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Inside a gorgeously restored local landmark

Palazzo Lavaca reimagines one of the city’s oldest buildings

A lavish room in an 1800s building with restored walls, floors, and a huge chandelier
Palazzo Lavaca
All photos courtesy of Palazzo Lavaca

Most Austinites of any vintage know of the Capitol Saddlery, or at least its sign. Tucked into a corner of 16th and Lavaca streets, the building is a familiar sight to anyone heading downtown, to the UT campus, or the Capitol area. It is, as we like to say, iconic.

Erected in 1890, the building was originally one of Austin’s first firehouses. In the 1940s, National Cowboy Hall of Famer and ranch/development namesake T.C. “Buck” Steiner—quite the legendary character in his own right and worth a Google search if you’re into amusing renegades—opened the saddle foundry and boot shop, which Austinite and UT alum Giselle Koy purchased eight years ago.

Koy kept the sign (and much of the rest of the building) intact, but reinvented it as Palazzo Lavaca. While inspired by such design influences as Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and Julian Schnabel's Palazzo in New York City, she said she wanted to maintain the building as an homage to Austin’s past and spirit as well.

Courtesy of Palazzo Lavaca

The resulting restoration is just that—a soulful update that honors the building while allowing its function to change. Koy kept most of the building’s original features, restoring longleaf pine floors, refurbishing the 1905 Otis elevator (originally controlled by a hand pulley), and scraping down multiple layers of paint to get to what she believes is the original green color and exposing patches of bricks and concrete.

A frieze from the firehouse featuring images of old-fashioned hydrants across the border remained intact, as did an old trap door once used as a hay drop for the firehouse horses, discovered in what is now a master suite.

Koy also incorporated surviving fixtures, such as a wooden rack used to hold boot forms for clients (including Al Capone), and introduced new elements that have the feel and style of the original building. There’s an incredible chandelier collection, including an 18th-century Venetian lantern, Moroccan, French and Italian antiques, and a magnificent mid-century relic from the Golden Nugget Las Vegas.

Courtesy of Palazzo Lavaca

The redesign also features 32 reclaimed doors from historical spaces around the country, including an old Nebraskan hotel and Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. Other glam touches include Fortuny wallpaper and velvets, a coffered ceiling, and a gold leafed ballroom.

(The refurbished 1905 Otis elevator is visible on the left of the above photo.)

Palazzo Lavaca is now an event and hospitality space, one that feels almost like a special secret, tucked away in a storied building.

Koy created seven distinct spaces in the old saddlery, including an open-air courtyard, the Violet Flame Bar, a grand ballroom and stately great room, and a media lounge.

There is also a state-of-the-art kitchen and separate quarters that can function as a changing rooms for weddings or other events.