Meet Kenny Osehan, the queen of Ojai’s hip motels

What’s the difference between a tired old motel and a boutique hotel with a loyal clientele and full of modern charm?

Apparently it’s Kenny Osehan. She is a hotel “curator” who manages two of Ojai’s most Instagrammed lodgings, Hotel Capri and Ojai Rancho Inn, through her company Shelter Social Club.

Both properties are mid-century motels that once aimed to house families on tight budgets. Now renovated to highlight their history while bringing a new boho-chic aesthetic, they attract design-seeking millennials who are willing to pay $250 or more per night.

The Ojai Rancho Inn Honeymoon Suite features pink tiles in the bathroom.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

“It’s about how you feel when you set foot on a property,” Osehan said, sitting on the shaded patio of the Capri Hotel. “You want to feel the personality of the place.”

The Capri is a swollen 1963 property with 30 rooms, a pool, hot tub, and grassy area often used for lounging and special events, and a Mediterranean-style stone wall dominating the lobby. As recently as 2017, with different paint and furniture, Osehan said, guest rooms cost as little as $80. Now, with an overlay of Italian design and paintings by Mattea Perrotta and other artists, they fetch between $300 and $490 a night.

The Ojai Rancho Inn, built in 1950 and remodeled from 2012 to 2015, is a 17-room property with a more woodsy, rustic vibe. With its rooms wrapped around a parking lot and a location facing the busiest street in town, the Inn is a motel in its bones. Still, Osehan recast it as “an adult summer camp.”

The poolside Chief’s Peak Bar, added in 2014, is a tiny but popular gathering spot. One Wall is a range of earthy-hued mugs by Kat & Roger. There are ceramic lamps by Heather Levine, paintings by Carly Jo Carson, and bar stools and patio chairs by Eric Trine. Room rates start at around $260 (free parking, no resort fees) and they book up quickly.

Plants sit atop a bar at the Ojai Rancho Inn.

Chief’s Peak Bar overlooks the pool at the Ojai Rancho Inn.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

As Osehan acknowledges, part of that success is Ojai’s growing popularity as a destination.

But another part is this mysterious thing called styling. Osehan says his approach comes straight from his childhood.

Osehan’s family emigrated from Indonesia when she was a child and ran a budget motel in Santa Barbara called the Travelers.

“We moved in when I was 9,” she recalls. “We lived in the director’s unit. One bedroom, the four of us. During her teenage years, Osehan and her sister, Jessy, did whatever needed to be done around the motel, from cleaning to work to reception. By the time she’d moved into the dorms at UC Santa Barbara and started studying sociology and art history, “I absolutely didn’t want to be in the hospitality business. But when it’s in your blood, that’s what you know.

Sure enough, after college, when she and a partner were looking to “bring together a creative community,” the opportunity they found was a tired motel.

The lobby of Ojai's Capri Hotel features a stone fireplace, seating area and plants.

A fire warms the lobby of the Ojai’s Capri hotel.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Two photos: plants on the grounds of the Hotel Capri and a bed in a paneled room

Greenery thrives at Hotel Capri, left at Ojai Rancho Inn, the Honeymoon Suite overlooks the event space.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Given the chance to take over the lease of the Presidio Motel in Santa Barbara, they took the leap, planning “to have art exhibits and bands, to kind of have a place that always has a flow of sustainable income”.

Among the first challenges: “mushrooms coming out of the wallpaper” and a rough clientele. At first, “we called the cops on the guests a few times a week,” she said.

But they are making progress, extending the lease, buying new furniture from Ikea and hiring artists to decorate the rooms. By striving to “create an experience rather than just a place to sleep,” they had found a niche in the region’s competitive lodging market.

By the end of 2012, Osehan and his partner had left the Presidio, started the Shelter Social Club and discovered “really good energy” at the Ojai Rancho Inn. They left a note for owner Steve Edelson, a longtime owner of LA nightclubs who also owns the Capri and Hummingbird buildings in Ojai. Soon they had a long-term lease.

Two photos: Cacti stand upright, left, and bicycles wait for guests at the Ojai Rancho Inn.

The exterior of the Chief’s Peak Bar at Ojai Rancho Inn features large cacti, left. Bicycles are available for guests.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

A decade later, the Shelter Social Club group includes both Ojai properties; the Alamo Inn and Alamos Bar in Los Alamos; Santa Barbara’s Agave Inn (formerly the Travelers), where Osehan’s aunt Wendy Simorangkir is a partner; Solvang’s Hamlet Inn (run by Osehan’s sister, Jessy Verkler); and Santa Barbara’s Sama Sama Kitchen (run by Osehan’s cousin, Ryan Simorangkir). In 2018, Osehan bought out his partner.

Osehan, 42, completed the renovation of Capri just in time for the pandemic. She made it, she says, with the help of federal small business loans, an understanding landlord and several long-term tenants.

Osehan’s third Ojai property, yet to fly the Shelter Social Club flag, is the 31-room Hummingbird Inn. It was built in the 1970s or 80s – Osehan isn’t sure – in the everyday Spanish colonial style. It remains open as renovations are progressing slowly.

Products line the shelves of the Ojai Rancho Inn gift shop.

Local items are sold at the Ojai Rancho Inn gift shop.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

When looking at any hotel property, Osehan said she hopes for a space that feels intentional — “and when the attention to detail is so well executed that you can’t see it but feel it.” She despises bright lights, intrusive music, and renovations that don’t respect the original designer’s intentions.

As a latecomer to a property, she said, “You don’t want to honor a laminate floor that was laid as a bad decision and wasn’t part of the original architecture.”

Lobby shops at both hotels (and the Alamo) are curated by Eskina Space to include inventory such as coffee table books on surfing, shapely bottles of Wonder Valley olive oil, and packets of Dad’s. Grass (five pre-rolled CBD joints, “low dose, one full puff, like your parents smoked”).

Wherever she works, Osehan said, “I want to make sure it doesn’t seem pretentious in any way. I never want anything to feel too precious.
This is especially true in Ojai, she said, due to the community’s laid-back reputation.

“Coming to Ojai is getting away from feeling like you have to do something,” Osehan said.

People lounging in chairs on the grass outside the Capri Hotel

The friends hang out in one of the open spaces of the Hotel Capri.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)