Cowboys and nudists aren’t known to be particularly discerning when it comes to interiors. So it’s a wonder, then, that a diehard design lover saw anything worth saving in a former hippie camp and working cattle ranch in the heart of Texas Hill Country. Even more surprising is that the rustic compound would become the foundation for the casually elegant Lake Austin Spa Resort.
Set on 19 acres overlooking a serene swath of the Colorado River (known locally as Lake Austin), the property represents the quintessential labor of love for owner Mike McAdams. Along with college roommate William Rucks, he purchased the outdated facility as much for its pristine location—a mere 45 minutes by car from downtown Austin—as its potential for reinvention. “I’ve always loved design and architecture, nature and beautiful things,” says McAdams. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a respite for people who want to relax but also want something beautiful to look at.”
Its banks lined with magnolia trees, the river more than satisfies McAdams’s primary intentions. A steady current provides a soothing backdrop that draws speckled roadrunners and small white cranes and helps nurture an organic garden on the shore. In keeping with the restful mood, interiors feel residential rather than commercial, with period antiques, designer fabrics, and artwork curated in collaboration with Dallas designer Julio Quiñones. “Someone once told me that it felt like visiting an old aunt’s lake house—and that’s exactly what we were going for,” says McAdams.
The concept wasn’t a stretch for the Louisiana-born entrepreneur, who inherited at least some of his design sense from his great-aunt Doris Hillard. After working as a teacher in 1920s Arkansas, she traveled to New York City and studied interior design before returning home to build Journey’s End, an 88-acre estate with a picturesque barn and a riotous lily garden. “She had this great ability to create interior and exterior landscapes,” says McAdams. “For me, everything goes back to Journey’s End.”
That sensory connection is palpable throughout the resort grounds. Beyond a winding garden path just up the hill from the 40 guest suites, the spa area starts at a barnlike structure that calls to mind the rural sheds McAdams may remember from his boyhood at Journey’s End—albeit one with contemporary lines and a 75-foot lap pool. Guests await treatments in a salon known as the Blue Room, whose entrance is marked by a display case housing pieces from McAdams’s personal collection of cobalt glassware. Heavy-grained wood walls are washed in a marbled azure finish (McAdams refers to them as “pickled paneling”); the ceiling and wood trim are painted in a powdery hue that mimics the sky. Furnishings include Arts and Crafts–era armchairs and Moroccan leather poufs sourced on McAdams’s travels to Europe, California, New York, “and every small town in between,” he says. But when it came to an overarching theme, the inspiration he needed was right there at the resort.
“We tried to bring in nature wherever we could,” says McAdams of the studied indoor-outdoor sensibility, a feeling achieved thanks to expansive water views from all public spaces. In the Blue Room, the windows are dressed with 38 hand-painted drapery panels that, when drawn, re-create a 360-degree view of the property’s wildflower patches. (On the adjoining walls: framed 18th-century French botanical needlepoints.) The newly renovated guest rooms feature retractable patio awnings and a teal-and-sage color palette inspired by the river beyond. A selection of leafy French majolica tableware serves as art in the Garden Library. And in the Lake Room, a sitting area near the property’s yoga studios, a grid of 50 Audubon-style prints in saturated jewel tones complements the pair of velvet-upholstered 19th-century French fauteuils directly beneath them.
In addition to the European antiques on show, there’s a focus on quirky American-made pieces. Oxidized-copper light fixtures by an artist in Pennsylvania greet guests in the reception area. A trio of red-white-and-blue quilts hand-sewn by a former blue-ribbon winner at the Texas state fair are framed in a spa hallway. In the Blue Room, a massive 300-part tin chandelier was disassembled and reconstructed when the sculptor who built it—and delivered it himself, driving from Albuquerque to Austin—couldn’t fit it through the doors. “I’m constantly inspired by what people create,” McAdams says of his assemblage of decor. “I have a photographic memory for that kind of thing. More than anything, I want to put something interesting in every corner.” Indoors or out, he’s certainly met his goal.