inspiration. “When you’re in Austin, you absolutely first should go to Barton Springs—there is nothing like that magical place—then you can come swim at the hotel once you’ve checked that off,” says Tenaya Hills, Bunkhouse Group’s VP of design, who is so passionate about taking a dip that she drew on the style of traditional bathhouses to create the courtyard’s powder room. While some interior design seeks to bring the outdoors in, Hills regards the property as a space for nature enthusiasts to luxuriate in Austin’s moderate climate year-round. With open-air hallways and paths that wind along the courtyard, traveling from one space to the next—from your suite to the lobby, or from the event space (Bunkhouse’s first) to the Summer House on Music Lane restaurant (set to open in November)—always means taking a stroll outside.

Magdalena’s construction also includes the addition of a new set of luxury apartments. “Hotel Saint Cecilia is right next door to Hotel Magdalena, and the Saint Cecilia Residences were developed as part of the project,” Lalvani says. “Residences are technically a departure for Bunkhouse, but it felt very natural as an extension of Hotel Saint Cecilia, given its residential feel and incredibly loyal guests.” 

Join us below for a virtual tour of the hotel, which is in a soft opening stage until October 1.

Laid-back Style

“When we were styling the lobby, we pictured a person who lived in an effortlessly cool house on Lake Austin,” Hills explains. “We thought about what they would collect in their travels, what they found interesting, and what books and records they’d have.”

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Tattered Texas tomes on gardening and pottery (mostly acquired from the rare section at Half Price Books) share space with vintage artifacts and design objects. Because of the pandemic, Hills’s regular pilgrimage to the Round Top Antiques Fair was canceled, so she turned to online dealers like 1stdibs and Chairish for decorative goods.

Nick Simonite

Timeless Terrazzo

A signature design element at Hotel Magdalena that you won’t find in other Bunkhouse properties is terrazzo. From the lobby floor to the pool bar (shown below) to the guest room floors, the casual motif is on prominent display.

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“We want this to feel like an outdoor hotel in the middle of a city,” Hills says.

Nick Simonite

Serene Palettes

We want people to walk into a clean, uncluttered room that’s instantly calming,” says Hills, who limited each room to a single color—green, blue, red, or yellow. The hues brighten up alcove sinks, where custom-colored tiles from Kismet Tile match the room’s sculptural lamps from David Weeks and handmade pillows from Christian Rathbone.

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The team collaborated with photographer Scott Newton to curate prints for the walls. Pulling from his archives, which celebrate the period when Willie Nelson laid claim to the original buildings on Music Lane, they handpicked different works for every space.

Nick Simonite

Relaxing Amenities

Another Bunkhouse signature: the hotel has a custom, kimono-style robe—but unlike designs featured at other properties, this one has pockets, thanks to popular request from guests. Amenities are from the Canadian apothecary Sangre de Fruta.

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Bunkhouse designer Ellie Lochridge created the tile patterns, which encase Waterworks sinks. The chair in the corner (there’s one in each room) is from Moroso.

Nick Simonite

Alfresco Lounge Areas

Along the exterior corridor, chairs look out onto the grounds below, which are essentially one large rainwater garden: rain flows down the steep landscape toward an herb garden, a green stretch of lawn, and the pool—and ultimately into two giant underground cisterns, to sustainably water the greenery all year long.

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Inspired by the luxury of enjoying time outdoors year-round in Austin, most suites feature alfresco seating both in front of the rooms (along the exterior corridor shown here) and behind (on personal terraces).

Nick Simonite

Cozy Corners

The main lobby is a short elevator ride—or stroll up an exterior staircase—above ground level. But at the ground-level entrance to the hotel, a posh seating area (shown here) works as a relaxing space for guests to wait for an Uber.

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Hills tapped many New York artists for works to decorate the spaces, including Michele Quan, who created the wall hanging shown here—and whose rainbow ashtrays are for sale in the lobby.

Nick Simonite