The area around McMinnville, Oregon produces some of the finest cool-climate wines on the planet. And yet, while wine may be the central attraction, excited travelers haven’t always been able to find the crucial missing pieces of a luxury vacation in the region. Enter the Atticus Hotel, a brand-new lifestyle hotel in the heart of downtown McMinnville that was built to provide unforgettable stays from the ground up. With stunning art and decor, a new restaurant from Tasty ‘N Sons chef John Gorham, and high-end customer services, the Atticus might even become a destination of its own.
We caught up with Co-owner Erin Stephenson to talk about the inspiration for the hotel, how it’s design came about, and what a perfect day in Oregon wine country really looks like.
Congratulations on your recent opening—what a beautiful place! This was an ambitious project, in concept and execution, for a relatively small community. Talk about the origin of the Atticus Hotel and why you felt McMinnville was the right place for it.
"For us, the Atticus Hotel has always been first and foremost about celebrating McMinnville. At its core, McMinnville is this amazingly independent and creative community with a postcard-perfect historic downtown, a vibrant culinary scene, eclectic boutiques…and it happens to be nestled in amongst 230 wineries, within 20 minutes in any direction. But until the Atticus Hotel, McMinnville hasn’t had a full-service hotel option.
Ours really isn’t the story of a developer looking for the right location to build a luxury hotel, but rather the tale of a small local company wanting to build the right type of lodging for their community.
As for the origin of the hotel, the seeds for this project were really planted long ago, with our original location of 3rd Street Flats in 2010. At that time, we started by renovating four historic apartments in Historic Downtown McMinnville into a fusion lodging experience. The concept took off. It was at that point that we decided to take the plunge, and finally turn our attention to what we called 'the BIG dream,' a small, thoughtfully curated luxury hotel in downtown McMinnville."
How has the region and its history influenced the design and overall spirit of the Atticus?
"From the outset, we worked with our lead interior designer, Christina Tello, to tell the story of McMinnville—and in a broader sense Oregon—through our interiors. One way in which we’ve done that is by using our concentric approach to sourcing locally. If we could find a product that met our needs that was crafted in McMinnville, we used it, and if we couldn’t we extended our circle to the rest of the county, and then the Portland Metro area and then the state. In the end, we were able to source beautiful handcrafted tables from Basile’s Workshop in McMinnville; mattresses sourced from Newberg; couches and chairs that Christina designed and had manufactured in Tigard; tile from Ann Saks; gorgeous wallpaper designed and printed in Portland by Juju Papers; Pendleton robes; and of course, light fixtures from Schoolhouse. Our amazing architect, Nathan Cooprider, did a stunning job and is one the most hardworking people I know. He’s got so much heart, and he put it all into this building."
"Our art program was also heavily influenced by the region. We worked exclusively with local artists around the theme of 'dreams' because we really believe that dreams are what make this region feel so special to visitors. We commissioned Zach Hixson to paint a 36-piece series of clouds. We commissioned local painter Carmen Borrase’ to paint one of her still life compositions to hang behind our welcome bar, made up of all different elements that relate to McMinnville’s history and culture. Our drawing room also houses our Community Art project, which has multiple elements to it."
Despite having 36 guest rooms, no two rooms in the Atticus are exactly alike. What inspired you to take such an intensive approach?
"Our guests at 3rd Street Flats have always loved that all 11 of our historic flats are completely different, and so we wanted to bring that same independent feeling into the Atticus Hotel, but with a unifying design aesthetic. We also believe deeply that true luxury is defined by the intention behind every detail, and creating 36 unique spaces speaks to the level of attention we gave to each and every room. It was a lot to ask of our fabulous designer, Christina Tello, but she decided it was intriguing and really rose to the occasion."
You talk about your travels in Europe as being an early inspiration for getting into the hotel business. Were there any hospitality influences from that time that made it into the Atticus in some way?
"Probably all of them, in some way or another. I love to be out on the road, experiencing new places and soaking them up like a sponge. When I’m traveling I always like to pretend that I’m a local and imagine what it would be like to live in that place—that desire has heavily influenced our desire to bring local products and voices into the hotel. I also love it when small pensiones have a shelf where you can drop off a book you’ve finished, and pick up a new one in your language. That certainly influenced our decision to have books in every room."
What are the elements of a truly great hotel experience?
"For me a truly great experience always includes a sense of discovery. I love those special take-your-breathe-away moments, and so we’ve worked hard to add a lot of unexpected touches to the hotel—to ensure our guests know that we care deeply about their stay, and spent a tremendous amount of time to get every detail right."
Your background is in non-profits. Do you see becoming a hotelier as an organic extension or a new departure?
"To me the transition from non-profit management to hospitality feels very natural. At the end of the day, both industries are fundamentally about caring for other people—about making someone feel valued, important and welcome. The decade I spent in non-profit management was always rooted in a love for my community, and a desire to make it a little better every day. The Atticus Hotel feels like a natural extension of that desire, but from the purview of both economic development and just plain old home town pride."
How do Schoolhouse products fit into the vision of the Atticus?
"The first time I toured the upper stories of your Portland location, I was so moved by the fact that your products aren’t just designed in Portland, they are made in Portland too. Schoolhouse products have an incredible Oregon essence to them, and that makes perfect sense when you understand the process and the origin. Your products also have this amazing sense of craftsmanship and quality, in the way that denotes the incredible attention to detail that happens when a product is created by a team of dreamers, who aren’t just chasing market trends, but instead are trying to craft things they love, and that they can be proud of. All of those elements are incredibly important to our vision for the Atticus Hotel."
What’s your favorite room in the Atticus?
"I really do love them all, but our Luxury Bunkhouse has to be my favorite. We have hosted so many girl’s weekend over the years, that we wanted to create a space that caters to late nights of drinking wine by the fire, and laughing…and drinking more wine by the fire. It was also important to us to create a sense of togetherness within the space, but then to give everyone their own sleeping quarters. Christina did an amazing job making the space feel sophisticated yet playful, integrating a concept that we usually associated with children in a very adult way."
How important is it to work with local artisans and makers?
"It’s essential. I think it’s too easy to let ourselves off the hook by thinking that everything is made in China, and throwing up our hands in defeat. SO MANY amazing products are made right here in Oregon, if we just take the time to seek them out."
Finally, what’s a perfect day in wine country for you?"I’m an early riser, so I love to start my day by watching downtown McMinnville slowly wake up. For me, nothing is better than a walk down Third Street as the sun rises, with the twinkle lights still on overhead. Next up I’d enjoy some coffee in the drawing room at the Atticus Hotel, and then head out to breakfast downtown with my family. After breakfast, we’d do some window shopping (or the real kind), and then grab some picnic provisions and head out for a day of adventures in the vines."
Photography by Jack Wineinger