Soon after Giselle Koy took up residence in the historic building at 1614 Lavaca Street, people began beating down her door to hold weddings, corporate events, photo shoots, and video shoots there. The problem was this building, that was once a firehouse and later a saddle foundry, was now her home. But after having so many business opportunities seeking her out, Koy decided to take advantage.
It was never her intention to own and operate an event venue, but now she has one, and Palazzo Lavaca is booked just about every weekend.
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When the building was first erected in 1890, it housed one of Austin’s first firehouses. Back then, horses stayed downstairs with their carriages, and their hay upstairs. Decades later in the 1940’s, the building was repurposed by the Steiner family into a saddle foundry that supplied most of saddles sold by Sears and Roebuck.
“I was so moved by this building, a true homage to Austin’s amazing past,” Koy told Austin.com. “I wanted to keep that great Austin vibe and add in some of my design inspirations like the famous Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and Julian Schnabel’s Palazzo in New York City.”
Eight years ago, Koy bought the place to turn into her home. The history drew her in. And not just the distant past of the 19th century or even the World War II era — she has a personal connection to the place. She even had boots and belts repaired at the saddlery shop, and those memories connected her to the property.
At the same time, the architecture drew her in. The well proportioned rooms, tall ceilings and historic charm set this designer’s mind in motion. Koy restored the longleaf pine floors, refurbished the 1905 Otis elevator and scraped down multiple layers of wall covering to get to what she believes is the original green color. She left exposed patches of bricks and concrete. Then, she filled the spaces with luxurious antiques including several ornate chandeliers.
The 120-year-old plaster, the 130-year-old floors, and other aspects of the building are found in just a few other buildings in Austin. Contemporary structures like Hotel Ella and the old Austin firehouse at 30th and Guadalupe Streets have those old touches. The styles are often imitated but never duplicated.
Koy compares these building to old saddles. And what a perfect analogy it is given the building’s prior purposes. There’s no way to break in saddles except through usage over time. You can simulate the effects of time, but only time can give the authentic look and feel.
Maintaining the building’s connection to the past is important for Koy. In fact, she even kept the Capital Saddlery sign out front. But clearly, Palazzo Lavaca is no saddle shop. The leather and leatherworking tools have been replaced with tables, chairs, couches and antiques. The people who were begging to hold their events and shoots at Giselle Koy’s home can now make their reservations. But they better hurry because the calendar fills up quickly!
Palazzo Lavaca is made up of several spaces, one of which is probably perfect for your next event. The building can accommodate 165 people for standing-room-only events, 130 for wedding receptions, and 65 for seated dinners in either the upstairs Great Room or the downstairs Grande Ballroom.
“The building lights up and comes alive for events. I guess it’s got some kind of magic,” Koy said.
In addition to the two great spaces already mentioned, Palazzo Lavaca has a well-equipped kitchen, a bar, two parlors and a 1,000-square-foot courtyard. These rooms give you plenty of preparatory space or extra room for your guests to enjoy.
So if you plan to host an event in the near future, make an appointment with Giselle Koy’s staff to show you around. With its historic charm and classic European style, you’ll have no trouble picturing yourself and your guests having a great time at Palazzo Lavaca.
Photos: Courtesy, Palazzo Lavaca.