Cool Hunting 2009: Texas

Rethink your assumptions of Lone Star style: For a region that prides itself on an over-the-top approach, Texas is a haven for idiosyncratic design. Hotelier Liz Lambert reveals the best new design discoveries.

An Airstream trailer at the funky campground-style El Cosmico hotel in Marfa
An Airstream trailer at the funky campground-style El Cosmico hotel in Marfa (Courtesy Allison V. Smith)
An Airstream trailer at the funky campground-style El Cosmico hotel in Marfa
An Airstream trailer at the funky campground-style El Cosmico hotel in Marfa (Courtesy Allison V. Smith)
Marburger Farm Antique Show
(Courtesy Allison V. Smith)

Rethink your assumptions of Lone Star style: For a region that prides itself on an over-the-top approach—from toast to shoulder pads—Texas is a haven for idiosyncratic design. Worthy attractions dot the state. Outside Amarillo, an American icon is turned on its head at Cadillac Ranch, where 10 Caddies are buried backseat-deep in the sand. The small desert town of Marfa draws thousands of pilgrims each year, who flock to the center of art that the famous minimalist Donald Judd began forming in the late '70s. Whether it's the cluster of culture presented by Houston's Museum District or the all-star architecture on display in downtown Dallas (I. M. Pei's Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Renzo Piano's Nasher Sculpture Center), Texas's take on design is as expansive as its borders.

Designer spotlight
Liz Lambert, former Manhattan district attorney turned hotelier
Born to a West Texas ranching family, Lambert is the visionary behind Bunkhouse Management, a hotel development team that has defined its own breezy brand of cool. Lambert's aesthetic pulls the beauty of the outdoors in—and combines it with a sense of play. Top projects The 40-room bungalow-style Hotel San José, a spare oasis that matches Austin's funky sensibility; the glamorously high-end 14-room Hotel Saint Cecilia, which reopened in 2008; and two characterful Jo's coffee shops (Bertoia stools, vintage signage). On the horizon A redesign of the swank Belmont Hotel in Dallas, and this summer, Lambert plans to open the El Cosmico compound in Marfa, where guests can choose from yurts, tents, and six vintage Airstream trailers.

Her Texas favorites

The Menil Collection, Houston
"This place feels like the house of an uncle who has traveled the world throughout his life and collected random beautiful objects along the way," says Lambert. The museum, founded in Houston by philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, has a mix of antiquities, minimalist works, and African art. "I am always so inspired by what I see in there."

Marburger Farm Antique Show, Round Top
"Twice a year I head about an hour and a half outside Austin to the small town of Round Top—population 77—for one of the biggest antiques markets in the country," says Lambert. Vendors set up their booths in barns and fields that stretch for miles, and you can find anything from French stone gargoyles to Turkish rugs to taxidermy. "They also sell the best fried chicken on a stick you've ever had."

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale
"Growing up in West Texas, I spent a lot of time at the artesian spring pool at Balmorhea," says Lambert. Apache Indians once frequented the oasis to water their horses, and the bathhouses, adobe cabins, and huge, one-and-three-quarter-acre pool were built in the 1930s as part of a New Deal public works project. "The architecture is beautiful in its stark, utilitarian simplicity. Look for the cottonwood trees—that's how you can always find water in the Texas desert. It's a really magical place."

ADDRESS BOOK
Cadillac Ranch
Interstate 40, between Arnot and Hope Rds., Amarillo, antfarm.org

Houston Museum District
houstonmuseumdistrict.org

The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center
2301 Flora St., Dallas, meyersonsymphonycenter.com

Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora St., Dallas, nashersculpturecenter.org, tickets $10

Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress Ave., Austin, 512/852-2350, sanjosehotel.com, from $95

Jo's
242 W. 2nd St., Austin, 512/469-9003; 1300 S. Congress Ave., 512/444-3800, joscoffee.com

The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross St., Houston, 713/525-9400, menil.org, free

El Cosmico
Marfa, 512/852-2331, elcosmico.com

Belmont Hotel
901 Fort Worth Ave., Dallas, 214/393-2300, belmontdallas.com, from $109

Marburger Farm Antique Show
2248 S. Hwy. 237, Round Top, 713/622-0300, roundtop-marburger.com, next show begins Sept. 29, tickets $10

Balmorhea State Park
9207 Hwy. 17 S., Toyahvale, 432/375-2370, tpwd.state.tx.us, tickets $7

Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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