How a Class Assignment Turned Into a Modern Hotel in Lake Tahoe

Photos by Matt Bolt
guest room
credit: Matt Bolt

How many times does a class assignment turn into a viable business? Answer: hardly ever — unless you're Justin Watzka. Armed with a hotel proposal he wrote as an MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania, Watzka purchased two 1960s motels in South Lake Tahoe, California in desperate need of a makeover. That was two years ago. Now, he owns the hip-yet-cozy Coachman Hotel, which opened in March 2016. "It's the kind of renovation these properties need in order to extend their lives," Kathleen Bunnage said, the general manager. She describes the overhaul of the 42-room property alongside design group Studio Tack as "alpine cool" meets "mountain modern." The two midcentury hotels were merged into one, and Watzka carved out more communal spaces, including fire pits for nightly s'mores and cornhole games. Inside, exposed light wood is in keeping with the area's classic cabin aesthetic, but slate gray wainscoting and minimal decor keep things modern. It's a project that Bunnage considers to be Watzka's love letter to the region, and a reminder that sometimes things just simply work out.

exterior
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credit: Matt Bolt

"We used a lot of wood in the design and fun textile fabrics," Bunnage said. "It brings the beauty of the region in, but without the knotty-pine bedposts. You won't find any deer heads or antlers." Walls of windows connect the inside to the outdoors, and exposed wood plays off the classic cabin look.

lobby
credit: Matt Bolt

A fur throw is draped over a Scandinavian-style "Sunset Safari" chair by Chairtastic in the common area, and the low ceilings are a nod to midcentury design. The built-in banquette's stripes are flanked by a kidney-shaped wood coffee table.

lobby
credit: Matt Bolt

Exposed beams and concrete flooring in the lobby — which includes a coffee bar — keep up with today's trends, and yet, inviting sitting areas and large windows are timeless additions that exude a warm sense of community.

guest room
credit: Matt Bolt

Commissioned pieces — like the the platform beds — were custom-built by furniture designers in the Bay Area and New York City.

bath
credit: Matt Bolt

The bathroom features custom built-ins for storing everything from striped wool blankets to hanging shirts. Meanwhile, an all-white shower with polished-nickel fixtures give the bath a timeless look.