The Ruby Hotel & Bar tells a story. Its namesake, a native of Round Rock born sometime in the 1920s, lived a rich and abundant life. She enjoyed childhood trips to Neiman’s in Dallas, attended SMU but dropped out before joining the U.S.O. to support the troops in World War II. She moved to Chicago, fell in love with jazz and blues, and tried her own hand at art in San Miguel. She became an art teacher and traveled to Paris and became enchanted with all things design: cars, interiors, architecture, and art. Ultimately returning to Round Rock, she designed a beautiful life and curated her home on the banks of Brushy Creek, where she wined and dined an urbane assortment of friends.
It should be disclosed at this point that this Ruby was not a real person. She is the spirit of the hotel that bears her name, an avatar created by Page’s team that took inspiration from an old letter found in the existing home on the site. In it, a young man asks a woman named Ruby — quite patronizingly it must be said — not to attend a dance without him. The team already had an idea of a woman to galvanize the aesthetic ethos of the project — she would be Fleur Cowles, inspired mid-century artist, author, patron, and design aficionado. They decided that the Ruby they wanted her to be would have gone to the dance. “We had a visceral reaction to the tone of the letter, and we knew this was the first of many choices Ruby made to assert her independence,” says Branding and Graphics Director and Page Principal Carla Fraser. Ruby was set on the path to a fabulous life.
The project converted a 1961 house and its surrounding 3.8 acres into a boutique hotel as one of the first projects to be completed under Round Rock’s new multipurpose rezoning that intends to invigorate the environs of downtown. With the house, a pool, and abundant live oak trees present on the site, the Page team opted to work around the existing assets and push new construction — 36 rooms and suites plus a reception area — to the perimeter, taking advantage of the outward facing views and creating an internal shaded courtyard around the pool and existing house. Taking design cues from Case Study houses of the mid-century, the hotel is simple in both silhouette and demeanor, with a clean two-story rectilinear volume of steel and concrete with deep overhangs and strong horizontal energy. In a neighborhood of mostly residential and small-scale commercial buildings, it hangs back from the street and pushes the park-like green space forward. The original house, now the bar, a lounge with a meeting room, and a new deck overlooking the creek, retreats into the dappled shade — a cherished relic of the old days that still welcomes neighbors for a drink or a board game, much as the home’s real-life owners and the fictional Ruby, a legendary hostess, had.
Every guest room has a view of the creek and a balcony that provides each with the trifecta of desirable COVID-era amenities: ventilation, outdoor space, and room for social distancing. When the lockdown hit mere weeks after its opening in 2020, the hotel successfully pivoted to contactless check-in and cocktails deposited outside guestroom doors. Both the design vibe and the service ethos appeal to mid-century design devotees and cater to business travelers for the nearby Apple and Dell campuses, as well as those on weekend getaways, staycationers, and guests at a nearby event venue.
It’s in the details where The Ruby comes to life. The interiors draw from a saturated color palette that oozes a certain moment in time — think Wes Anderson movies or Colwes’ own 1950 Flair magazine. Tone-on-tone applications of azure blue, Kelly green, and ochre complement custom walnut and steel casework that accommodates all the expected hotel amenities as well as Ruby’s trinkets from her many travels and interests. Visits to the Round Top Antiques Fair and flea markets in surrounding towns were missions to find items to fill Ruby’s world. “It was a very personalized process,” says Fraser. “Each item would spark a conversation with the owner and the design team about when Ruby would have bought this item and why.” This attention imbues the space with a subliminal level of meaning and richness, the curated vestiges of an artful 20th-century American life well lived. And though it never really happened, The Ruby makes you kind of wish it had.
Canan Yetmen, Hon. TxA, is a writer based in Austin.