Tour The Hawthorne Inn in Concord, Massachusetts
September 10, 2018
A historically sensitive renovation and eye-popping colors update a bed-and-breakfast in Concord, Massachusetts.
Text by Debra Spark Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
If you want to stand—or sleep, or eat homemade granola—at the crossroads of American literary and revolutionary history, there’s probably no better place to do it than the Hawthorne Inn in Concord, Massachusetts. The bed-and-breakfast sits on former farmland owned in turn by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. These literary lights didn’t build, however. That task fell to returning Civil War veteran George Gray, who sited his house on the road by which the British marched into Concord for the battle that began the American Revolutionary War. Today, Gray’s 1860s residence is a sensitively restored bed-and-breakfast with contemporary flair, thanks to a 2016 purchase by Mark Vella and Toni Vicente.
When they lived in Spain, Welsh-born Vella and Madrid native Vicente sometimes dreamed about retiring to run an inn in an olive grove or wine country. Instead, they moved to Concord for Vella’s job with a software company. After ten years, the company was sold, and the couple decided to make their fantasy reality
Though it had already been running as a bed-and-breakfast for forty years, Vella and Vicente chose to renovate before they reopened its doors. Gray’s original Italianate vernacular home had been expanded over the years and eventually covered in pink stucco. Vella and Vicente wanted to restore it to the Victorian era while updating the antiques-filled smaller rooms for present-day travelers. “Having traveled in the corporate world for thirty years,” says Vella, “I found that people were looking for something unique. They want an authentic experience of place, but they also want modern conveniences.”
The couple turned to architect Elise Braceras Stone and builder Christopher Park of Classic CGP for the job. Ultimately, Stone says, her work amounted to “normalizing” the house, reorganizing the maze-like interior into a logical floor plan, and turning a disconnected roofline into four gables with matching pitches. The new exterior is gray clapboard with white trim and white double-story window bays.
Stepping into the inn now is a bit like cracking open a geode, the exterior offering no clue to the jewel box of color inside. Vella and Vicente had once stayed at the Merchant in Salem, Massachusetts, a hotel that interior designer Rachel Reider had outfitted. “They had fallen in love with how the use of color made the hotel stand out from other properties,” Reider says. She worked a similar magic at the Hawthorne, where a teal and royal blue foyer leads to a library and lounge dressed in plum, cabernet, dusky blue, varied greens, and saffron yellow. The colors are accented with metallic and mirrored items, like each room’s central geodesic-shaped pendant lamp made of triangles of antiqued mirror and Pyrite bronze.
Reider merged the historic and contemporary by mixing antiques, modern art, and traditional furniture forms updated in eye-catching hues. In the lounge, a classic black spindle-back chair sports chartreuse cushions. In the library, an English rolled-back sofa wears moss-green velvet.
Each guest room has its own energetic color scheme, a writer’s desk, and an upholstered bed or four-poster lacquered in a bright hue. Wallpaper and drapes add a vertical, often boldly graphic, design element. For example, Reider chose russet for, as she says, “a pop of color and focal point on a traditional shaped headboard” in a guest room, adding a woven wool rug in gray tones and white drapes with a large black floral print.
The team wanted the inn’s design to acknowledge the area’s literary past without being “overly themed,” as Reider puts it. As such, the library’s shelves hold antique pen nibs and books and busts of writers associated with the area. Framed silhouettes of these writers hang in the foyer, and 3-D sculptures constructed from books adorn guest room walls. In a nod to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, the natural world is referenced in the grasscloth in some rooms and in the botanical theme of the dining room wallpaper.
It’s no surprise that the inn attracts a fair number of writers, Vella says. When they reserve rooms, he and Vincente dart out to the Concord Bookstore to add their titles to the older books on the library shelves. For an education in Concord’s literary history, guests can cross the street to visit the Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women, or the Wayside, where the Alcott and Hawthorne families once lived, as did children’s book author Harriet Lothrop of Five Little Peppers fame. Or they can stay put, curl up in a dazzlingly patterned purple barrel chair, and read a more recent Concord denizen’s work.