The 65-year-old Stream, an avid collector of Latin and contemporary art, purchased his first hotel, the Warwick in Houston, together with his family when he was 24 years old. In the years since, his business dealings have come to include everything from real estate to natural gas, but, as he describes it, he’s “absolutely full of love for the hospitality business.”
He was inspired to open Matilda when his urbane friends in Mexico City told him they wanted to spend more time in San Miguel. “These were young, well-traveled, sophisticated Mexicans,” he recalls, “but they thought the town didn’t offer what they expected from a hotel.” Stream realized he could easily change that, and, in doing so, bring San Miguel’s identity into the twenty-first century.
In-keeping with Stream and James’ personal philosophies, the end result is unapologetically modern—with neutral walls, bold design and a rotating selection of contemporary art—but still rooted in the past. “We wanted it to be cutting-edge, with one foot in old Mexico,” says Stream. The latter is reflected in, for example, the 150-year-old millstone located in the hotel’s lobby, and its art pieces alluding to Mexican history.
For some members of the community, that contemporary approach was controversial. James says the hotel “caused a scandal in town,” when it first opened, because it eschewed the city’s traditional colonial style. As Stream recalls: “When some of the city leaders walked in, one of them said, ‘What’s all this white marble everywhere?’ and then turned around and walked out.” But as time went by, and the hotel’s events began to attract locals, James remembers, that attitude began to shift. “It changed when we started offering things that included the community,” he says.
James joined Matilda about two years after it opened, when the hotel’s original manager returned to Chile for personal reasons. A Toronto native, he’d been drawn to the art world since he was a young child. “My mother was always interested in art,” he says, “and every year we would do a trip to New York to visit the Met, then the MOMA.” He worked in a “cookie-cutter” hotel in Toronto, before getting sick of its generic vibe and moving to Mexico, where he focused on the boutique hospitality industry. “I like the spontaneity,” he says, of boutique hotels, “you have the freedom to basically do whatever you want.”
Stream and James have now teamed up to launch Cornerstone, a hotel management and development company building a Hotel Matilda-themed collection of boutique hotels with the first opening in Playa del Carmen in fall 2014.