Conversations - August 24, 2018

Conversation with Kenny Osehan of the Alamo Motel

By Roshan McArthur

A few miles north of Santa Barbara, just off the 101 freeway that runs from LA to San Francisco, you’ll find a tiny town called Los Alamos. It consists of one long main street that looks like it’s straight out of a spaghetti western, and on the surface it’s sleepier than a cat on a summer afternoon. 

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a few surprises – a legendary bakery, an also-legendary flatbread restaurant, some highly browsable antique stores, a rip-roaring Wild West saloon bar and a handful of elegant wine-tasting rooms. Los Alamos, it turns out, has far more style than most freeway pitstops, earning it the nickname “Little LA”, and making it a great destination for running away from the big city for a night or two.

When you do that, we recommend a stay at the Alamo Motel. Restored by Kenny Osehan, this classic motel is a great place to tether your horse. Decorated in laid-back Southwestern style, it’s a collection of rooms centered around a firepit and a tiny wine bar, which twinkle with fairy lights as the nights close in. 

As head of Shelter Social Club, Kenny presides over a small empire of design-centric motels in southern California that have been transformed into social and creative hubs. Her work is effortlessly cool, a confluence of personal flair and years of experience, which makes it kind of irresistible. So we thought we’d sit down with her to find out a little more about her world.


Kenny Osehan: “My parents decided to move to Santa Barbara when I was nine years old, to be the live-in managers of the Traveler’s Motel (now the Agave Inn). We all worked and lived there until I was 18. I couldn’t wait to move out of the motel and I always said I would never be in the business, but I guess you can’t deny what’s in your blood!

"When I moved back to Santa Barbara in 2004, I craved a creative community, but didn’t know how to access it. I ended up taking over a short-term lease at the Presidio Motel, where I was able to bring community together, host events, and create a space that was an experience rather than just a place to stay. I learned a lot and have been able to translate the same philosophies into the current properties.”


KO: “Los Alamos is surrounded by farms and wineries. The land feels vast and open. Minimal in color, but rich in texture. I visited New Mexico at the same time I was contemplating the Alamo renovation. I found a very similar feel there in the light and colors and its Western culture. I was deeply inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiú. Her simple yet intelligent use of plywood was so mindblowing that I wanted to incorporate it into the Alamo somehow.

“I had our woodworker, Shaun Wallace of Gopher Wood Design, mimic her plywood dining table design into desks, small tables and benches. We also decided to do the floors in plywood, to keep the texture rich and the colors minimal. Meagan Donegan did all the prints in each room and lobby. Her artwork is the perfect fit, as a reference to all the agriculture and farmland in the surrounding areas. We used lighting from Atelier De Troupe to give the rooms an elegant yet simple feel.”


KO: “Los Alamos evolved into what it is today in a very organic way, through people bringing good food and good wine into the town. Clark from Full of Life Flatbread pioneered Los Alamos. He was there before anyone was. I feel like he set the standard. Luckily all the businesses opening in his footsteps are operated and owned by people who really care about the quality of what they are putting out into the world.”


KO: “Daily life, travel and friends. We are really lucky to be surrounded by inspiration all the time. I live in a community rich with creativity. All of my friends are constantly doing things that inspire me and they lead me to other people making or doing interesting things.”


KO: “I like having access to water… so that means I need the sea, a pool or a good bathtub. A comfortable bed, and a space that feels cozy and nurturing.”


KO: “Being in a place where I feel perfectly content. Where all my needs are met in a way that feels authentic to the environment. Where my brain feels stimulated and alive and I feel very grateful to be there.”

To discover the authentic charm of Los Alamos, California and the Alamo Motel, book a stay here.

Main image by Nancy Neil Photography