The Inn Crowd: Stylish New England Inns
May 11, 2020
Text by Erika Ayn Finch
A trio of New England boutique hotels offer up a wealth of design inspiration.
As more travelers seek out authentic and experiential accommodations, hotels are taking notice and blurring the lines between hospitality and residential design. These three properties are filled with unexpected surprises and hidden moments of discovery. Their interior inspiration and design details are well-suited for any chic and stylish home. Let’s check in!
The space that houses Portland’s Blind Tiger, the newest Lark Hotels property, has served many masters since it was built as a private residence in the 1820s. It was a home, a seminary, and a school before being converted into an inn in the 1990s, but it was the role the space played during Prohibition that gave it its moniker. “The people who owned the property were socialites,” explains Rob Blood, president and founder of Lark Hotels. “They weren’t too happy when Maine became the first state to embrace Prohibition, so they opened a speakeasy in the basement. The hotel’s name is a nod to its speakeasy past.”
That basement space now serves as a billiards room—a place where you want to sip Scotch on a cold winter’s night, says Blood—complete with a pool table and fireplace. In fact, eight of the guesthouse’s nine rooms boast wood-burning fireplaces. The year-round Blind Tiger opened its doors this past Valentine’s Day after a forty-five-day renovation. Blood, who, along with Meg Kennedy, is a partner in the hotel design firm Elder & Ash, says the inn was designed to make guests feel like they are part of the neighborhood; think Airbnb meets boutique hotel. “It’s like coming to Portland and staying at a well-connected friend’s home,” says Blood.
To that end, Blind Tiger is filled with vintage finds from places like 1stdibs, Portland Flea-for-All, and FINCH Hudson in upstate New York. Blood and Kennedy went to great lengths to preserve the building’s original fireplace surrounds, crown molding, and oak and maple hardwood floors. And though we don’t want to give away all of Blind Tiger’s secrets, we can’t resist sharing this one: when you first arrive in your room, you’ll find a letter from a Portland local, recommending his/her favorite restaurants, bars, and hotspots. A well-connected friend, indeed. Blind Tiger, Portland, Maine, blindtigerportland.com
When you step into Camden, Maine’s Whitehall, you’ll walk through a room dedicated to local luminary Edna St. Vincent Millay (she first recited her poem “Renascence” in that same room in 1912) before you reach the lobby, or “living room,” as the owners have nicknamed the space. (Whitehall is also owned by Lark Hotels.) In the living room, a lipstick-red, patent-leather banquette topped with soft black-and-gray throw pillows greets you. The shiny leather is a nod to the glassy ocean in Whitehall’s front yard, while the red-and-black combination brings to mind the flannel shirts that are ubiquitous to Maine. It’s a piece that epitomizes the inspiration behind the Rachel Reider-designed property.
“Camden is known as the town where the mountains meet the sea, and that was our starting inspiration in color palette and texture,” says Reider.
Whitehall started life as a sprawling sea captain’s home before transitioning into an inn in the early 1900s. Lark Hotels, which has twenty-nine properties in New England, New York, Florida, and California, has owned the thirty-six-room inn since 2014; it was redesigned in partnership with Boston-based Reider in 2015, and is open from Mother’s Day through Halloween.
The rooms either skew toward that aforementioned banquette with accents of black and red, or they embrace the dense forest outside through grasscloth-covered walls, leafy-green highlights, and art objects made from lacquered tree branches. The personal touches are everywhere, from the needlepoint room numbers on the doors to the camouflage-meets-Atlantic pattern on the hallway carpeting.
“Our design philosophy was very much about respecting the tradition of the inn but giving it a refresh to appeal to modern-day travelers,” says Reider. Whitehall, Camden, Maine, whitehallmaine.com
Salt of the Earth
When Kevin O’Shea and David Bowd decided to take a break from hectic New York careers in hospitality, they saw Provincetown as a place to start a quieter life, a “get-out-of-New-York card,” as O’Shea puts it. Things didn’t quite work out according to plan. What started out as taking over operations at Salt House Inn in 2011 turned into a total renovation (the redesigned space opened in 2013) and then a collection of five boutique hotels in Cape Cod, New Jersey, and New York, with four more properties on the way. Nonetheless, the fifteen-room Salt House holds a special place in their hearts as Salt Hotels’ first born.
The space was originally a collection of cottages built in the 1800s as housing for workers from the nearby salt mines. The cottages morphed into each other over the years, and the building has served as a guesthouse since the 1960s. Seeking to use a light touch when it came time to renovate the rooms, O’Shea, who led the redesign (he’s a RISD alumnus), opted to leave some of the inn’s quirkiness—like the crooked walls and a clawfoot bathtub in the 450-square-foot loft room—untouched. He scoured antique stores all over New England, looking for items that were indicative of Cape Cod, sans lobster pillows. The result are bright white rooms with shiplap and artifacts on the walls.
The breakfast room is slightly more formal than the guestrooms; the enormous portrait on the wall was discovered in an antique shop in Brooklyn. There’s also a chalkboard wall that broadcasts the breakfast menu and the weather.
The inn operates April through October. O’Shea says every spring, he looks at Salt House with a critical eye, searching for areas that need refreshing. “But I’m still happy with it,” he says. “It’s timeless.” Salt House Inn, Provincetown, Mass., salthotels.com
Photography credits: Blind Tiger photography by Read McKendree, produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent. Whitehall photography courtesy of Lark Hotels.