It hasn’t yet been open a year, but Orli, the luxury hospitality concept in the heart of La Jolla on Draper Avenue, already feels like a game-changer, both for La Jolla and the industry in general. To hear Orli’s co-founder Maxwell Waitt talk of the destination he envisioned along with his sister and fellow co-founder Hailey Waitt, its beautiful simplicity might make it easy to have one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments, but the reality is that the Orli’s ethos is only simple in its brilliance.
“Growing up, Hailey and I had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling with our parents, who love venturing to different far-flung destinations, [which] exposed us to a wide variety of different hospitality products from a young age,” says Maxwell, sitting in Orli’s private courtyard under the shade of a gnarled olive tree. “The common thread among those different experiences is that hospitality is a very special part of people’s lives, and I think there was a lot of positive there, but I felt there was a way to do it better.”
No stranger to the industry — prior to launching Orli, he worked for a large hotel chain in Los Angeles — Maxwell realized that instead of working within the boundaries of traditional, big name brands, he envisioned something smaller and more personalized, tailored to the kind of experience he himself preferred.
“I wanted to create a new way to stay for younger travelers like myself and Hailey who are looking to experience something where the stay itself has a lot more technology infused into it,” he says. Particularly, he appreciated contactless elements that remove the traditional lobby setup, taking notes from the perks that come with homestay platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo: self check-in, electronic messaging, and the ability to add on different services with the touch of your fingertips rather than by consulting a concierge behind a desk. But unlike those apps, he wanted to elevate the guest experience to provide a more consistent standard of quality that the conventional hotel stay offers, plus amenities and services that aren’t an intrinsic part of a homestay reservation.
“When you combine those two, you get something truly special that Orli was hoping to achieve with its pilot project in La Jolla,” Maxwell says. Guests can then choose to engage with Orli staff as much or as little as they prefer, with the option of either more traditional in-person services or messaging via a web-based app.
It’s this out-of-the-box logic that makes Orli both completely fresh and totally commonsense; the ultimate hospitality “well, duh.”
Surprisingly, Draper Avenue wasn’t the first choice of location for the pair’s maiden hotel venture. “It was sort of serendipitous finding this property because we were not looking in La Jolla at all,” says Hailey, who remembers thinking the seaside village that is the Waitts’ hometown would certainly be out of their price range. “But, when this came on the market and it was historic — and I’m a massive history nerd — we just walked in and both of us were like, ‘This is a really incredible property. This could be awesome.’”
Historic, indeed. The home, built in 1913 by famed modern architect Irving Gill with landscape design by the equally renowned Kate Sessions, sits in an area that Hailey calls a “kind of Irving Gill quadrangle” that includes the La Jolla Women’s Club, the Bishop’s School, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (the former Ellen Browning Scripps residence). Its historic status presented its own challenges to be sure, as the property was updated for almost exactly two full years to become Orli, but the result is nothing short of extraordinary.
Execution of the Orli design vision came at the deft hands of Maddie Lord, principal designer at ML Design Co., who also happens to be a longtime personal friend of Hailey and Maxwell.
She was excited about the boutique project because, she says, “You have a lot more opportunity to make special moments.” Lord embraced the lack of uniformity of the building and its rooms to do just that, giving each space its own theme, palette, and mood, while holding respect for the building ever paramount.
“It’s a historical building,” says Lord. “It’s Irving Gill. We wanted to make sure we still honored him and what he did for this community, but we also wanted to tie it into La Jolla, bring in the landscape [and] how iconic that is, so you’ll see nods to that throughout.” So, in addition to honoring its lineage, Lord infused spaces with winking local references from the common area’s sunset-colored glass ceiling fixtures in shapes that mimic water bubbling up in area tide pools to the headboard in the penthouse, made of wood and designed as an abstract version of the La Jolla coastline. Modern touches as well as art deco influences like brass and green marble meld seamlessly to create a richly detailed, casual-yet-polished environment perfectly suited to a chic coastal getaway.
The team ensures the guest experience is authentically La Jollan. From amenities (Bird Rock Coffee, Cafe Moto cold brew, a rotating offering of fresh pastries from Sugar & Scribe or Flower Pot) to pre-built itineraries and recommendations that include local experiences like an infrared sauna at Livkraft, a day pass at Life Time gym, or a spin class at Edge Cycle, guests are immersed in life as a local. Regular events and activities including yoga and Pilates (for which the La Jolla Women’s Club generously shares their lawn with Orli), mini-markets featuring local brands or artisans, pop-up concerts, and more further connect Orli, its guests, and the community, as well.
“When people come here, they feel like they’re at home and they don’t feel like they’re in a hotel, in the best possible way,” says Jordan Gafa, Orli’s hospitality manager who, incidentally, is also Hailey’s husband. “The number one comment I get from guests staying here is attention to detail is really beyond anything that they’ve either stayed at or seen before, from their house to hotels to traveling wherever they may go, and I think it speaks volumes about the time and effort that goes into it.”
With such early success comes the inevitable question: Are there plans for another Orli?
The Waitt siblings exchange knowing smiles at the inquiry. “There’s been a great deal of learnings and feedback from guests, and feedback from all the different parties involved in the construction and the current experience in operation, so we’re constantly taking that and filing that in our little suggestion box and evaluating what Orli 2.0 looks like,” says Maxwell. The vision is to remain “high-end, high design, and small and personal, so we’re never going to be above 50 keys” when Orli expands beyond La Jolla, but, he adds coyly, “We haven’t set our eyes on anything yet.”