Transformations: Lora

Nestled into the stone bluffs of downtown Stillwater, Minnesota, Lora is a creative renovation and repurpose of the former Joseph Wolf Brewery block, which was built in 1886 on South Main Street. From four dilapidated structures, all built at different times on seven different levels, ESG’s architects and interior designers created a three-story, 40-room boutique hotel with three distinct food and beverage destinations: Feller, The Long Goodbye Bar and Made Coffee.

Left: Joseph Wolf Brewery early 1800’s, courtesy of the Stillwater Heritage Preservation Commission; Right: Existing building before construction in 2017

The name of the hotel, Lora, references Lorelei, a siren of German folklore, described as a beautiful, sensual and mysterious being. The spaces throughout the hotel are meant to guide the guests through an experience of discovery, finding something new and beautiful behind every door. To honor the past of historic Stillwater, Scandinavian and German details can be found throughout the hotel.

Making the project a reality, however, was no easy feat. The four buildings were built over different periods and at different levels, and two of them were historic structures that needed to be preserved. Because of compromised roofs and lots of built up moisture, the buildings had severely deteriorating stone and brick walls, including one next to an outdoor public stairway that had completely dissolved to dirt. To correct the moisture issues, we worked with our design and construction partners to channel a stream that was running beneath the building into a storm drain. We restored the stately stone facades of the historic buildings and the brick façade of a former coffee shop, and then dressed up an uninspired brick infill building from the 1980s with a new Cor-Ten steel and glass storefront that modernizes the property and creates an inviting connection to the street and helps to make it feel like one cohesive development.


For the interior spaces, we reinforced the structure, gutted the buildings, dug into bedrock and cut 18 inches deep through existing stone walls to create new passageways for hotel elevators. We then designed airy, modern spaces, while maintaining as much of the original character as possible. We highlighted the beauty in the imperfections of the historical space by retaining original floors and stone walls in the lobby. We maintained the evidence of past building fires revealed as char marks in some of the building’s stairwells.

photo courtesy of Caitlin Abrams/Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

The design for the restaurant, Feller, embodies a warming of the soul from a good malt whiskey while heading out at sunset to watch the river steam from the bow of your canoe. We incorporated Bordeaux- and moss-toned velvets, charred wood and artisan tile, a large display kitchen and a charcuterie display that emphasizes the hunter-gatherer influence of the menu. The hotel bar, The Long Goodbye, gives a nod to the Minnesotan tendency to elongate a farewell. The high contrast palette of dark and shadowy hues evoke the mystery of submerging into deep waters for a moonlit nightcap. Wander through the stone passage and you’ll uncover a hidden space much like a forgotten trail. The coffee and juice bar, MADE, features fresh and airy finishes that complement the hand-painted art installation of a Minnesota loon by local artists SheShe.


In the guestrooms, we wanted to evoke the allure of the St. Croix River and feature a romantic palette of Swedish blues and twilight hues with warm leathers and locally made wool throws from Minnesota’s Faribault Mills. Pops of ruby red, much like the eye of the elusive common loon, can be seen in the bathrooms and guests may even discover one of the few hidden red doors throughout the hotel, if they’re lucky.

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Abrams/Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

Enriched by the surrounding community and culture, Lora’s custom millwork and case goods were commissioned out to the local cabinetry maker, The Box Group, which is also a brainchild of Corey Burstad, the hotel’s developer. A number of local artists were engaged to interpret the fables and folklore of indigenous and immigrant people of the Great North through contemporary works of art, which can be found in Lora’s lobby, guest rooms, corridors and the nooks created by the building’s unique architecture.

Overall, the project has been a major success for the client, ESG and the neighborhood. It started as a small project with a local developer, Elevage Development Group, LLC, to create a unique boutique hotel, but through clever design and successful partnerships, the project has gained international attention and has brought new life to a once dormant corner at the gateway to the historic downtown of Stillwater, MN. Now, locals and tourists alike can be greeted by a thriving destination meant for relaxation, socializing and reflecting on all that Stillwater has to offer.


Awards Won:

  • AIA 2019 Merit Award
  • 2019 IIDA Northland FAB Awards: Design Presentation & Storytelling 
  • MREJ Awards: Hospitality
  • MREJ Awards: Redevelopment/Reuse/Historic – Housing & Hospitality
  • HD Awards: Lifestyle Hotel – Finalist
  • Finance & Commerce Top Projects 2018

Owner: Elevage Development Group, LLC
Hotel Management Group: Provenance Hotels
Architect and Interior Designer: ESG Architecture & Design
Contractor: Zeman Construction
Structural Engineer: Innovative Structural Solutions

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