Full of locally sourced materials, custom-made regional art, and a thoughtfully honed interactive design, El Paso’s first boutique hotel, which opened earlier this year, has angled itself as a go-to destination for out-of-towners and locals, alike.
“We really tried to pay homage to the historical roots of not only the 1960s and that era and how it’s influenced the mid-century modern building, but the hotel itself—the history of the hotel,” said Priya Nair, one half of the husband and wife team that owns the new Hotel Indigo downtown. With clean lines, floor-to-ceiling windows and contemporary furnishings, the building at 325 N. Kansas St., last operated as the Artisan Hotel as of 2010, underwent a nearly three-year, multi-million dollar gut renovation.
Priya oversees the design and purchasing for all of their hotels (the family’s firm, Esperanto Developments, owns 17 properties in Texas), and for this project she worked alongside the firm’s in-house designer Charles Austin as well as the Chicago-based Curioso design firm, whose avant-garde designs have been making waves recently in El Paso.
Now, you can’t talk about Hotel Indigo without talking about what’s happening up on five. “The fifth floor, it comes alive,” said Madhi Nair, “the views of Juarez, the pool, the indoor/outdoor components, the local art. It’s really magical.” Eschewing a traditional floor plan, the design team put registration up on the fifth floor’s expansive lobby in an open layout that includes the Circa 1963 bar as well as pool and the outdoor Sombrilla Lounge.
“We spent a very long time with layouts and this vision to put check-in on the fifth floor and have our entire experience up on five,” said Priya, “which was not how it was when we purchased the property.”
The design seeks to blur the lines between indoor/outdoor, capitalizing on the 300-plus cloud-free days a year the Sun City is known for. In the warmer weather, the indoor bar opens up completely to the outdoors, effectively erasing the borders throughout the floor, and offering panoramic views of the city. Facing the Circa 1963 bar, patrons have views of historic Mesa and Stanton Streets, while the outdoor lounge faces south toward Juarez. The massive floor-to-ceiling windows allow for nightly sunset views.
“The east side, that’s were you have the beautiful views to the railroad tracks, then the western facing rooms you get to see the beautiful El Paso sunsets, which are pretty remarkable,” said Priya. “And then the Juarez city lights just kind of magically turn on after the sun sets and take a stronghold in the horizon.”
Hotel Indigo, owned by IHG, is known for its design-forward boutique hotels that strive to incorporate local culture into their motifs. Priya says the design team spent a great deal of time perfecting the hotel’s design story, which they called Fabric of the Past. “When you go to many Hotel Indigos their approach is maybe more topical. We tried to make it a more layered, deeper take on what creates a neighborhood.”
Themes of contrast (think, What We Talk About When We Talk About the Borderland) informed the decision to mix raw and refined materials. “We have local reclaimed boxcar planks that were 50 years old that we were able to salvage and use to clad our columns,” said Priya. In fact, almost all of the work in the hotel, from upholstery to carpentry was sourced locally, with many products (both new and vintage) sourced within a ten-mile radius of the building.
“It really was painstaking,” said Priya, “because with the majority of hotels it’s just canned goods. They’ve taken all the sourcing, all the design out of the equation because they do that on a corporate level. A lot of the products come out of China.” Much of the work throughout the hotel, and everything in the 119 guest rooms was custom made, said Priya, from the lighting to the carpet, “All of that is custom for our hotel. You will not find it in any other hotel worldwide.”
Local, custom-made artwork weaves its way throughout the 12-story hotel, from photography and wall murals to mixed-media sculptures. The public areas of Hotel Indigo are flush with artwork, starting with the tile mosaic mural at the Kansas St. entrance. The piece took off conceptually with a native textile fabric as inspiration, the custom-made concrete tiles created by the Lunada Bay tile company out of California.
Up on the fifth floor, there’s the “Made in Circa 1963” wall mural, created by El Paso artist Zeque Peña, featuring a muted desert-toned geometric background juxtaposed against a photorealistic woman in profile, highlighted by vivid red flowers in her hair. Out on the pool deck are three hand-formed concrete sculptures by Austin-based artist Paul Oblesby, and facing the reception area is a metal-and-fabric installation from sculptor Sarah West. “It’s an aerial overlay of the historically significant neighborhoods of El Paso,” said Priya. “With different vintage fabrics juxtaposed to represent the different neighborhoods like Segundo Barrio, Sunset Heights, Union Plaza—different areas which have shaped the oldest parts of El Paso.”
In another nod to the region, El Paso’s Eme Design Studios created four pairs of permanent murals in the vestibules of the guest rooms. One side represents classic images of El Paso, while the facing image depicts iconic Juarez landmarks, each black-and-white background accented with neon geometric overlays. The mural is another example of the immersive, experiential design Priya and her team strove for. “It’s a play on this whole “The Pass” concept—El Paso being the pass,” said Priya. “This was a little bit of an atypical approach…We were able to create interest in a lot of different things in the room, rather than just playing up one wall, which so many other hotels do.”
And now that the design is done and the last of the art installations mounted, the Nairs want to focus on the service aspect of their newest hotel. There’s the full-service restaurant located on the ground floor, The Downtowner—named after the original hotel on the lot, The Downtowner Motor Inn—set to open this March. Circa 1963 (this one is named after the date on the building’s cornerstone) will host daily happy hour specials and events. Tailoring the weekdays for business connections and meet-and-greets, and the weekends toward the locals and staycationers, they’ve rolled out Saturday morning Zumba and Sunday morning yoga, both poolside. “I’m focusing now on how we can create a really beautiful event calendar to make the Hotel Indigo a community-based hotel,” said Priya.
With all the talk of high-concept design and art installations, Madhi echoes the hotel’s true purpose of service and community, “The people of El Paso have been good to us. The feel of the place, when you walk in, it’s real. You get a good sense of good people taking care of you.”