The Madonna Inn: A Vintage Inspired Retreat

For our tenth anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a trip to the west coast. We have a lot of friends in Los Angeles, but also I have been wanting to check out this totally crazy hotel that was recently featured on BuzzFeed called The Madonna Inn. We spent a few really fun days in LA catching up with friends and checking out the best LA spots like LACMA below (featured in an earlier post) and then rented a car (ironically we were given a pick up truck – they must have seen we were from SC!) and drove North up the Coast to the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.


The drive from LA is absolutely beautiful, and doing it at the end of the day watching the sun set over the mountains was especially peaceful. You can read about the full history of the Inn here, but the short version is that it was built in 1958 (possibly one of my favorite eras in design) by a highway contractor named Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis as a retreat marking the halfway point in between Los Angeles and San Francisco. With Alex’s construction knowledge and his wife’s quirky and fanciful design sense they created a quirky, fabulous and unforgettable retreat.



And when I say unforgettable, I mean that literally. Every single room is different – each has a different theme and its own unique features (you can see them all here). We stayed in two of the dozens of rooms (one each night) and both of them had glitter wallpaper which seemed to be a common thread in many of the room designs. There was a heavy handed use of pink – their trademark ice buckets are cotton candy pink and a bottle of their house champagne was waiting for us when we arrived.


I am not sure if “romantic” is precisely the word I would use to describe the first room we stayed in – Carin – it was more like a spectacular pink palace or a ride at Disneyworld, in a good way. There was literally a huge gold cherub hanging from the lofted ceiling – this is the room frequently used as the bridal or honeymoon suite.

This is the full view of the glitter wallpaper – I think this was one of the original 1950s features so the Madonnas gave the glitter wallpaper industry some big business.

Every nook and cranny of the bathroom was consistent with the room’s theme – I especially loved the sort of damask pink and white ceramic sinks (where do you begin to source something like that?!):


We ate at the Inn’s trademark restaurant, The Gold Rush Steak House, the exterior of which is lit with rainbow lights at night and the interior filled with winding, pink tufted leather banquettes and thick, floral pink hued carpet. They gave pink balloons to us and anyone celebrating something (which turned out to be a good portion of the restaurant) and (not pictured) was a dance floor and a live band which really made you feel as thought you had stepped back in time and had sort of a Dirty Dancing vibe (remember that mountain resort?).



The food was all really good – classics like a baked potato wrapped in foil and filet mignon. But my absolute favorite thing was their trademark pink champagne cake, which is one of their many fabulous cakes you can buy to-go in their bakery which also caters weddings and events. I mean how amazing would it be to have the Champagne Cake as your wedding cake?


After dinner, we had a drink in The Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge and I ordered this drink called “The Pink Cloud” which is basically how you feel when you are staying at the Madonna Inn. Oh, and it’s made with half and half… Their cocktail menu was pretty great, full of vintage favorites.



The next morning we woke up to this pretty view from our balcony. We ventured over to the stables and took a trail ride which went up the mountain next to the inn


Basically the whole Inn looks like a gigantic, ornate cake. It is sort of “Swiss chalet meets Boogie Nights meets The Parent Trap” in its aesthetic and time period.


It was actually really nice to be back on a horse. I rode for years and I really miss it. The horses were all named after famous singers like Johnny (Cash) and June (Carter).


And their pool and Spa, a more recent edition to the retreat, was the perfect place to cool off and relax after a trail ride:


Our second room “Merry” was similar to the first room but a little bit smaller and less pink.  It was kind of like being inside of a bottle of champagne…


I love their logo/coat of arms featured on everything from their wine to their ice bucket to their golf carts. And there were just touches of pink everywhere you looked – even the lamp posts were pink!



But the thing I most wish I could have taken on the plane was the Champagne Cake. I will be dreaming about it until our next visit because for some reason, I don’t think I can easily recreate this at home:


These are all my own photos, it was hard to even edit them down but I highly recommend just googling “The Madonna Inn” you will not be disappointed. Really, it was a magical step back in time – to a time and place that I didn’t even know existed! Madonna Inn loyalists, like a gentleman who joined us at the bar one night, go back again and again, staying in different rooms each time. They have their favorite cocktails and collect their signature, colored wine glasses and seemed to have been bitten by the insatiable need to experience the magic over and over again. It must be something in that champagne cake, but visiting definitely makes you want to come back for more!


A Vintage Inspired Kitchen

Ever since we moved into a new house in Charleston last fall and have been sharing snippets of our home renovation on Instagram, there has been universal appreciation for our somewhat retro looking kitchen. So, I thought I’d share a few more photos. Not unlike the process I follow with designing jewelry, I tried to take the best elements of our vintage kitchen and bring them out with timely, but updated details. We left wonderful features like the breakfast nook, the original oven hood, the mint green tile (in the most perfect shade of mint I just cannot imagine we would find it again) and most of the solid wood built ins. We took out some of the worst features – the accordion door to the pantry, the dark paint, the chair rail molding and the old appliances. I did have to scrub the tile within an inch of its life but the bright white paint we used all over really helped make it look much more recent than it is (1948!). We also added these fun, retro custom height light fixtures from Schoolhouse Electric that I loved for their chic simplicity. Sarah Yoder’s contemporary painting brought from our previous house and reframed brightened up the breakfast nook perfectly and this fun, vintage pink dining set from Indigo Market (State of Grace Collection) in Charleston looks like it was always meant to be in our kitchen. Olivia Brock of Torrance Mitchell Designs absolutely nailed the paint colors and the updated yet classic brass hardware we put on all the cabinets. I loved working with her because she really honors the spirit and era of a house in her thoughtful, sophisticated selections. Here are the photos – if you scroll to the bottom of the post you can click see the “before” pictures too.


We only removed cabinetry in two places – the wall behind the sink and the righthand side of the wall in between the kitchen and dining room. The later we did in order to open up a window to the dining room, which brought so much more light in and is great for serving. The cabinets above the sink were also removed to let more light in from that window and help it not to feel so boxed in. Also, I like seeing all my vintage glassware in display.


The pass through window to the dining room probably made the biggest difference in feeling open. I also found those great, vintage pink storage canisters on Etsy and a new marble kitchen island really connects the space.


I absolutely love the House of Antique Hardware knobs and pulls we went with thanks to Olivia. Plus, how great is the towel bar? We changed out the fixtures on the sink to gold (but kept the original, enamel sink). And Olivia was also able to perfectly match the paint on the side door – Douglas Fern Benjamin Moore – with the mint tile.


Mix and match vintage glasses.



Adding a glossy chartreuse to the swinging kitchen door was a fun detail.


The island is so great for storage and giving us space to spread out when we are cooking.



The original vintage hood is still amazing, it just needed a little cleaning. Our appliances are all new but from the GE Artistry collection that has a great vintage look.

As you can tell from the before photos (click below) the floors were also refinished. For a kitchen that had to be done quickly and on a budget I am really happy with the way we preserved the integrity and charm of its original design and updated only the necessary details.

click here for before photos

Jayne Mansfield, In The Pink

In 1957 LIFE Magazine did a feature on Jayne Mansfield, one of the major 1950’s sext symbols, in her home. I thought what better time pour over these then leading up to Valentine’s Day? Pretty much everything in her house was either pink or shaped like a heart (or in some cases both). From floor to ceiling pink shag in the master bath, to a heart shaped fireplace… She lived there with Mickey Hargitay, her husband at the time, a contractor/body builder/actor, naturally. He is seen in a few of the photos with her, they have a very “Tarzan and Jane” vibe together.

All images via Life Magazine archives.