Andra Maldovan used to buy round-the-world airline tickets for her son, Keaton Newsom, and herself every summer.
They traveled to six continents, and they lived together in Singapore for more than seven years.
When they started planning their independent boutique hotel in the former Trinity Presbyterian Church on Zang, they envisioned that each of the 12 rooms would be themed after places they loved around the world, filled with furniture, art, weavings and textiles collected overseas.
That venture, Chijmes event center and hotel, is now a reality.
Maldovan, a designer who owns Keaton Interiors, appointed the rooms, which occupy former church classrooms and offices, to reflect her love for the cities that inspired them — Barcelona, Nairobi, Beijing.
The hotel rooms and the event center, which is inside the former church sanctuary, are perfect. They’re beautiful. They smell good. They’re quiet and filled with light.
What’s missing here is Keaton Newsom.
Maldovan’s only child, an accomplished athlete with friends all over the world, took his own life in February. He was 29.
Newsom’s memorial service in March was the first event held at Chijmes.
“He did suffer with depression and anxiety. He went to a lot of places for help,” Maldovan says. “And I don’t know what happened.”
They had worked on the hotel project together for a year and a half, and they walked the property the week before he died, she says.
Afterward, she picked herself up and kept working on Chijmes, but not without the help of friends who came and stayed in her house and never left her alone.
That’s another thing.
At the same time as this unimaginable tragedy, Maldovan also sold her Preston Hollow home and relocated to a one-story house in the Disney streets that better suits the needs of her mother.
All that while starting a hotel.
“Nobody has a perfect life, but you take a step forward.”
Randy Primrose of Magnolia Properties redeveloped the church, which was built in 1940 and is now on the streetcar line. The developer built Magnolia on Zang, 43 luxury apartments, on the property and initially intended to tear down the old church.
But City Councilman Scott Griggs pressured Primrose to keep the church intact, so he asked Maldovan, who designs interiors for Magnolia, to come take a look at it.
“As soon as I walked in, I said, “This is not a restaurant, this is a hotel,'”Maldovan says. “He said, ‘Who’s going to do that?’ I think he thought I was crazy.”
Maldovan has created the type of hotel that she wants to stay in. This year she’ll visit Papua New Guinea, her 70th country. Everywhere she goes, she always looks for small hotels that have personal touches.
The Chijmes set up is ideal for weddings. But she also wants to book yoga retreats and women’s getaways.
Where some hotels offer a free newspaper, Chijmes slips a note under the door with positive words for the day. They sell “giving keys,” which are necklaces with repurposed keys engraved with a word, such as “courage.” The idea is to wear the necklace until you meet someone who you think needs that message and then give it to that person. There is a lock wall, where guests can ceremonially add a lock to symbolize their love or the memory of a loved one. The contractors who fabricated the wall surprised Maldovan by welding her son’s initials into it.
Maldovan’s son was a professional aggressive in-line skater when he was younger. At his memorial, every comment was about his kindness and generosity, Moldovan says. They had a Facebook live feed at the memorial because he had so many friends all over the world.
“Nobody has a perfect life, but you take a step forward,” she says. “With Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, they had everything in our eyes. It’s different for every person, and it’s not just take a pill and forget it.”
Maldovan is incredibly positive, and she wants to do something – although she hasn’t figure out what exactly – to he lp people with mental health crises.
The suicide has affected everyone in her life. And everyone at Keaton Interiors, the company Maldovan named for her baby back in 1989, is grieving.
“It’s a very hard thing right now,” she says. “But I have to make it. A lot of people depend on me.”