Review: The Proper Hotel Delivers Malibu Vibes in the Middle of Downtown Austin
Designer Kelly Wearstler's uniquely Californian vision has a new home in Texas Hill Country
In the pantheon of contemporary American interior designers, Kelly Wearstler’s name is at or near the top. Identifiable for her singular brand of California maximalism, she’s been the subject of profiles in The New Yorker (“the presiding grande dame of West Coast interior design”), Architectural Digest (“among the most influential in the world”) and Vogue (“[she] boldly goes where few have dared to go before, and many now follow”) over her 25-plus-year career, and her production shows no signs of slowing.
Needless to say, if you’d like to enlist Wearstler to do your living room, you’ll need either a name worthy of a marquee (her clients include Cameron Diaz and Gwen Stefani) or a bank account with a long string of zeroes at the end of it. But there’s another way to experience one of Wearstler’s creations firsthand: by staying in one of the myriad hotels she’s opened with real-estate-developer husband Brad Korzen.
The couple have collaborated on a number of projects — notably under the banners of Avalon and Viceroy — but their latest is perhaps their most fully formed to date. Proper Hotels debuted in 2017 in San Francisco, with its sophomore edition, in Santa Monica, arriving in 2019. A second L.A. property, this time in Downtown, is set to open any day now.
And while Wearstler is synonymous with California design — she splits her time between Malibu and Beverly Hills, and motifs from Old Hollywood figure prominently throughout her work — there is one Proper Hotel that you won’t find in the Golden State. That’d be the one in Austin, in the southwesternmost corner of Downtown, wedged conveniently between the Facebook and Google campuses, where it no doubt hosts visiting bigwigs from both tech giants.
Though it cut ribbon in January 2020, the Austin Proper had a relatively quiet first year, and its second-floor spa, which was always intended to be one of the hotel’s biggest draws, only just opened earlier this summer. Now the place is in full swing, attracting locals, tourists and business travelers alike to partake of its four restaurants, terraced swimming pool and generally hip and sophisticated vibes.
We recently had the chance to spend the night on the property and take a tour with Director of Rooms Raul Madrigal. Here are our takeaways.
The place is a visual and textural feast
Wearstler once told Vogue, “When I walk into a room, I want to feel an emotion … I want there to be a lot to take in and look at that’s interesting.” There are 244 rooms at the Austin Proper as well as a number of capacious common areas and bookable private spaces, and they were all exclusively outfitted by the grande dame. That means every single piece of furniture and decor in the 11-story hotel was either designed or sourced by Wearstler, from the vintage Turkish rugs that have been chopped and repurposed as a runner on the main lobby’s grand staircase to the patinated corner couch that fits flush in a corner of the Penthouse suite. In the lobby, Madrigal tells me, a staging area that was originally intended to house plants became a stunning installation of one-of-a-kind ceramics and vases — but he’s quick to note that even that may change: “She’s constantly adding new pieces and accents … It’s a state of never-ending redecoration.”
In keeping with Wearstler’s signature style, it’s impossible to label the Proper with any one prevailing design ethos. What is clear is that she’s taken the themes of her California hotels — tons of different patterns, textures and materials layered expertly on top of one another — and run them through a Texas filter. The color palette is more subdued and earthy, with splashes of deep blue providing weight and depth; there’s an abundance of leather accents in the rooms and restaurants; neon lighting, an Austin staple, is present in moderation throughout; and there are tons of succulents. When I ask Madrigal where Wearstler does most of her shopping, he name-checks Round Top, the nearby town that happens to be one of America’s greatest antiquing destinations. When I ask a bartender the same question, she laughs and says, “She finds something she likes at a flea market. Then she finds a version of that that costs $10,000.”
The place is also a literal feast
Most urban hotels offer one or two dining and drinking options. The Proper has four of them, all overseen by executive chef Ray Lammers and MML hospitality, the team behind some of Austin’s most beloved eateries (Lambert’s, Perla’s).
In the lobby, you’ve got The Peacock; it’s impossible to say where one actually ends and the other begins, with tables and lounging areas scattered throughout a lively open space that is fast becoming a favored hangout of Austin’s young, beautiful and affluent. It’s a Mediterranean grill, and there’s a sharp private dining room that can only be entered through the wine cellar.
Also on the ground floor is Goldie’s — a guests-only cafe and cocktail bar with the hotel’s most impressive lighting fixture behind the pine — and Mockingbird, a grab-and-go lunch spot that is set to reopen soon after a COVID-induced closure. But the real showstopper is La Piscina, on floor five, a modern Tex-Mex bistro that sits adjacent the hotel’s elegant outdoor pool (which notably hosts a deejayed Night Swim every Saturday night from 7 to 10).
Resort-level spa and fitness amenities
One of Korzen’s biggest goals with Proper in general and the Proper Austin in particular was to provide guests with the same health and wellness services they’d expect at home, or, perhaps more ambitiously, when staying at a five-star resort in the Caribbean or South Pacific. That goal manifests on the hotel’s fourth floor, where a state-of-the-art fitness center with Tonal machines, Woodway treadmills, Peloton stationary bikes, two rowing machines, a full weight room and a pilates studio sits side by side with the newly opened Verbena spa. All of the treatments are geared toward recovery fitness and post-workout remedies, from reflexology and a CBD sports massage to “Tequila, The Proper Way,” which involves sipping on premium tequila while getting a rubdown with agave oils. Plus: yoga and soundbaths by the pool, not to mention the 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake — just outside — for those who prefer their exercise en plein air.
The Proper aspires to be a home away from home for frequent visitors to Austin, where they can settle into their room and then immediately go about recreating the same daily routines they would in their own residence. Madrigal points out that a number of guests — including one who has more or less annexed the Penthouse — are already doing this.
So should you stay there?
If it hasn’t been made clear already, yes, you should. I could write another 1,000 words about the rooms, which come in 10 different configurations (from a basic king to the Penthouse) and feature unique design accents, large, walk-in showers and Aesop grooming products (is it even a luxury hotel if it doesn’t stock Aesop at this point?).
The biggest accomplishment of the Proper is that it’s managed to provide a hospitality experience that actually feels new and different from the city’s existing high-end offerings. On and around South Congress, you’ll find Bunkhouse’s empire of decadent but super-boutique hotels (the Saint Cecilia, San José, Austin Motel and Hotel Magdalena), while the Downtown area caters to a bigger-box brand of luxury with the Four Seasons, Fairmont and Line. The Proper cuts the perfect balance between the two, giving guests a small-hotel experience in a big-hotel package, all footsteps from Austin’s most bustling blocks. Once inside, though, you wouldn’t know it. This is urban escapism in its purest form.
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