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Ooh la la!

Oohla Bean is poised to be the Texas Hill Country’s favorite new destination.

The inspiration of Oohla Bean began, strangely enough, in the mountains of Ecuador. In 2009, along with her sister and brother-in-law, Houston native Robin Garrison embarked on a hike and bike trip across the South American country and ended up in a charming resort called Hacienda Zuleta. “It was so fun and so warm,” explains Garrison. “They had a fireplace going all the time and a couple of different places you could go and sit and read.”

Zuleta also offered personal touches — bottles of wine available to guests on an honor system, a garden, and a warm staff — that made the atmosphere feel more like staying at a friend’s house than a sterile hotel. During a return visit a year later, Garrison found she was still inspired by Zuleta. “I thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she says.

Though she was in the foothills of the Andes when the moment of inspiration struck, the journey toward Oohla Bean began back in Houston. One of five children, Garrison remembers long family road trips to her father’s home state of Kentucky. “I’d go, ‘Daddy what are they growing over there? What plant is that?’” Though she didn’t realize it at the time, Garrison was developing a lifelong love of both food and environmentalism.

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Years later, while her children were attending Houston’s Kinkaid School, Garrison volunteered to run the the school’s annual field day food booth which offered snacks and healthful goodies. After just a few years of Garrison serving as co-chair, Kinkaid saw profits from the booth almost triple. At the urging of friends and family, Garrison began a small catering company that quickly landed high-profile clients like the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. “One of the things I liked to do, I love pretty serving pieces and making the table, so I would take some of my own things, which people loved.”

After nearly a decade, Garrison’s catering business came to a halt when her husband of 29 years was diagnosed with cancer. Following his death a year later, Garrison said she was devastated. “After he died … my life changed,” she explains. “It was a very different time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I was.” After the trip to Ecuador, Garrison said she returned ready to make her dream of an inn and retreat space a reality.

Though she originally envisioned opening Oohla Bean near Brenham, Texas, Garrison began searching for a location closer to Austin after her daughter and grandchild moved to the area. In late 2010, Garrison finally found the 85-acre property in Driftwood that would become Oohla Bean.

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Once the perfect property in the foothills of the Texas Hill Country was secure, Garrison secured HA Architecture to complete her vision. Led by Director of Architecture Jamie Crawley, the team created an eco-friendly property which includes a communal house and adjacent meeting room, 1,200-square-foot limestone pool, and pavilion. Across the pool is the “bunkhouse” which includes three luxurious guest quarters and two suites, all of which open onto expansive personal patios complete with unencumbered views of the hills. Tucked away in the corner is Oohla’s Suite, an intimate space which includes a private patio and outdoor hearth. Also on the property is a ranch house complete with a full fitness room, sauna, and kitchen.

In addition to allowing the natural landscape to influence the architecture, the elements played a pivotal role in the branding and identity of Oohla Bean. “Everything revolves around this idea of connecting things together,” explains Jett Butler, founder and creative director of the Austin-based FÖDA Studio. In their conversations together, Garrison and Butler found the one word that kept coming up was “communion.” Says Butler, “We were trying to invoke the idea of communion with the self, with nature, and with a dear loved one.” (And if you’re dying to know what the name means — we certainly were — “Oohla” is the nickname given to Garrison by her granchild, and Bean is her sweet little terrier.)

Oohla Bean’s commitment to nature extends to every aspect of the inn. In addition to being outfitted with a 65,000 gallon rainwater collection tank, Oohla Bean is wired to install solar panels in the future. Inside the luxurious rooms, guest will find organic, hypo-allergenic pillows and mattresses, refillable Molton Brown toiletry bottles (a company picked, says Garrison, because they are paraben-free and use fewer pesticides), and S’well Bottles — details that speak to the inn’s ethos.

These thoughtful details also speak to Garrison’s ability to make her guests feel like an extension of her inner circle. “When I was building this, the project manager asked, ‘Are you really building this for guests? Or for your friends and family?’” says Garrison, laughing. Though Oohla has already played host to holiday celebrations and family vacations, Garrison’s vision of hospitality harkens back to that trek through the Andes and her stay at the homey Hacienda Zuleta. In addition to daily breakfast, Oohla Bean offers lunch and dinner options with advanced notice. (Garrison prefers to plan ahead so meals don’t go to waste. “I don’t like waste,” she says. And I believe you can have more quality [this way.]”)

Though the inn has already been open for a few months, Garrison has been slow to get the word out, preferring instead to work out the kinks and slowly build Oohla’s reputation as a premier Hill Country destination. “It’s kinda like I built it, now will they come?” she says. “But yet I’m patient cause I want the right people to come. I think they will.” With luxurious amenities, never-ending vistas, and a host like Garrison, we bet they’re already on their way.

Credits

Photography by Nick Simonite

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