First Look: Rivet House, a New Boutique Hotel in Athens, Georgia, Blends History and Luxury

The first-of-its-kind property opens in an old denim mill in the Classic City

Photo: Mali Azima

Rivet House opens this weekend in Athens, Georgia.

When Jessica Whitley first walked through Southern Mill, a former denim factory just north of downtown Athens, Georgia, the walls were covered in graffiti, windows were shattered, and inches of dirt and dust coated the floors, but she could clearly see the building’s former glory. She could also envision its future as the first true luxury boutique hotel in Athens.

photo: Mali Azima
Rivet House’s lobby.

Rivet House opens its doors this weekend as both an homage to the area’s industrial heritage and a welcome retreat in a city that, despite drawing crowds of visitors year-round (and more than doubling its population on certain weekends during football season) has limited hotel choices. “Athens is such a great city with such great culture, and we really needed a great hotel here,” says Whitley, the project’s creative director and co-founder with her husband, James. The fifty-room property is the latest project to join the Mill’s roster; prominent neighbors include the James Beard–semifinalist Thai restaurant Puma Yu’s, the production facility of local craft brewery darling Creature Comforts, and Tweed Recording studios.

photo: Mali Azima
A guest suite.
photo: Mali Azima
Each guest room contains custom furniture and millwork.

Like its neighbors, Rivet House molds the mill’s circa-1900 architecture to modern needs. “We wanted the building to feel warm and refined, but still keep the industrial bones,” Whitley says. The team left much of the building’s steel and exposed brick, but purposefully chose other elements to soften the aesthetic: custom-made furniture and faux denim drapes in guest rooms, soothing sage green and earth-toned fabrics throughout, a chandelier made of greenery in the lobby restaurant (more on that later). “In some parts, you can’t really tell what’s old and what’s new,” she says. “It would be easy to cover up all these things, but it’s really important to respect the history of the building and what it was for the community.”

Downstairs, Rivet House boasts a twenty-seat lobby bar; a spa, designed in collaboration with Lydia Mondavi, who helped develop spas for the likes of Old Edwards Inn and the Dewberry; as well as a modern Italian restaurant, Osteria Olio, helmed by executive chef J.R. Bearden, who worked in Memphis for seven years at Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman’s Hog and Hominy. “The restaurant is his take on Italian—wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas—and will always be influenced by Southern ingredients,” says Steve Palmer, the founder of the Indigo Road Hospitality Group, which is managing the property.

photo: Mali Azima
Inside Osteria Olio.
photo: Andrew Thomas Lee
A spread at Osteria Olio.

The restaurant spills out onto a vast patio, where winding planters, fire pits, and a wisteria-covered pergola built with old timber from the mill seamlessly merge old and new, and welcome out-of-towners and neighbors alike. “We’re excited to create a destination for both locals and guests,” Palmer says. “I can only imagine what home-game weekends will look like.”

photo: Mali Azima
The patio.