New England Hotels with B&B Charm
by janice o’leary
“The Veranda House has a sense of urban design because the clientele demands it,” says interior designer Rachel Reider.
Long a part of the international travel scene, boutique hotels have been cropping up in US cities in the last decade. Here in Boston, we’ve welcomed The Liberty, the Morgans Hotel Group’s Ames Boston, and most recently, the Revere. What do we love about them? The customized experience and the high-tech, high-design concepts. These hotels speak cool, but they don’t shout it. They’re urban, but not slick. But while the boutique brands have been tapping into the city, we’ve been longing for them in our coastal towns.
A few—like Maine’s Camden Harbour Inn and Hidden Pond resort, Vermont’s Blue Horse Inn, Forty 1º North in Newport, and the Ale House Inn in Portsmouth—have eased onto the scene. Joining them this year is the newly launched Lark Hotels group, founded by 30-somethings Leigh and Rob Blood, which has been quietly buying distressed properties and giving them some TLC. Most recently, they acquired and completely remodeled The Attwater in Newport and the 11-room Chapman House on Nantucket, which sits adjacent to their 2006 acquisition, The Veranda House. Rob Blood says their goal with each property is to “respect the historic structure but push the design envelope. I want people to feel like they’re in Newport when they’re at The Attwater, not Newport in the 1800s.”
With the help of commercial and residential designer Rachel Reider, the Bloods’ vision merged into plush bedrooms with iPads and Apple TV. At the 18-room Veranda House clients find the doilies replaced with Sisal rugs and a zebra bench; at the Chapman House the wall-to-wall carpet has given way to refinished wide pine floors and teal accents, influenced by the charcoal, plum, and red design of The Veranda House. The Attwater’s formerly disjointed room design now is coastal chic with its blues, greens, and pops of life-jacket orange. It’s crisp and modern with a nod to the seafaring surroundings, with silver nail-head upholstery and grommet window treatments.
“In such great coastal locations with so many lodging options, these hotels really needed to separate themselves from the competition by their design identity,” Reider says. “Veranda House has a sense of urban design because the clientele demands that.”
Blood agrees. “The modern traveler expects more,” he says. “Traveling without Internet access is like not having a bed in your room. My wife and I have a background of working with smaller properties, and what you get with them is an individual personality. Combine that with a modern aesthetic, and you get the best of both experiences.”
Lark Hotels’ story actually begins on Nantucket, where Leigh and Rob ran the Sherburne Inn together. “It was like a brutal internship,” Rob says. “We learned everything, like how to do a one-handed hospital corner. And we learned that you can do well with a small property if it’s in a good location.”
In 2004 they purchased the Captain Fairfield Inn, a nine-room boutique hotel. “It was fairly traditional,” Blood says. “Too many doilies and too much lace.” If you’ve stayed in a bed and breakfast in New England, you know exactly what he’s talking about. Initially, due to budget constraints, he and Leigh did all the work on the Captain Fairfield on their own and used the capital from that property to invest in the others. They also took on partners such as the owners of the Sherburne Inn, who came on board with them on The Veranda House.
That property was the first one that Reider had a chance to give its own identity, and it was also her first commercial project. It had been through a series of renovations, even becoming a low-level B&B with shared baths at one point. Built in the 1600s, it became one of the first B&Bs in New England in the 1800s. “I wanted to respect that in the details,” she says, “like the wide plank flooring, the original sign that now grounds the lobby, and the verandas on the outside.”
Blood isn’t afraid of the stiff competition in these popular destinations, however; in fact, he’s excited by it. “It’s good for everyone if more great little spots pop up,” he says. “I know there’s a demand for that.” To that end, he has also consulted on the development of a few other boutique properties, like the Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport and the Vineyard Square Hotel & Suites in Edgartown. “We don’t want to be in the cities,” he says confidently. “People already are doing great things there. We focus on markets that are developed already but have properties in need of some polishing.”
photography courtesy of rare brick