Behind the Design: Skyview Los Alamos

Behind the Design: Skyview Los Alamos

The sign stays. That was Nomada’s first design decision when the hotel management group purchased Skyview – an abandoned 1950’s motor lodge nestled on a hilltop in Los Alamos, California. 

Originally built in 1959, the Skyview Motel was an oasis for roadtrippers traveling California’s bustling Highway 101. It was the perfect halfway-point between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and for a long time – the only pool for miles (back then, local families would pay 25 cents to swim.)
Legend has it, the Mama’s & the Papa’s may have even stopped by a time or two. In it’s heyday, Skyview was a sight straight out of “California Dreamin’” – until it wasn’t. Eventually, the once-vibrant mainstay was deserted at the top of that hill, earning itself the infamous “Bates Motel” nickname. 

“But you couldn’t not see the magic that was underneath all that. It felt like a piece of history. You can’t replicate that,” said creative director, Kimberly Walker. So in 2016, the partners at Nomada Hotel Group purchased the property and set out on a renovation intent on honoring the mid-century architecture while breathing new life into its old bones. 
“We had to put in new floors, new finishes, new fixtures, new plumbing, new electrical, everything. We just kept the skeleton because that’s what was really worth preserving. The property said ‘this is what the design should be’ so we listened to that.” 

After two years of careful restoration and some 21st-century upgrades, Skyview reopened in 2018. Some of the most iconic original elements were saved and salvaged – like the carport and it’s wooden cacti pillars, the working vineyard, and of course – the sign. But others, most notably - the parking lot, lobby, restaurant, and guestrooms, were completely reimagined. Think: Palm Springs meets Americana.

“It feels contradictory to say the hotel was modernized to be more retro, but that is exactly what Nomada did. [They] made it a priority to keep the mid-century architecture intact, and reminders of its presence are everywhere,” wrote a local newspaper after the grand reveal of the new and improved Skyview, describing the design aesthetic as "somewhere between modern rustic and California desert ranch."

The guest rooms' original wood paneled walls and exposed beam ceilings were brightened up with a fresh coat of white paint, all-new hardwood floors were installed, hand tiled fireplaces were cozied into corners, and exteriors were layered with board and batten – a nod to the wild-west-esque buildings that line Los Alamos’ historic Bell Street. 

“You don’t always want to walk into a motel and know that no matter what room you go into, it’s all going to look the same. When you go into a space that looks different than another – that says boutique to me,” Kimberly explained on Skyview’s episode “RE:Motel” for Magnolia Network. 
That’s why, inside each carefully curated guestroom, you’ll find a variety of delightful details like vibrant velvet headboards in playful shades from yellow to teal; striped accent blankets sourced from Kimberly’s travels in Morocco, bespoke club chairs fit for a cowboy, and hand-embroidered Oaxacan “animalitos” on each pillow.
Popularized when cars were king, “motor hotels” were designed for people traveling by car (hence the portmanteau title mo-tel). The buildings were positioned in an L or U-shaped layout, centered around a courtyard for easy access to guest’s vehicles. But when you have a picturesque location like Skyview - which overlooks surrounding vineyards and sprawling ranches - well, to see that our predecessors had “paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” was shame.
So Nomada transformed the heart of the property into a quiet gardenscape with shaded seating, glowing fire pits, and babbling fountains – and in doing so the space became an implied invitation for modern guests to slow down, take it easy, and stay awhile. 
By taking out the "M-O-" Nomada found its M.O. (modus operandi) for renovation projects to come - more on that here 

What was once just a stop along the drive to somewhere else, it’s Nomada's hope that you’ll pause long enough to experience Skyview Los Alamos as destination in its own right.

“I can’t imagine this property being something else – it’s so cool as a motel! It has a sense of place. It has a feeling you want to go back to.” 

Shop Skyview's collection of signature souvenirs, bespoke decor, and other inspired items here. 

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