New Texas hotels are increasingly boasting of museum-worthy art collections, but a small boutique destination in Houston has displayed framed masterpieces on its walls for over forty years. When it reopens on March 29, La Colombe d’Or will unveil a high-style refresh by not one but two interior design firms that make it feel wholly new while maintaining its gallery-like experience. The redesign will also unlock 18 more hotel rooms (bringing the total to 32 suites) thanks to the addition of a glistening new tower set between the site’s original structures: a historic 1920s mansion and a secluded set of garden bungalows.
When he first opened La Colombe d’Or in 1980, Steve Zimmerman was inspired by the iconic French auberge of the same name. “It was a hangout for artists in the twenties and thirties, and they traded paintings for food and a place to stay, and they all hung out,” he says about the South of France location. “When I first discovered it in 1967, all the paintings of the artists were on the wall: Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Léger, Braque. And so when I opened this,” he says, gesturing at the mansion’s art-covered walls, “I really wanted to pay homage because it was in the art area.” The area he’s referring to is Montrose, long a safe haven for Houston’s creative set—once dubbed “the strangest neighborhood in Texas” in an early issue of Texas Monthly.
That 1973 article painted a picture of Montrose as a liberal enclave with a European spirit, on the brink of gentrification. For a time, the roughly-seven-square-mile patch was also synonymous with gay pride (until the official parade moved out in 2015). And founding TM editor William Broyles aptly described Montrose, his hometown, as the birthplace of Texas’s counterculture—“a magnet for artists, writers, musicians, bikers, pagans, seekers, chefs, Greeks, Cubans, misfits, and lost and found souls.” Some have lamented the change of scene there over the years, as familiar and original establishments gave way to new and hip places to eat, drink, and stay. But Zimmerman isn’t looking to abandon the neighborhood’s provenance—or the charming qualities his hotel adopted from its French namesake—with this new chapter.
Alongside his son Dan Zimmerman, a principal of the hotel, and armed with the original plans for the Jazz Age–era mansion (drawn on old parchment and tracked down at the local library), he restored what he could and renovated the rest. “You can’t rebuild this kind of character,” Dan says. “It just has so much history.” What the Zimmermans couldn’t fix, they replaced with period-appropriate details.
The mansion’s welcoming front porch, though revitalized with whimsically placed sculptures and an updated trellised ceiling, remains. So do the bulk of the exterior’s iconic elements: the roof is still blanketed with thick, old Ludowici tiles; and the hundred-year-old magnolia tree out front lives on despite the recent freeze (though the newer landscaping was not as lucky). But within, nary a stone was left unturned.
The newly designed dining area and bar feel as fresh as the verdant green hues that run throughout the lower level of the mansion. The team at Rottet Studios, who oversaw the mansion’s interiors, as well as the guest rooms and amenities floor within the new tower behind it, outfitted the old rooms with contemporary furnishings that look as though they’ve been there all along: custom seating, wall coverings, and even light fixtures echo the home’s Art Deco roots. And as was the case before, grand artworks surround you at every turn.
In the front lounge alone, a handful of works from the Zimmermans’ nearly four-hundred-piece collection include paintings by Dorothy Hood and Lucas Johnson, “some of the first pieces that Dad traded with artists,” Dan says. Beside them are a Man Ray artist’s proof and a Picasso lithograph. Contemporary and commissioned elements have been worked in, too, including a 46-foot Blek le Rat mural on the facade of the tower.
“In the early ’80s, when I started, everything was big, bigger, biggest—and here we had this dusty hotel,” Steve says. “By being small and intimate, it just became kind of fun because it was sort of the antithesis of what everybody thought of Houston.” It’s fair to say there’s nothing dusty about La Colombe d’Or’s newest digs: its brand-new tower next door, which also houses luxury residences, is as bright and modern as any art gallery, with zenlike hotel rooms to match. But if the mansion and the tower are sophisticated places to sleep among the art, the garden bungalows behind them are where to stay to feel like you’ve stepped inside an artist’s avant-garde dreamscape.
Brought to life by design darling Gin Braverman and her eponymous firm, the nine former apartments turned hotel suites are fun, funky, and full of functional spaces for those seeking a longer stay with the comforts of home. Each is equipped with a cozy kitchen, outdoor access, and two floors of sleeping and lounging spaces. No two bungalows look alike, but they do each look out onto a courtyard that will transport you to a different Francophile destination: Houston’s French Quarter. To enclose bubbling fountains and shaded al fresco bistro tables, Steve imported patinated wrought iron from his hometown of New Orleans.
Rooms, which start at $500, are named for the likes of Monet and Chagall—in fact, “I met the old man; Chagall lived in our village,” Steve says, referring to the old French Riviera town of Saint-Paul de Vence, where he has a second home not far from the original La Colombe—and a sense of joie de vivre abounds. There are ample spaces for curling up alone or visiting with friends. The bar’s creative cocktails and the restaurant’s artful dishes are as pretty as a picture. And if you venture out from the oasis during your stay, some of the city’s most popular art destinations (the Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel, for example) are just a leisurely stroll away.
Join us on an exclusive first look of La Colombe d’Or below.