To capitalize upon the forthcoming Pacific Coast Railway station in Los Olivos, California, enterprising Swiss immigrant Felix Mattei opened a convivial hotel and restaurant in this stretch of the Santa Ynez Valley in 1886. Today, it’s evolved into the luxe 67-room Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, part of the Auberge Resorts Collection.
“Mattei’s was a stagecoach stopover in the middle of the Central Coast that charmed everyone along the way,” says Nicole Campion, director of design at Auberge. “Given its history and the way people are attached to it, we wanted to honor that—the building, the family, and the tight-knit community. Everyone there owns a little piece of Mattei’s.”
The revamp, courtesy of Santa Barbara-based DMHA Architecture and the San Francisco office of AvroKO (the firm recently designed the restaurant Bear at fellow Auberge Resorts destination Stanly Ranch in Napa Valley) melds carefully preserved original structures with artful layers of storytelling, beginning with the Tavern, the heart of the inn.
“It’s remembered fondly over generations. Bringing it back to life was paramount,” says AvroKO cofounder and principal Greg Bradshaw, whose team uncovered the old backbar from storage, used distressed plaster on the walls, and restored the wood finish on the wainscoting.
In the former ticket office, now the Tavern’s receiving area, a dressing room screen upholstered with found rugs nods to the “carpetbagger” luggage of yore. Modern portraits of Felix and his wife Lucy—who deliberately faces away from the bar to capture her zeal for the temperance movement—are also on display at the restaurant, rounded out by works from their artist son Clarence in Felix Feed & Coffee, a transformation of the one-time Red Room embellished with a chandelier of the same hue and period wallpaper. Gin’s Tap Bar, meanwhile, is fittingly located in what served as the sleeping quarters for Gin Lung Gin, a chef at Mattei’s first incarnation.
Strolling between buildings is part of the Los Olivos allure, and AvroKO wanted to extend that small-town vibe to the inn, with the site’s own petite volumes creating opportunities for “outside seating areas, firepits, herb gardens, and lawns. The historic water tower in the middle of the property is a great center point,” says Bradshaw.
Humble materials—white clapboard, oak, and painted brick among them—are also in keeping with the simplicity of the past. “Even the plumbing fixtures are an all-natural brass meant to tarnish over time so that nothing feels too modern,” he adds.
Many details like waxed canvas, burlap, and iron recall the area’s entrenched ranching culture, including Los Rancheros Visitadores, the social club that boasted the likes of Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan within its ranks. At the bar, for example, there is an installation of vintage horseshoes pinned up by horse nails and bolstered with plaques bearing the names of members’ horses. Behind the reception desk are vitrines showcasing a sculptural collection of stirrups and spurs, while handpainted tiles in the Tavern restroom depict bygone rancheros from a stumbled-upon book of Western-themed illustrations.
All the fresh, homey guestrooms, complete with alfresco retreats, also pay homage to the inn’s homesteading roots by pairing “a white, crisp farmhouse shell,” as Campion puts it, with a “beautiful, sun-drenched palette of goldenrod, sage green, and silver lavender that connects to the land.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s October 2023 issue.