Kenny Osehan is the co-founder and owner of Shelter Social Club, a collective of motels with a vision to create experiences & spaces that bring community together. She is known for resurrecting old motels and turning them into beautiful, artistically unique expressions of what once existed. This is literally in Kenny’s blood - she grew up in a motel her parents managed, and she’s been taking reservations since she was 10. As an adult, Kenny returned to Santa Barbara and was able to secure a short-term lease on a motel a mile and a half away from the one she grew up in, but now with her own vision. Since then, Kenny has pioneered an entirely new aesthetic identity and feeling to small-town inns and motels.
Did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
No, but I was just tired of my 9-5 and so was my partner at the time. We had moved back to Santa Barbara in 2004 and we craved a creative community and were having a hard time finding one. We knew a lot of artists and interesting people around, but there was no place to connect. The vision was to have art and music shows and create this community through a sustainable business - that’s when my parents’ motel became an option.
How has this path shaped your life?
Haha...it IS my life! Most of my community and friendships have been formed through my business. Not only has it shaped my social circle, but it’s really shaped me as a person. Having this business really forced me to grow up and be responsible and disciplined, while also being amiable and open in whatever situation arises. I’m constantly learning so much.
As a sustainable designer, I repurpose and bring back to life deadstock fabrics. It seems you have a similar approach with motels and buildings. How did that idea come about?
Financial restrictions forced us to be creative and really only allowed us to do minimal renovations. We have always had to just ... make the best out of everything, with the changes we could afford over time. Luckily, there are so many talented artists to help us bring the properties back to life.
Most hoteliers are all about tearing down and building new things. The amount of resources and materials seems so wasteful and unnecessary. Is this part of why you choose to have a more sustainable approach?
One of the main principals behind Shelter Social Club is preservation. Honoring the history, architecture, and culture in these roadside motels are really what keeps the soul and authenticity in the spaces.
Each of your places seem to be very warm, inviting, and aesthetically driven. What influenced your style?
The bones of each building and the towns they live in are what influence the style for each property. We are always trying to find the balance between creating spaces that feel fresh and inspiring while also maintaining the original style of the motel, without feeling pretentious or overly designed.
Where do you find the strength to accomplish such large projects?
I get my motivation and inspiration to accomplish these projects through the artists and designers I get to work with. It’s always exciting for me to have opportunities to collaborate with creative people. I see these properties as a way to showcase what all of these talented people are making in the world. It really brings me a lot of joy to be able to bring it all together in different spaces and get to know all their personalities. Also, having a steady yoga practice helps keep my mind clear and focused.
Does fear and doubt ever get in the way? If so, how do you move through it?
Yes, fear and doubt are always there and I’m always working to move through it. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor at times, so I’ve been trying to take it easy on the negative self-talk. Getting out of my head and into my body through yoga and breathing helps. I also talk about it with close friends - not to have them tell me I’m the greatest person in the world, but I’m just learning that being vulnerable about my fears and doubts (instead of pretending like they’re not there) actually helps me to understand where they’re coming from. The understanding of the fear and doubt allows me to have compassion for myself, and then gives me the ability to release it.
“The main focus has always been, how do we utilize the property to bring people together.”
Community and communal gatherings are a big part of all your projects - we love your “Deck the Halls” event and all your workshops! How did that element become part of your vision?
A desire for communal gatherings are what initiated the vision from the beginning. It was really just my need for friends and wanting a platform for these events that got me back into the motel business. One of the main focuses has always been: how do we utilize the property to bring people together?
You seem to always support local artisans that are deeply connected to nature and simple craftsmanship. What draws you to them?
I can’t exactly pinpoint what draws me to certain artists, but I do love organic forms and textures with a sense of the person behind the work.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m currently renovating The Capri Hotel in Ojai. The revamp is inspired by 60s/70s Italian design, in correlation with the architecture of the building. We are revamping the pool and jacuzzi and outfitting all 30 rooms with new bathrooms, flooring, furniture and fixtures. It’s my biggest renovation yet!
How do you honor Mother Earth?
Being grateful for her and everything she provides every single day.
Follow Shelter Social Club @sheltersocialclub