Towards the end of the last century, a trend emerged. Old motels and forgotten motels were being transformed into small, hip, well-run hotels. At first, it was a bit surprising to see the revival of these dilapidated structures occur alongside the high-end glamor of the big cities of the boutique hotel boom. Their usefulness quickly became apparent.
Sleek and smooth isn’t for everyone. It may be even less appropriate when you’re on the road. More than 20 years later, the restored motels have proven to be more than just passageways. The modern motel is now a destination in its own right – an attractive target to aim your front bumper at.
With environmental sensitivity more important than ever, repurposing a roadside hostel is a great way to reuse existing materials, especially when preloaded with a clearly defined visual character. In an age where authenticity trumps excess, little reimagining is needed to bring motels back to present-century relevance. In fact, the format itself is back in vogue: brand new purpose-built motels and car lots are starting to become a serious thing.
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite restored motels in America here – proof that the craze shows no signs of abating and that the road to a sustainable future is through an abandoned past.
San Diego, California
It’s an appropriate name for a hotel like this. The Pearl is a pleasant surprise: a classic, terribly dated and kitschy mid-century motel, renovated and reinvented into a friendly boutique hotel, the kind of place that’s teeming with dynamic youngsters having fun in this glamorous, carefree way in which dynamic young people will sometimes do.
North Adams, MA
In far northwest Massachusetts, the Berkshires have seen the kind of revival that travel-trend pieces are made of. Thanks in part to the redevelopment that has accompanied the MASS MoCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the former industrial town of North Adams is living a second life as a thriving and in-demand cultural destination. Outside the town centre, on the road to neighboring Williamstown, you’ll find another piece of Berkshires salvaged heritage: TOURISTS, a 60s biker lodge reborn as a very modern and hip little country hotel with a homely friendliness. summer camp by the pool.
The Longleaf Hotel
Raleigh, North Carolina
In Raleigh, North Carolina, an undistinguished corporate chain hotel has been found to have, under a layer of stucco, the bones of a fossilized Travelodge from the 1960s – and after an archaeological-grade restoration and a modernist-inspired revamp, it’s back in business, this time as the Longleaf Hotel. Appropriately named for a classic but endangered emblem of North Carolina’s forests.
Now that Liz Lambert, the queen of Texas boutique hotels, has taken over the Austin Motel, all is well in the world. The hallmark Austin has been drawing double takes along Congress South since 1938, and now it’s backed by equally distinctive retro-themed interiors. It joins the Saint Cecilia and Hotel San José as part of South Austin’s trio of exceptional accommodations.
The Modern Hotel, which revamps a former Travelodge motel into a mod micro-oasis, is a sign that Boise is ready to assert itself as a modern, cool city. The rooms and suites of the Modern Hotel are tastefully decorated with teak furniture. A landscaped courtyard doubles as a gathering space for guests and an overflow for the hotel’s modern bar, surely one of the finest martini spots in the state.
Saratoga Springs, NY
Saratoga Springs is experiencing something of a renaissance as city dwellers rediscover the charms of small town life. It is also famous for the Saratoga Racetrack, which hosts horse races during the summer months. And directly across from the racetrack paddock and stables is the reason we’re here: the Brentwood Hotel, designed and also owned by Brooklyn-based design firm Studio Tack.
Jackson Hole has all the ingredients for outdoor adventure, and it’s got the infrastructure to back it up (the valley’s most notable accommodations tend toward the upscale end of things). The Anvil Hotel, in the town of Jackson proper, takes another direction. This is a no-frills motel upgraded to something sleek, but rather than high gloss, it aims for unassuming retro and hits the nail on the head.
Hope Springs Resort
Desert Hot Springs, California
Hope Springs references two aspects of classic Californiana at once – first, the mid-century modernist roadside motel, and second, the natural hot springs that are the main attraction of the resort. hotel (the “springs” of Palm Springs are there for a reason). After extensive renovations, Hope Springs now has just ten chic minimalist rooms, giving the place a private retreat vibe.
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San Francisco, California
San Francisco’s original rock and roll hotel was a counterculture haunt in the ’80s and ’90s. Thanks to a courtyard with space to park a tour bus — and a tolerant neighborhood — it was home to choice for rock stars from David Bowie to Nirvana. It was recently picked up by hotel group Bunkhouse, an inspired combination that enhances the Phoenix’s style and atmosphere without sacrificing its rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
The Vagabond was one of many family-run motels that sprung up in Miami to cater to the postwar influx of tourists, and before long it was home to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. But like many vintage landmarks, the motel has fallen into disrepair. After sitting empty for years, the MiMO icon has been given the star treatment. Today, the architectural style seems to have come out of a storyboard of The Jetsons: geometric and sculptural, with an open plan and overhanging rooflines, plus occasional nautical-inspired design cues, just for good measure.
Finding a mid-century motel in the shadow of legendary Fenway Park is rare luck. The obvious thing to do might have been to make it another Red Sox shrine, but Boston has plenty of them. Instead, the Verb’s owners chose to pay homage to the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood’s role in rock history – and the result is something it’s safe to say you can’t get anywhere else.
Ace Hotel and Swim Club
Palm Springs, California
It’s hard to find a better word than “funky” to describe Ace Hotel & Swim Club’s sensibility: vintage but not retro, with a celebratory reverence given to the past rather than a wry arched eyebrow. And sustainability here isn’t a slogan or a mission statement, but an organic side effect of using second-hand furniture and surplus hardware.
Skyview Los Alamos
Los Alamos, California
A booming wine culture has led to a substantial increase in tourism in the Santa Ynez Valley. Hence the need for a hotel of the caliber of Skyview. The original Skyview was a late ’50s example of a style that perhaps erred a little on the utilitarian side – but given today’s taste for repurposed spaces and salvaged decor, this is the perfect skeleton for something like the new Skyview.
The Dive Motel & Swim Club
Yes, the name Dive Motel is a pun: on one level it’s a reference to a certain no-frills approach to hospitality, as well as a beautifully realized retro sensibility that’s a perfect fix for a scene of Nashville increasingly refined. But the only thing that’s really diving into it is the Swim Club which makes up the second part of its name.
Spa City Motor Lodge
Saratoga Springs, NY
After extensive reinvention at the hands of New England boutique hoteliers Lark Hotels and California designers EDG Design, Spa City Motor Lodge has morphed into the kind of sleek, modern accommodation every small town needs. at least one – especially a town like Saratoga Springs, whose population swells on summer weekends as thoroughbred racing fans converge on the nation’s oldest track.
Hotel SCP Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs might not be the first place you’d expect to find an eco-friendly boutique hotel whose initials stand for Soul Community Planet. But this part of the Front Range certainly has the natural beauty to warrant it, and the SCP Hotel Colorado Springs, after a thorough renovation of a two-story ’60s motel, doesn’t do things halfway — it’s a stylish, fully realized boutique hotel.
Rye Motor Inn & Swim Shop
Rye, New Hampshire
Rye Motor Inn & Swim Shop begins as a beautifully restored 1950s inn – but rather than leaving it in its pristine state with minimal upkeep, its owners have transformed each unit into a proper apartment, complete with full kitchen ( and a Smeg fridge, of course). Hospitality is low-key, meals are self-prepared, and there’s not just a hotel pool, but also the beach – there’s one just across Ocean Boulevard from the hotel.
Greenport sound sight
The North Fork is the less traveled part of eastern Long Island, and it’s here that you’ll find Sound View Greenport, a ’50s motel that’s been restored, rehabbed, and treated as a boutique hotel by the Studio Brooklyn Tack. The inspiration for the styling in this case was the local New England modernist heritage, which lends Sound View’s visual identity an added measure of authenticity.
The Starlite Motel
Kerhonkson, New York
With the increase in self-drive and local travel, the Catskills, with its plentiful supply of mid-century hotels, motels, and resorts, is enjoying a second life. And while many modern Catskills hoteliers embrace the area’s hospitality history, few are as unapologetically retro as Kerhonkson’s beautifully restored Starlite Motel.
New Cuyama, California
Located in the heart of the Santa Barbara County desert, the Cuyama Buckhorn isn’t just any old motel –– this mid-century classic was designed by architect George Vernon Russell, responsible for several Los Angeles landmarks. It needed a major restoration, but today’s Buckhorn offers 21 rooms in a cowboy-modernist hybrid style, while the restaurant, the eponymous Buckhorn, is pure cowboy.