I sat down with friend Liz Lambert, creative/hotelier behind Austin hip spots Hotel San Jose and Hotel Saint Cecilia, to chat about her latest creation El Cosmico.
Liz, your latest lodging concept, El Cosmico is now open. Can you tell us a little about it?
El Cosmico is a campground/hotel where we rent vintage trailers, teepees, yurts and campsites on 17 acres of land on the edge of a remote West Texas town called Marfa, population 2121. My hope is that El Cosmico is a sort of bohemian outpost where people can come to get some solitude and some inspiration. There’s something about Marfa that just makes you want to get your hands dirty and create something, to make art, so I wanted to build a place where people could get away from all the trappings of urban life and just be there under the unending sky.
In addition to the accommodations, we’re developing a great program of events and workshops. In March my brother Lou is hosting a four-day culinary class – he’s got a book on ranch cooking coming out next year. And we’re working on a sewing retreat with Natalie Chanin, our friend who created Alabama Chanin and is a champion of the slow design movement. We want to have songwriting workshops, and photography retreats, and a printmaking studio out there eventually. And of course we have our annual music festival and party in October, which has grown into its own over the years. Last year was our 4th event and it was fantastic – Ben Kweller, the Heartless Bastards and a bunch of other great bands played and there were a few hundred people camping on the land. We’ll keep doing that every year.
Who was the architecture firm who helped put it all together?
I have been working with Lake/Flato and Jack Sanders of Design Build Adventure on the concept and development of the project. Between them and the team of people we’ve had working out on the land over the years, we’ve compiled a pretty amazing group of dirt wizards.
Why did you choose Marfa for El Cosmico?
Marfa has always been a special place to me - I grew up spending a lot of time in the area because my family ranches out there. It's a really unique place, not just for the convergence of art and ranching cultures, but for the quality of light, the expansiveness of the sky - it's like being in a vast ocean of desert. The feelings that the landscape inspire really parallel my love of the bohemian hippie movement of the 60's and my interest in nomadic and alternative cultures and communities - they all embody a sort of elegant freedom. So I wanted to do something there, something really different than what I've done in Austin, and then this plot of land came up for sale a few years ago. And I just knew that this was the place for a really unique sort of campground-hotel-meets-artistic hideaway experiment. El Cosmico is about play, and about escape from the urban landscape, and I think Marfa sets a perfect backdrop for that.
I look at El Cosmico as sort of an armada in the ocean of desert. I think the trailers have a ship-like quality about them that fits so perfectly out there despite the fact that there’s no real body of water for hundreds of miles. Plus there’s something so nomadic about the place and I think trailers and teepees and yurts fit that feeling of movement and exploration. In terms of El Cosmico’s interaction with the community, I had originally thought about selling trailers like vacation homes and then realized it wasn’t what I wanted or what Marfa needed. Marfa has enough vacation homes. We want to create a place that brings locals and visitors together. We’re going to build a giant pool at the center of the land and it’ll be a resource for locals and quests. It’s also great to see the community coming out for the annual party and partying with all the out of towners – I hope we’ve created something to enhance life in Marfa…..not just a place for tourists to sleep.
What are the future plans for El Cosmico? Future expansions?
We plan to add more trailers, maybe some more teepees and then develop some other structures on the land like some art shacks for doing printmaking and maybe pottery And then there’s the grand vision of this circular pool that will one day be at the center of the cosmos, with a really nice bath house to accompany it. Marfa needs a body of water.