6.27.19 / Austin / Texas

Jen Turner Brings Her Design Back Home with Austin’s Coolest New Hotel, The Carpenter

From Texas to New York to Texas

  • [Photo: Claire Cottrell]

  • After 11 years working as an architect at the esteemed firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien in New York, Jen Turner decided to turn her attention to Austin. Or rather, she decided to return her attention to Austin, where the native Texan had spent much of her life prior to New York. When Turner relocated her studio to Austin and began a major home renovation project, she found something even more exciting waiting for her. A real estate opportunity made its way to her, who along with Jack Barron (an early partner at the Ace Hotel) and Donald Kenney (formerly GM of the Ace Portland) quickly knew it would be the site of the first hotel by their newly founded hospitality group The Mighty Union. Lo and behold, The Carpenter opened this past November, with all of the laidback charm of Austin in tow. 93 charming rooms (each with its own terrace) fit inside two terra-cotta buildings connected by a courtyard and pool, with a restaurant and cafe headed by hotel partners Christina Skogly Knowlton and Andrew Knowlton. As if Austin wasn’t already the hippest city in the South with its food and festivals, The Carpenter brings hospitality to the mix, and adds a new dose of excitement towards visiting the city. That’s why we spoke to Jen about her return to Texas, and the design philosophy she brought with her to one of the coolest new boutique hotels in Austin.

    Tell me about your background, how did you begin in hospitality, and how did you end up where you are today?

    I grew up in Texas and got my Architecture degree at UT (The University of Texas). I did an internship with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and then stayed for the next 11 years. After getting licensed in 2009, I went out on my own doing architecture as well as exhibit design, furniture and editorial pieces for NYTimes, etc. Jack and I reconnected in the summer of 2012. We started working on a hospitality concept in Austin along with Donald Kenney, then the GM of Ace Portland. The real estate for that project fell through but we had started talking to different groups about doing a hotel. Eventually the Carpenter came along. This was the first ground-up construction project for Jack or Donald which is where my background came into play. And so began The Mighty Union.

  • [Photo: Alex Lau]

  • We’ve spoke to many hoteliers in the last year, and the common thread seems to be opening hotels outside of major metropolises like New York or L.A. Austin is a vibrant city of course, but why did you choose it as the home for The Carpenter?

    It was kismet, really! We were here renovating an old building, turning it into our home on the East side of Austin. A local developer saw Jack’s name because of a blurb in the local paper. He put us together with the group that purchased the old Carpenter’s Union building. We immediately fell in love with the property and somehow we convinced them about our vision for a hotel there.

    What kind of inspiration did you draw from when designing the property?

    We draw inspiration from many places but one phrase that we held on to throughout the process was “ UT, Tex-mex, cosmic Moderno.” It sort of means nothing and everything.

  • [Photo: Alex Lau]

  • How does the design philosophy change in a city like Austin versus New York?

    Our design philosophy doesn’t ever change, however our design solution is a direct response to the site and the city. Austin is a place that lives outdoors most of the year and this is reflected in the project. The hotel is actually several separate buildings connected by lushly landscaped walkways with a pool in the center of it all. The hotel corridors are open air and each room has its own terrace nestled among old Pecan trees.

    Is the goal with the Carpenter— and more generally The Mighty Union—to create another mini-chain like the Ace, or do you want a different approach this time around?

    We’re only interested in doing projects that inspire us and allow us to really dig into a place and to create public spaces that connect with and to that place.

  • [Photo: Alex Lau]

  • The Ace helped usher in this new age of the independent, design-forward boutique hotel. How do you see this industry changing now?

    For better or worse, I don’t really keep up with the industry… I can only say what we are which is design-forward without being pretentious or fussy and, most of all, we’re friendly.

    What have you learned about Austin since working on the project and moving your studio there? Sell us on a trip to Austin!

    We’re both from Texas and lived in Austin decades ago before moving back. When we lived here before, Austin was a hippie, outdoorsy town with lots of music and some smart folks from the Capital and the University hanging around. These days it still has all of that plus more smart people but now there’s art museums and theater productions worth going to, lots of amazing food and a world-class festival any weekend. The aim of our project was to capture the best of what’s new but hold onto that sweet, old Austin.

  • [Photo: Alex Lau]

  • [Photo: Alex Lau]