Three days before its grand opening party, El Cosmico was humming. Under the big West Texas sky, a crew of artists, musicians, and designers poured concrete floors for the hotel’s outdoor showers, raked gravel along meandering pathways, and transformed salvaged regional materials—abandoned oil drums, ranch fencing wire—into lobby furniture and shade structures.
The brainchild of Austin-based hotelier Liz Lambert, El Cosmico is a new kind of lodging: part trailer park, part creative commune—“a Trans-Pecos kibbutz for the 21st century,” as the website would have it. (The place will exchange free boarding for labor, if you want to try your hand at building a stone wall, for instance.) Located in a scrubby 18-acre field in Marfa—the remote, single-stoplight town that has become a major art mecca in recent years because of its affiliation with the late minimalist artist and furniture maker Donald Judd—El Cosmico features “guest rooms” in the form of five renovated vintage trailers rescued by Lambert with the help of her “trailer guy” and a Yahoo group for Spartan owners and enthusiasts. Completing this modern take on KOA are five yurts with bamboo floors, one teepee, and 24 camping spots. Also on site is an open-air kitchen, a grove of Chinese elm trees strung with hammocks, and a smattering of wood-fired Dutch hot tubs that resemble Alice in Wonderland teacups.
Lambert, who grew up in West Texas and lives part-time on a ranch just outside Marfa, envisions El Cosmico as a place for locals as well as visitors. It will function as an inclusive “artistic playground” that fosters a sense of community and creativity, where people can take pottery and printmaking classes in soon-to-be-built art shacks and gather for songwriting workshops and yoga retreats.
At the heart of the experience are the trailers, which date from the ’40s and ’50s and start at just $75 a night. Though small (none are bigger than 323 square feet), the interiors resemble the cabins on a ship with tons of creative storage and no space wasted. And because they’re clad entirely in birch veneer freshly coated in marine varnish, they shine brilliantly at night, especially when candles are lit. “I think of them as land yachts,” Lambert says. “The surrounding desert is like the sea—in fact, this whole part of Texas was once under water—and these trailers are like little ships.”
Whenever Lambert stays in the trailers (she favors the Branstrator for its claw-foot bathtub on the front porch), she sleeps with the doors and windows open so she can smell the dusty sagebrush and hear the coyotes howling and the trains passing by. “There’s a sense of being cocooned and protected, but you’re still connected to the outdoors,” she says. “When I get out of bed, I’m two steps from the front door. I love the immediacy of the experience.”
Hwy. 67 and Madrid St., Marfa, Texas; 432.729.1950; elcosmico.com; campsites $20; yurts $50; trailers $75-$125 per night.
10 Things a Trailer Can Teach You
Think Like a Ship
In boat construction, every nook and cranny is utilized and objects often play more than one role. In El Cosmico’s Imperial Mansion, a stool made of recycled tires doubles as a coffee table. In another trailer, a bathroom door becomes a bedroom door with a swing of the hinge.
Reconsider the Basics
Free up precious square footage by deciding what you can do without. Maybe you don’t need a couch if you have a big bed? If you never bake, can you forgo an oven?
Break Out of the Box
A deck or patio can act as an open-air living room, doubling your space. To make an appealing hangout, install a fire pit, a grill, weatherproof furniture—and even an outdoor shower or bathtub.
Make Like a Minimalist
Keeping interiors simple and spare, with little excess ornamentation, increases a sense of spaciousness. All-white interiors or floor-to-ceiling wood paneling creates a neutral backdrop and allows well-placed bits of color to really pop.
Generous windows in tight quarters can ease a sense of claustrophobia and emphasize a connection to the outdoors. If you have the ability to design or add windows, place them in unusual spots (at bed height, for example) to create postcard views that offer new perspectives on the landscape.
A small space can be cave-like in a good way. Enhance the coziness with a plethora of candles and a woolly throw blanket and enjoy intimate corners for conversation.
Instead of dividing up a long, narrow space with walls—blocking sightlines and making things feel uncomfortably closed-in—imply different zones with transparent screens, such as a beaded curtain or an open bookshelf. Do you really need privacy when it’s just you, or the two of you?
Embracing certain practical rituals, like taking off your shoes before entering or putting something away as soon as you use it, helps keep things clutter-free. This is essential in a small space, where it doesn’t take much to make a mess.
A tiny space puts an end to the hoarding of stuff (ideally), so why not make what you do have extra beautiful? Splurge on a few key pieces and pay attention to the mundane objects: a gorgeous broom makes housekeeping a little bit happier.
Sharing 280 square feet offers a crash course in tolerance and compatibility and a chance to get to know your sweetheart—or yourself—a lot better. “It strips things down,” says Lambert. “We get so busy and cluttered in our lives. Spending time in a trailer offers a reckoning: It helps you reassess what your needs actually are and to figure out what’s really important to you.”