Just a stone’s throw from Nashville’s honky-tonks was once a motel where Hank Williams Sr. and other country stars hung by the pool and played tunes on the bar’s jukebox. It was the 1950s, the heyday of motels. But since then, somewhere along the way, the property was overtaken by raccoons, with a whole section damaged by a fire and subsequently covered up with bad wood paneling, designer and hotelier Lyon Porter recalls.
After opening the Nashville outpost of Brooklyn’s micro-hotel Urban Cowboy, Porter had been looking for his next endeavor. Enter this rundown property. Many outings to antique fairs and trips down memory lane later, it is now the Dive Motel & Swim Club. When the accommodations reopened on August 5, they were bursting with ’70s-kitsch flair: disco balls in every room, vintage murals, shaggy bedspreads, and even a glitter bar that lights up at night.
“People should have more fun with design and let go of this idea that everything is precious,” he says. “We really wanted to create that element in an environment that celebrates good times. This is a place to get off your phone, jump in the pool, and play.” We asked Porter his tips for using throwback design details that channel free-spirited vibes.
Visit all the flea markets
Inspired by motels of decades past, Porter set out on a multi-state scavenger hunt for vintage furniture. He had no hard rules in mind. “My whole motto with the design here was nothing is sacred. If I liked something from the ’50s, I bought it. We went on these crazy picking trips in Round Top, Texas, during the world’s largest arts and antiques fair, and we filled up 30-foot trucks full of antiques. It was such a blast. I recommend it to anyone looking to find amazing found objects.”
Look to nightclubs for inspiration (yes, really)
Each of the 32 guest rooms features a disco ball linked up to an on/off switch and a “Dive Radio” that only has four channels: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Sleep. “Each space was a rabbit hole, from the pink Jayne Mansfield room to the shag carpet and double soaking tub in the Penthouse Honeymoon Suite,” says Porter. “They’re all just little slices of fun.”
Think beyond vintage furniture
Porter sourced ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s wall coverings, depicting everything from forests and mountains to leopard print and orange flowers from all over—even Ukraine. The color scheme varies wallpaper by wallpaper, inspired by “a classic Verner Panton color gradient of yellows, oranges, and browns.” Mixed with the property’s original wood paneling and jewel-toned linens that mimic popular mid-century bedding, the walls transport travelers not just in place but also in time.
Don’t just paint the walls—make murals
No wall is left bare on the property, even out by the cabana-lined pool. One brick wall in the outdoor area, where live performances regularly take place, is graced with old-school stripes in shades of the Panton yellow, orange, and brown. Meg and Stinky from I Saw the Sign, a Nashville-based creative agency specializing in traditional hand-painted signage and design, are to thank for all the groovy murals dotting the motel. (We’re equally obsessed with the red-and-pink silhouettes up top.) If you needed proof that the ’70s are officially back, this is it.
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