How is it that the Inn of the Five Graces in downtown Santa Fe has remained a favorite of travelers and the travel media for more than 25 years?
Most recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked Inn of the Five Graces the No. 76 best hotel in the United States — out of 6,172 hotels. The next closest Santa Fe hotels are the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi at No. 340 and the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe at No. 406.
The Inn of the Five Graces is not a traditional hotel structure.
It’s a centuries-old barrio neighborhood of individual homes and buildings on East De Vargas Drive, pieced together by Ira and Sylvia Seret since 1994. They now own the north side of De Vargas from Old Santa Fe Trail to the New Mexico Supreme Court and the south side from Old Santa Fe Trail to the Santa Fe Playhouse.
A walk down the street is a walk through the historic Barrio de Analco. The Inn of the Five Graces is a series of adobe and rock structures, each different, some of which dating to at least the 19th century.
As often happens with historic adobe structures, where the exteriors are nondescript but the interiors can be opulent, the street view of the Inn of the Five Graces gives no clue of the elaborate Silk Road, Middle Eastern and Southwest décor the Seret family has infused into the structures.
“The Inn of the Five Graces has everything you’d expect in a top-ranked hotel, including a central location, stellar customer service and unique amenities,” Zach Watson, senior travel editor at U.S. News & World Report, told The New Mexican. “But, it’s the Inn of the Five Graces’ atmosphere that sets it apart from other luxury properties and makes it such a memorable stay. My favorite aspect of the hotel is the colorful hand-laid tile mosaics in every bathroom. Accommodations also showcase carefully arranged antiques, rugs, textiles and other treasures from across the Eastern Hemisphere, making it easy to forget you’re staying in Santa Fe.”
The Inn of the Five Graces is an outlet for the artistic impressions of the Serets. Sylvia Seret’s tile and mosaic art are prominent in all the rooms, and Ira Seret’s more than 50 years of collecting Silk Road artifacts and furnishings are the foundations of the interior design.
The hotel is a display venue for many of the artifacts at their Seret & Sons retail location, which they opened in 1981. Over the decades, the Serets and sons Isaiah, Sharif and Ajna also have elevated guest services to a level matching the art.
Lisa Cloninger, who splits the year between Amarillo, Texas, and Angel Fire, has years when she stays as many as 12 and even 30 times at the Inn of the Five Graces.
“Last year I think I was their No. 1 customer,” she said.
Cloninger figures she’s stayed in as many as 400 hotels in 51 countries and 40 states.
“It’s very unique,” she said about the Inn of the Five Graces. “I’ve only stayed at 10 other places that are as good as Inn of the Five Graces. The service is the best part for us. The people are a big part of it. There is a can-do attitude. They never say no. It actually feels like my home. That’s why I like it.”
The Serets in June brought in Passport Resorts Management of Big Sur, Calif., and Erin Poders as general manager to manage and operate Five Graces, taking over for Sharif Seret as general manager and the Seret family, who had operated the inn since 2008.
Poders came to Santa Fe after working on transitioning a Jackson, Wyo., hotel from one brand to another and before that working as general manager of the Malibu Beach Inn. He has worked at 16 hotels over 26 years.
“It is truly the experience,” Poders said about the Inn of the Fives Graces. “That is what the seasoned traveler is looking for. This place transports you to another place in time.”
Poders describes how a valet escorts guests from their vehicle to the front desk, where a person then gives a tour of the property and details the history, and brings them to their room, where the key and a personal letter awaits guests.
The average room rate at Inn of the Five Graces is $1,100 per night, Poders said, with a range of rates from $750 to $4,000. The largest accommodation is the three-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-story Luminaria room with full kitchen that opened in 2009.
The room rate includes breakfast as well as snacks and drinks in the room, which can include brie and crackers and “fresh tortilla chips and smoky salsa,” as described in a New York magazine review in January.
“This place is death by a thousand soft kisses and small touches,” New York’s Foster Kamer wrote in January. “This will not be more obvious than when you step into your bathroom … To call these bathroom tiles is to call Guernica a nice picture, or Hamlet an interesting play.”
Sylvia Seret and a team of local artists took broken tile and pottery acquired from Mexico and other countries to create tile mosaics throughout the rooms, public areas and spa. One mosaic on the bathtub walls evokes a view through arches of a lake and mountain setting.
“It’s a visual experience in the bathroom,” Sylvia Seret said. “Our guests say to us: ‘We keep discovering new things.’ ”
Wherever there isn’t tile, Ira Seret incorporates carved woodwork from the Silk Road as trim and cabinet doors.
The 25 rooms are scattered among several buildings, including three courtyards and a number of tranquil fountains indoors and outdoors.
After 15 years living in Afghanistan, Ira and Sylvia Seret ended up in Santa Fe in 1977 and opened Seret & Sons. They wanted another place to showcase their Silk Road finds. In 1994, they acquired all the buildings on the north side of De Vargas Street from Old Santa Fe Trail to the two-story stone house mid-block.
“We opened as a B&B [in 1996] with nine or 10 rooms,” Ira Seret said. “We never thought it would become a hotel.”
The first incarnation was called Seret’s 1,001 Nights.
Son Ajna Seret calls the early years “extremely sweet and charming. We had a general manager who would bake cookies for the guests.”
“To me the milestone was when we were in Architectural Digest [in 2002],” Ajna Seret said.
Garret Hotel Group of Charlotte, Vt., saw the article and soon enough leased and operated the newly renamed Inn of the Five Graces from the Serets until the 2008 Great Recession.
“To me, that was the beginning of the trajectory where we realized what we had and what we could do,” Ajna Seret said. “It verified we were on the right track. We could do something special, something unique.”
The Inn of the Five Graces has been a work in progress for 26 years. A new spa with five treatment rooms — and more mosaic tile work — opened in 2019, as did the newest room called Juniper, just off Old Santa Fe Trail. The Serets last year acquired a couple houses across from the Santa Fe Playhouse that are now being converted into likely four more guest rooms, and the old spa space also will become a new room.
In a year, the inn will have about 31 rooms as its fourth distinct era continues to take shape.
The Inn of the Five Graces has three distinct eras: 1996-2002, 2002-08 and 2008-21. All that leads to this new era, with Passport Resorts operating the property.
But don’t think Sylvia Seret knows where this new era is headed.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We don’t think like that. We just go day by day.”