The oldest hotel in Nevada boasts a colorful past-once a saloon, boarding house, and gathering spot for local miners-and now has a design to match. Built in 1861, Virginia City’s Gold Hill Hotel had an outdated look in its Great Room and Saloon, so designers Catherine and Justine Macfee of Truckee, California-based Catherine Macfee Interior Design set out to instill modernity into the authentically Western hotel.
“Our goal was really to activate the space better,” says Justine Macfee. Because the mining town’s locals frequent the hotel, the designers needed to cater to both the older generation and the modern traveler. “We tried to balance two worlds of something fun and fresh but something still approachable and comfortable,” she explains.
Owned by locally based Comstock Mining, the hotel is part of the company’s project to honor the mining industry and revive the town. Miners and townspeople have kept the hotel alive with Tuesday night lectures, wedding receptions, and organ concerts. “It’s been here for so long, so we wanted to enhance what was already there and not completely change what people had memories of,” says Justine Macfee. “Having a little bit of the historical feel of the mining town was important to us.”
Along with the mines themselves, the structure of the Victorian-era building inspired the new rustic and industrial aesthetic. A gray-washed façade plays into the palette, and the machinery in an old mill next door reappears in details like rivets on the furniture. “We wanted to bring some of that texture we were seeing back into the existing pieces and structure, but mixed with newer pieces,” explains Justine Macfee. Illuminating an original writing desk and organ, six chandeliers wrapped in rope mimic work lights used in the mines.
Dark leather furniture and barrels with upholstered leather tops fill the Great Room, which often doubles as a dining and event space. “There is a constant flow of people and areas to move around,” says Justine Macfee. “That’s why we did more chairs and less big pieces.” Lowered stools and large armchairs add comfort to the space. “It’s a real homey feeling that makes you want to hang out here,” says Catherine Macfee. Metal details enhanceÂ the existing space, which primarily uses brick and stone.
Accents like a Western-printed, woven rug bring in the rustic palette of the mountains, and assorted clay pots and mounted steer horns recall the area’s Native American culture. On a blue leather couch, felt pillows pay homage to one of the hotel’s many rumored ghosts with the words “Rosie Did It.” “We wanted to play on some of the personality of the hotel,” says Justine Macfee. Rosie reportedly haunts the all-pink Room 4 and is notorious for rearranging toiletries.
With the success of the first redesign, renovations on the 12 guestrooms and the restaurant are set to begin soon. “That’s going to be interesting, too, when we move into those rooms and honor those spirits,” says Justine Macfee.
“The space has such a soul to it. It feels fresh and young but still right to the building,” adds Catherine Macfee. “The fun for us has been experiencing and honoring that history and making it sellable and current.”