Interview - Austin - Liz Lambert

Interview - Austin - Liz Lambert



With her Austin-based hospitality group, Bunkhouse, Lambert spreads a gospel of place-based thinking and low-key cool.


IF YOU GROW UP in Texas and you’re a little bit different, then all roads lead to Austin.

I USED TO just sit on a bar stool at the Continental and stare out across Congress at the San Jose. And before I knew it, I had it.

MY MOM co-signed the note just before the owners listed it in the Chinese newspaper.

DUCT TAPE AND GUM held the hotel together.

ROOMS WERE thirty bucks a night. Nobody who stayed there had cars or luggage or came out during the day. I was pulling crack pipes out of the vacuum cleaner.

I ABSOLUTELY DIDN’T KNOW what I was doing. I figured I could redo it room by room. It was faulty thinking.

WE REOPENED during SXSW fully booked. There was no soft opening. Actually there was a problem with the plumbing and the sewage backed up in all the rooms and flooded an inch.

IT’S A CONSTANT. A hotel is open 365 days a year.

WHEN YOU GROW UP in far West Texas, it’s like growing up in some version of Mexico. We went a lot. You’re close enough to the border. Juarez, Brownsville, Matamoroz.

WE’D GO down to the Big Bend and just walk across the river. There are some hot springs there, in Boquillas. It’s the mouth of a canyon, and for a buck or so they’ll haul you across in a big flat-bottomed boat. And you can walk into town, or, for a couple more bucks, get on a donkey or a horse.

I AM A CHILD of the cosmic cowboy. It’s the place where the West Texas in me gets to meet the hippie.

SOME PLACES just feel right, you know?

DESIGNING A HOTEL, whether Baja or Marfa, we’re going deep into its culture. We’re thinking about what the place smells like. The food, the architecture. And music. It’s an organic process in that way, always trying to figure out: What is this place all about?  

CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER calls it a Daoist quality, a quality without a name. It’s that thing you sense when you’re in a place. When it makes you feel more complete. And it’s not only because of a beautiful building. It’s because so many things have come to bear, so much thought. The place is truly of the place.  

I GREW UP IN ODESSA, and my granddad was a rancher, so he didn't have an office in town.

HE’D ALWAYS go to the local hotel and take meetings. He’d sit on the couches and read the newspaper, smoke a cigar, get his haircut.

I HAVE a really strong memory of those days. When I think about why I love hotels, well, that’s why.

Some places just feel right. And not because of a beautiful building. It’s a quality without a name.