- By Ethan Lewis
Concurrently nicknamed "The Literary Center of the South;" as well as, "The Little Easy," Oxford Mississippi is The Magnolia State's prized possession. A cultural jambalaya of freaks, geeks, Greeks, and jocks, Oxford is home to some of the best seasoned stories we have heard in a while. Knowing how serious we take our food, our stories, AND our road trips, ai3 embarked on a journey through the heart of the South landing to the last notch of the bible belt on the other side.
Just a few shady skips from Oxford's prized "Square", lies the Downtown Oxford Inn, a hotel that will soon be churned into a cornucopia of story and style as a Hotel Indigo. ai3's design of this new hotel will be inspired by the few that locals know by name and go unnoticed in plain sight by out-of-towners, these behind the scenes faces are the driving force of what makes Oxford, Mississippi so rare and tender. It is our team's interviews with these dedicated locals, each with their own story to tell but sifted together from small town ties, where the design of the Oxford Hotel began to thicken.
Long-haired lawyers in shorts, bookstore DJs, and celebrity chefs led us down a tree-lined path into Oxford's pealing past and how the small town fumed and then cooled, and quickly flourished into a robust Southern mecca of art, music, literature, and film. The reoccurring chime of the arts, like Oxford ringing a dinner bell and yelling, "Creativity is Ready!" caught our attention, and we came running towards it, hungry for more. Stuffed five deep in a booth, an unspoken unanimous decision was made over a table full of beer, wine, and dishes kin to Oxford, that we would pursue each of these artistic ingredients as literal themes for spaces throughout the hotel.
Uncle Tupelo led to Wilco, police officer turned blacksmith, movie theater by night and music venue by late night, Oxford, MS is a representative for change and a breeding ground for culture. We began to paint a picture that you won't get from reading any Faulkner novels, nor cheering at any Ole Miss football game -- like The Grateful Dead standing next to Ronald Regan, the funky underside stood next to the three-piece suits and exuded their own concoction of respected free-spirit, and became a small southern town with conscious development. As this recipe for growth, change, and culture was passed on by front porch rocking chairs; festivals, film makers, musicians, and artists fled to Oxford for a glass of the fresh fragrant cocktail. Finding this unexpected parallel between the way ai3 cooks up ideas and the way that Oxford, Mississippi writes recipes, was all we needed to put the cherry on top of our design inspiration.
Full from the days before, but hungry for more, we graciously thanked our wonderful host and client, Luke Chamblee and The Chamblee Hospitality Group, for some of the heartiest laughs and most fun we have had in a while. Sizzling with excitement, we loaded up the Dodge Caravan and made our way back east with design on our minds and Oxford in our rearview.