Monday, April 26, 2010

Going Rouge

A few months ago, we spent a night at one of my favorite hotels, The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. I have a secret plan to stay in each of their 110 uniquely decorated rooms before I shuffle off this mortal coil. This time we booked The Madonna Suite, one of the signature rooms of the hotel. Piero and I have stayed there before but we wanted our son Luca to experience it because it is not to be believed.

Opening the door, you are greeted by a floral carpet so brazen that even Dorothy Draper would be left speechless. Add a massive rock-hewn fireplace and vivid Pepto Bismol pink walls and ceilings and you immediately realize that this room is like no other.

I know, I know, your mind is reeling, isn't it? It's so over-the-top and, well...completely lacking in restraint of any kind. Perhaps it's hard for you to reconcile the self-professed aesthetic nature of my blog with this unbridled paean to kitschdom.

Here's the deal. What makes this place such a standout for me is its unwavering commitment to eccentricity. Designed in 1958 by owners Alex and Phyllis Madonna with the aim of creating a hotel that "was different from all others," the Madonna Inn is a true labor of love. No expenses were spared in its construction -- skilled artisans from Europe worked painstakingly alongside local craftsmen to create the couple's idiosyncratic vision of Disneyland on LSD. According to Americana expert Charles Phoenix, the handbuilt quality of the Madonna Inn makes it a unique complex that could never be duplicated today. "No one could afford to pay for all this detail today," he said.

I love that all the furnishings were hand-selected by Phyllis Madonna herself. If pressed, I'd describe her style as Tony Duquette meets "The Sopranos."

When Luca walked into the bathroom and saw the walk-in rock waterfall shower, he was done. Done. Within seconds, he was indulging in a lengthy sybaritic cleanse that did his Roman roots proud. We could barely get him out for dinner.

The sink is carved from a 200-ton boulder of native stone. Turn the knobs and you hear a tiny trickle up top. Within moments, a stream of water circles around and around the carving until it finally shoots out the gold faucet at the bottom.

Next time you're in California, do yourself a wonderful favor and stay here for a night. It's not too far from the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, so you can treat yourself to a classic double header of design decadence.


Anonymous said...

Wow! You are one lucky girl! That room is spectacular. Lush and romantic and magical. Thanks for sharing!

pve design said...

Reminds me of a vacay in the catskills with a grotto pool, my kids never wanted to leave. Your son is one lucky fellow for living an unrestrained lifestyle.

Debra said...

I have a good friend that stays at the Madonna Inn each time she travels to CA. I have already chosen The Traveler's Suite and Swiss Rock for a future visit! I love the cave feel of your recent stay. May have to add that one as well. What fun for Luca!

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Lucky Luca-I can imagine him 25 years from now telling stories of a well-lived childhood!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Are you quite certain you didn't dream this?

Unknown said...

That looks fabulous. Wish I'd known about this place when we drove from LA to San Francisco. Next time.

JaneH said...

Last summer, on a road trip from SF to LA, I stayed with my family at the Madonna Inn - the Old Mill Room- everything- from the glitter green wallpaper, bucolic mural, working water wheel in the headboard and the little motorized pastoral figures circling through the wall behing the bed made our stay unforgettable! We had dinner at the steak restuarant and it was so fun - complete with live orchestra for dancing and the pink champagne cake - we will try the suite next time! So glad you had fun.

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

One of the many traits that I love about you, my blogging friend, is that you live HUMBLY large!! I consider myself blessed that you "take" me along!!

singing a bloomsbury song

Dandy said...

Fabulous, My dad was a musician and used to wake us up to take us to NYC's Chinatown to eat in the middle of the night, or out to look at the stars at 3 in the morning--and always in the middle of the winter! "Now, see there's the Big Dipper and there's Orion's belt" I thank him every day for that, for giving me 'a live less ordinary' and your son will thank you, too. :)

Cathi said...

My sister spent her honeymoon there in the Swiss Alps room (I think that is what it is called)that was around 35 years ago...My friend and I stopped there a few months ago to check out the bathroom at the gas station - but sadly it wasn't a gas station any longer....Great place! :)

Anthony said...

That place is mad, in a good way. It even beats 3.14, a hotel in Cannes. Thanks.

Dandy said...

Look! More Madonna Inn. Truly, how can one ever get enough? Kevin's blog is pretty fabulous,too.

Lisa said...

Wow what a room! Luca is one lucky kid. Did you eat at the Steakhouse? I'm not a vegetarian but mostly swing that way, although every once in a while I get a craving for a thick, juicy steak. Did you partake? Inquiring minds want to know.

TSL said...

I've never seen anything quite like it! Thank you for the visual experience!

Anonymous said...

what a dreamy place! thanks for the recommendation. this is defitely going in my california dreaming folder


katiedid said...

Haha! One cannot graduate from Cal Poly without visiting the Madonna Inn at least once. It is a requirement! Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

What a fun place -utterly fabulous! I wish I hadn't already made hotel reservations for my San Simeon trip in June. Oh well -maybe I'll stop by for a drink!

24 Corners said...

Oh...I've always wanted to go here. My parents have been a few times and love it! Nothing like it fun for Luca!

Megan Taylor said...

I've never heard of it. What a place! It's a nook but it's also a cave. Cozy, no matter what. Sounds like you had a charming time :)

Karena said...

I lived in San Diego thirteen years and had never heard of this. Amazing property!!

Art by Karena

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Sonia, PVE: I highly recommend this experience for yourselves. It's the craziest place on earth!

Debra: Oh, Debra, you are going to love it. Report back when you stay there.

Vava: I hope you're right. xx

Pamela Terry and Edward: Not really. :)

Helena Halme: Next time indeed.

JaneH: We stayed in the Old Mill Room last year! Isn't it crazy incredible? That water wheel had Luca (and my husband) mesmerized. And then we had a steak dinner too, although there was no band playing that night. Did you love watching the over-70's hit the dance floor??!! xx

Susan's Snippets: "Humbly large" is the best compliment ever. Thank you. xx

Dandy: Oh, Dandy, what incredible memories you have! (And what an incredible dad...) Thank you for sharing.

Cathi: The Swiss Alps room is now on my list.

Anthony: It IS mad in the best possible way. Check out the website -- you can click through all the rooms. Am putting 3.14 on my list too.

Dandy: Hopefully, I will meet Kevin someday. Have to check out that that the Madonna Inn is in the air! xx

Lisa: We certainly did partake of steak. And salad with thick Thousand Island dressing. And a martini. And a pink slice of cake with frothy frosting that must have reached a foot high.

Tina Steele Lindsay: My pleasure. If you're ever in the area, it's worth a visit, even just to walk around with your mouth hanging on the floor.

Lisaane: I sincerely hope your dreaming folder becomes a reality someday. x

katiedid: Of course you've been there. It should be required for all California residents.

ArchitectDesign: Seriously, you HAVE to stop there! Have breakfast in the amazing Carousel room or have a steak dinner in the pink and white dining room with Christmas ornaments hanging all year round. For someome with your refined sensibilities, I think it's a required stop. :)

24 Corners: I love that your parents are aficionados of the Madonna Inn!

Megan Taylor: Every room is different and the hotel from the outside looks like a white Cape Cod mansion -- it doesn't really reveal its secrets until you walk inside and are hit with the bright pink dining room.

Karena: Oh, Karena, I think you would love this place! xx

The Antiques Diva™ said...

This might be enough to get to to cross the pond and do my summer vacation in America! Amazing hotel!!!

Marija said...

A soprano-duquette collaboration? Totally intriguing. I've never heard of this place but glad I stumbled upon it here...for a variety of reasons!


Peter Clothier said...

Lisa, congratulations on your show. I give it a mention on my entry, today, in The Buddha Diaries.

Sarah Greenman said...

I grew up in San Luis Obispo and visited the Madonna Inn frequently. I remember Alex And Phillis at my Aunt and Uncle's dinner parties. They were sort of local royalty, as you can imagine. My favorite part about going to the Madonna Inn was their pink champagne cake with all of the hot pink chocolate curls piled on top. Thanks for this post - jogged all sorts of good memories.

Anonymous said...
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Lisa said...

this place reminds of a place near our home in Los Alamos New Mexico called Kokapellis Cave in Farmington New Mexico. We have stayed there and it is so beautiful and very comfortable. Here is the website:

Lisa Gonzales


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