A big red truck pulls into the gravel parking lot. Through a cloud of dust, three doors spring open and out pop three beautiful women in cowboy boots. There is purpose in each step; these girls are on a mission. With them is a man – young, tall, handsome. He points to this chair, that table, those sofas, and the women pick up each item, carry them out and throw it in the back of the truck. When the truck bed is full, they pile in and peel out, leaving just as quickly and deliberately as they had arrived. These people know what they are doing. These people get things done. Come to find out, these people are Lyon Porter, Jersey Banks, Shawna Watterson, and Bobbi Rich a.k.a. Mama Hot Dog. This clearly isn’t their first rodeo, but it was their first trip to Round Top.
Lyon Porter is a designer, real estate broker and hotelier best known for Urban Cowboy in Brooklyn and Nashville. Urban Cowboy is more than a place to hang your hat. It’s a home-away-from-home for nomadic creatives, an intimate bungalow where artists, thinkers, dreamers and doers arrive with curiosity and leave with inspiration – and new friends. The Brooklyn concept came first in 2014; then followed, in 2016, the eight-room Victorian mansion-turned-B&B in Nashville with a come-as-you-are bar and restaurant called Public House. Entirely self-designed by Lyon, these spaces are thoughtful, intentional and incredibly beautiful. The guest rooms feature intricate woodwork and tilework, rich textiles and striking accents such as clawfoot tubs. There’s a sense of whimsy and play, like the swing on the tree outside of the Victorian mansion. Starting at $350/night, you stay here for the experience – for its magic, in hope a tiny bit rubs off on you.
What’s next for Lyon is his biggest project to date: a 23-room motel in East Nashville, formerly the 1956 Key Motel. This is what brought him (and his lady gang/design team) to Round Top: a buying trip for the motel. He also had an invitation from his friend Sheila Youngblood to stay at her place, Rancho Pillow, a 20-acre compound with a barn and teepee that’s more fantasy land than boutique hotel. Much like Lyon’s Cowboys, Sheila’s Rancho captures your imagination; it’s a cosmic community where you feel right at home.
Arriving in Round Top, Lyon describes it as having: “No direction. We were just walking the fields.” Until they found Market Hill.
"Market Hill became a home base for us. It was such a warm welcome. Jake [Michael, Paul Michael’s son] took me under his wing and helped me navigate the whole experience. I was immediately in the inner circle. It showed me what kind of community this is.”
“There was an instant feeling of kindred spirits,” he says. “A sense of friendship with other people who have decided to join the circus.”
“There’s a common bond between people who have eyes for found objects. And who share an affliction for loving these things and giving them up.”
When asked about his process and decision-making, Lyon says, “I go completely on inspiration. I don’t create a moodboard, because you don’t know what you’ll find. If you go in with a preconceived notion, you may miss something.”
“I pick by feel,” he adds. “Jersey is good at seeing things that I don’t. I love surrounding myself with strong women. Jersey, Bobbi and Shawna are very unique individuals.”
Instead of recalling the 50s-style of the original motel, Lyon is going for a funky, down-and-dirty, 70s vibe complete with a dive bar and a 60-foot swimming pool. Each room will have something he calls a “party on a switch” with music, a disco ball and lava wall.
In Round Top, Lyon was looking for pieces that were “very specific,” “not so precious” and “a bit beaten up or look like they could stand a beating.”
“I’ve been on a lot of picking trips — Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York — I was not prepared for this. I was like a kid in a candy store. We found so many gems. We filled a 30-foot truck. It’s all sitting in Waylon Jennings’ old staging warehouse, waiting to go into the motel.”
Among the many gems: an amazing group of couches and a piece of wood art in the likeness of Elvis Presley.
“It was a wild and fun trip. Exciting, exhilarating and exhausting. We learned some stuff about making this big of a trip. Jake helped me so much, repacking our truck in the back of Market Hill in the middle of a torrential Texas thunderstorm.”
“It’s a magical town, an amazing experience. We made real friends. We’ll be back in the fall.”
In the meantime, check out Lyon Porter’s work at lyonporter.com, and the door’s always open at urbancowboy.com. Take a peek inside @urbancowboybnb on Instagram, and Lyon shares personal projects and motel updates in his stories @lyonporter. Hopefully, he'll let us know when the pool is open.