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Category Archives: Construction

Opening Party

May 3, 2012 by Beth Colt

Remodeled room unveiled at the Woods Hole Inn on Cape Cod.

This is a big week at the Woods Hole Inn as we unveil the five new rooms on the second floor of the Inn.  Last night, we hosted an opening party catered by Quicks Hole, with beer from Cape Cod brewery and wines provided by Travessia Urban Winery.

Le Tout Woods Hole was there munching on fresh salsas, lobster taco bites and crabcakes made fresh that very day.  Yum!  The building was packed with people, circling around and oohing and aahing over the new spaces and decor.  Very gratifying after six months of sawdust and construction debris.

Falmouth Town Manager, Julian Suso, presented the Woods Hole Inn with a proclamation from the town, in gratitude for our saving the old grey lady.  We were touched by the outpouring of compliments and appreciation from visitors, who seemed glad to see that this historic structure will live to see many more years in it’s prominent corner in the middle of town.

It was fun to re-visit with the contractors and sub-contractors as well, enjoying the space they all worked so hard to make beautiful.  People lingered over the wallpaper designed from 1946-era check-in cards, gathered on the water view decks, and wondered when they could justify checking in despite living a three minute walk away!

So, without further adieu…drumroll please….here are a few views of the new rooms:

Romantic getaway on Cape Cod, open year round.Room Eleven, a spacious room with king bed and private bath offers a wonderful view of the village green from it’s corner spot overlooking the WCAI building and Pie in the Sky bakery.

Modern decor, doily-free zone at the Woods Hole Inn on Cape Cod.Modern decor with vintage restored details define the bath of room 10.  This sink was found in the attic and restored at the Tub Doctor.

Romantic getaway in water view room on Cape Cod.

The Nonamesset Room has distinctive red coral lamps and a private deck with water views over Woods Hole harbor.

Woods Hole Inn romantic getaway Cape Cod.

Hardwood floors, vintage restored bathtub and an unusual shape cast iron sink define the bath in the Nonamesset Room.

Blues and greens restfully dominate in this water view room at the Woods Hole Inn.

The Nobska Room is on the same side of the building as Nobska lighthouse, and looks out over the ferry terminal, Woods Hole harbor and Martha’s Vineyard in the distance.  Love those soothing blue/greens.

Suitcases at the Woods Hole Inn Cape CodSo, pack your vintage bags and come on over for a fabulous romantic weekend at the best new inn on the Upper Cape.  Book NOW; if it goes like last year we will sell out early.

Woods Hole Inn stairs with vintage hardwood floors and hip light fixtures.Escher would appreciate the view from the top of the three story staircase looking down on the famous red chair in our lobby.

We look forward to showing you the place in person.  Some of you have been following along all winter — What do you think??

Warm Foggy Spring

March 26, 2012 by Beth Colt

Orange kayak on the edge of the beach in Woods HoleLast week was unseasonably warm, daffodils sprouting overnight everywhere you looked.  Last year at this time,  I took a picture of the witch hazel blooming with snow all around it.    As I drove around on errands yesterday, the car thermometer said 80 degrees.  What a difference a year makes.

All week, an Atlantic fog hovered just off shore, drifting in to fill the village streets and float over the Eel Pond each evening as the sun set.  In the mornings, I returned from my walks feeling as if I had marched through a cloud, eyebrows dripping with the thick humidity.

The construction is cruising along upstairs at the Woods Hole Inn.  This week, the painters finished up on the first floor, and we followed behind them spring cleaning.  Our guests return next weekend, so we are in the crazy push to get tidy — with the closets back in order, the breakfast recipes brushed up and the outdoor cushions on the porch.

Upstairs, the painters are done and the floors are finished.  The rooms look really great, all spit-polished and shined.  I am especially enamored of the floors.  We saved the old hardwoods, and patched where the walls used to be so that the floor is a crazy quilt of old and new.  It’s as if the bones of the old building are exposed, and along with the salvaged moldings, the vintage restored tubs and and the old-fashioned radiator system, I think it will make you feel that the heart of the place still beats with 1870’s joy.

Soon, exterior painting begins.  I look forward as the pale shingles — looking a bit like band-aids randomly placed — turn to a rich saturated blue to match the rest.  With that, the Woods Hole Inn will look much as it has since it was built over 130 years ago.

Woods Hole Inn, the best place to stay in FalmouthHere is the old grey lady on a foggy day last week, a bit lonely in the grey March streets.

Totally restored rooms at the Woods Hole Inn, near Martha's Vineyard.

A sander on the raw floors where we intentionally left some paint in the crevices to celebrate the marriage of the old with the new.

Shiny and new restored hardwood floors on Cape Cod.

A view of the final flooring, in the Nonamesset Room — a great spot to spend a few days with corner light, harbor views and your private deck.  These rooms will be furnished and open for guests by the end of April if all goes as planned.

Romantic walks in the fog on Cape Cod.

The ferry waits in the morning fog, its distinctive horns dancing and reverberating across Vineyard Sound.

Sunset over the Eel Pond in Woods Hole in the fog.

Finally, sunset this week over Eel Pond as the fog rolled in.  I am grateful for spring, especially this particular warm, foggy spring.

What are you grateful for?

Vintage Restoration

March 12, 2012 by Beth Colt

View into Great Harbor Woods Hole from the town dock, winter sunset 2012.

The winter months pass faster than you  might imagine, as you count the days for Cape Cod summer to return.  The sunsets are glamorous and this winter has been unusually warm — a mixed blessing for those of us so close to sea level.  If global warming is for real, then we are looking into the maw of the beast.  The silver lining? The mild weather makes it easier to dash out at sunset and catch this kind of panorama.

Construction continues at the Woods Hole Inn.  The second floor, where the new guest rooms are located, is almost done.  This week they put the finish paint on, and next week will be consumed with refinishing the amazing original hardwood floors.  Radiators went back in, the old school cast iron kind, and french doors were hung on the doors to the decks.  Deck railing comes next week as well.

On the third floor, where the staff of the Inn will live soon enough, the drywall and plastering is complete and carpenters are putting the trim on the windows and molding along the floor boards.  Sadly, the old wood floors up there were trashed, a cruel fate required for structural reasons by the Falmouth building department.  In it’s place, the sustainable cork tiles will look modern and clean.  The shapes of the rooms can finally be seen fully, and it’s odd to have such an intimate memory of the bones underneath the skin of the walls.

We are ordering a special wallpaper for the front hall, made from the piles of 1946-era check in cards we found stashed in the attic.  I am confident that it will look graphic and interesting, and also delight those who want to reminisce about Mrs Josiah Smith of Vineyard Haven who stayed at the inn in 1946 for $3 per night.  In addition, I found two incredible Russian ship lanterns, galvanized metal with red paint and old marine glass.  I am having them made into lights for the front porch.  You will tell me if you think they make the right “vintage restored” statement when they are finally hung in place.

I took my copy of building plans and wrote a love note to the person who will unearth all our work 50 years from now.  I tried to express the joy I found in the doing, but I secretly hope they will know my passions from the lines of the house before they ever find my rushed scribbles.

A few images for you:

Stairs in the Woods Hole Inn, under construction winter 2012.

View from the top of the stairs looking down.  The splattered wood you see in the middle will be removed so that you can experience three stories in the entrance.  These are the walls that will be wall-papered with the check in cards from 1946.

Amazing living room at the top of the Woods Hole Inn, under construction 2012.

Top floor, a lovely living room with private balcony and views to Martha’s Vineyard.  Grey from the fresh plaster, this will be painted white and all trimmed out.

Fresh plaster in the living room atop the Woods Hole Inn, Cape Cod MA

Another view of the same room, the light streaming in from the side of the building that faces the Martha’s Vineyard ferry.

Vintage restored floors in all new bathrooms at the Woods Hole Inn, March 2012.

New bathrooms with combo shower-tubs and the vintage floors brought back to their pre-paint glory.

Restored cast iron tib, wainscotting and Cape light combine at the Woods Hole Inn, under construction March 2012.

Cast iron tubs came from the tub doctor in New Bedford.  They look happy to be out of the showroom and back in the action.

Nobska Light from the water on an incredible summer's day.

Finally, the perfect image of the summer coming, from my friend Denise at the Sippewissett Campgrounds.  This is what we are all waiting for.  Thank you for sharing this, Denise — Nobska Lighthouse on an incredible summer day.

I can’t wait to be out on my boat looking up at that lighthouse, waiting for the fireflies to come out, basking in the last light of the day as the sun sets over Vineyard Sound.  See you all this summer.

Things Are Coming Together

February 20, 2012 by Beth Colt

Low tide in February on Cape Cod.

The winter has been unseasonably warm, with Quahog diggers out on the mud flats at low tide in the middle of February.  They scatter over the landscape, the afternoon light low on the horizon and it looks like a scene from the Breugel-era, all hand tools, muscle and community.  This warm weather is great for long walks, photographing and construction projects.  As you know from this blog, I am deeply embroiled in all three, so this continuing good weather is particularly appreciated.

Construction progress is good, and we are on schedule to re-open the main floor of the Woods Hole Inn in April and the new rooms in May.  The new rooms are really shaping up — tile went into the bathrooms last week, and the floors were sanded over the weekend so that the vintage tubs can travel up from New Bedford mid-week and find their new homes on shiny wooden floors.

Doors went in this week, decks are finished, and carpenters are working on the trim around the door frames.  The painters were there all last week, priming the walls.  They will be back next week for a finish coat.

On the third floor, we have been delayed by the insulation sub-contractor, who is supposed to blow this open-cell foam around the edges of the building sealing everything up like a styrofoam cup.  I guess he is busy which is great for him, not so great for us.  Fingers crossed on this one.

Here are some progress photos:

Doors ready for installation…

Marble bath under construction at the Woods Hole Inn.Marble tile shower completed…

Deck under construction at the Woods Hole Inn.Decks finished and waiting for their railings…

Open cell foam insulation on the top floor of the Woods Hole Inn, under construction.Foam blown into most places, but not complete yet…and no drywall until this is finished.

Rooms primed and ready for window trim.New inn rooms primed and ready for window trim…much of which was salvaged as we opened the place up in the fall.

So as I take my walks in this unseasonably warm winter, I am gratified by the pace of hard work happening at the Inn.  Next winter, these rooms will be full of people taking winter walks and enjoying these incredible sunsets:

Walking the Knob in Quissett at sunset.Walking the “Knob” in Quissett this week …

Penzance Point and Uncatena Island as the sun sets over the water on Cape Cod.and last light settling over Uncatena Island from Penzance Point last week.  I look forward to that!

The Journey is Half the Fun

January 19, 2012 by Beth Colt

Vintage restored bathtubs headed soon to the Woods Hole Inn.

Figuring out how to restore stuff from a creaky old house is complicated.  Who can bring these aging beauties back to life?  Where do you have to go to find old-world craftsmen?  Who cares about worn and antique stuff anymore?

I am headed down to New Bedford to the workshop of the “Tub Doctor” this week.  For $500, the doctor will re-porcelain your worn cast iron tub, and sandblast the exterior to ready it for paint of any color.  He is a colorful fellow, the Tub Doctor, and you will learn all about his life when you visit him.  He prefers black feet on the tub to chrome, he wishes that women were more faithful, and he is looking for investors in a new business idea that will double your money in less than three months.  I am resisting calling his eccentric conversation style over-sharing…. how about peppered with interesting and specific information.

Just finding the studio is intense.  Imagine a series of abandoned brick factory buildings, sprawling over acres of empty asphalt behind chain link and razor wire with an old wooden door that might be in a travel blog about Moldova or Croatia.

The workshop is set in the middle of the largely-abandoned mill compound, and this section is littered with debris, broken tile, odd concrete.  When they say New Bedford never recovered from the collapse of the Industrial Revolution, they are talking about places like this.

On the inside, vast chambers disappear as far as the eye can see and you can feel the spirit of the mill girls from the 1890’s, giggling and laughing at their sewing tables, even in today’s dank and empty silence.

Once you get into the  Tub Doctor’s lair the heat is on, a radio plays and the smell of cigarettes mixed with paint fumes makes you feel like you are back in the 21st century.  The Doctor is friendly and chatty, telling me about his baby, his son’s landlord and the price of the lunch he plans to eat later today.

We debate the cast iron tub feet and I defer to his taste about the chrome  — never looks good,  he tells me,  chrome paint just looks like chrome paint.  I like how the feet look like chess pieces, pawns clustered in a corner for safety.  Maybe the ghostly mill girls play with them after dark, I think to myself.

I pay him cheerily, genuinely happy to have stumbled upon this odd corner of the world.  I look forward to seeing him again when he delivers the final product to the Woods Hole Inn in a month or so. I drive out of the compound, back in the sharp winter sunshine, and smile.

You can find the old tubs plus the Tub Doctor yourself by calling New England Demo and Storage.   Leave a little extra time for the stories, because let’s face it … the journey is half the fun.

You Get What You Pay For

January 17, 2012 by Beth Colt

Winds blew hard from the north last week, bringing the cold down from Canada.

The winds blew so hard on Friday that I had to lean into the railing of the Woods Hole drawbridge as I took this photograph looking out towards Martha’s Vineyard.  By the weekend, the bitter Canadian winter had settled over our little village and I worried about pipes freezing on the construction site, not to mention my cheeks as I took my afternoon walks.

But that did not slow the pace of renovations at the Woods Hole Inn.  Oh no, we have our eye on the proverbial prize as reservations are rolling in for summer and beyond (book now if you want to be sure and get in summer 2012) .

The place is swarming on the inside with people.  One of the things you learn quickly as you renovate an old property is that the stuff required to make it “new” again is pretty high tech, read expensive.  I walk around the site and I see dollar signs:  ruby-red foam insulation, diamond-encrusted lighting and platinum sprinkler pipes.   Even the pipe fittings glitter in the sun like precious jewels.

One notable change is that in past winters when the wind howled (over 50 MPH this weekend I heard), the old Woods Hole Inn groaned and creaked, shuddering with the big blasts and swaying like a salsa dancer in the smaller gusts.

But up on the top floor on Friday,  I was struck by the stillness of new windows, and the hush of firm framing.   All those new connections — the spider web of wood and joinery which will be hidden by plaster  — makes the building sturdier.  As sad as I was to see the old lathe walls in dumpsters, this new development reminds me that a renovation of this magnitude will help the building survive another 130 years, well beyond my lifetime.

Ruby red insulation…

low-voltage, recessed lighting …

light fixtures going in

sprinkler pipe coated with platinum ….

and all the trimmings for sprinkler installation…

The parts that people can actually see look good too, all closed up from the winter winds with nothing needed but a coat of paint:

Which leaves me with this parting thought:  You get what you pay for.

High School Dating…

December 29, 2011 by Beth Colt

Construction blogging is like high school dating.  You flirt, you kiss for the first time, and then all of a sudden you have nothing to say to each other.  Yes, hard to imagine but I have run out of clever things to say about wood framing, Marvin windows and drywall.

In truth, quite a bit of drama unfurled at the Woods Hole Inn as we hurdled towards 2012.  But I can’t really go into it in any detail without hurting feelings or pissing people off.  There was the fight over an 8 foot hole in the roof (abated), the struggles with NStar (we gave up), the drama of the chimney flues (unnecessary) and the saga of crumbling masonry (ongoing).  There were highs and lows, and suffice it to say that so far, the highs have it. Could I really ask for more than that?

The sub trades came and went.  I met with the contractor and architect weekly.  The bills came monthly and I kept a difibrulator in the office in case of heart attack.  (Wow, stuff is expensive on Cape Cod! )  The bank visited to be sure we are actually spending the money they lend us for the building.  There are cautionary tales told, about borrowers who bough Ferrari’s instead (hmmm) and people over 90 days in default (oooh, that sounds uncomfortable).

But we plowed onward.  The wind blew yesterday, too hard for the roofers which was a disappointment as it was otherwise fortuitous :  clear, dry and not too cold.  We are gunning for the “rough framing, plumbing and electric inspection,”  the first big step toward completion.  After we pass that, then we can insulate, sprinkler and drywall.   It’s all downhill from there with finish carpentry, painting and decorating.  Sounds easy, huh.   And here is what you came for, the photos of progress and action as of late December 2012:

Construction at the Woods Hole Inn, December 2011

We struggled with Marvin Windows as their lead time is much longer than other companies, and they are pricey.  But they look really nice once installed.  If they last a nice long time in the salt spray, I will be happy.  Call me in fifteen years.

Woods Hole Inn windows installed, December 2011

And the views through those windows.   Wow…

View from the Woods Hole Inn as the ferry lands on a windy December day.By late afternoon yesterday the wind was howling and it was clear why the roofers decided to wait a day as this ferry was swept sideways trying to get into it’s slip.

Woods Hole Inn December 2011Taken from the street on Christmas Eve, here is the Woods Hole Inn in late afternoon light.

Thanks for following along and see you all this summer…

Tools of the Trades

December 11, 2011 by Beth Colt

There are some weeks when being the innkeeper at the Woods Hole Inn does not feel like work, when I look out at the view over the water and just have to pinch myself.

This was one of those weeks.  The new exterior stairs were completed, and I now have an easy way to walk up and gander at this view whenever I feel like it.  If only I had the time…

The crew works relentlessly onward, and the plumbers and electricians are getting the rough work in pronto.  A mason comes next week to repair the chimney, and then the roof will be re-done, removing three old layers of roofing and putting a fresh new one down.  Hopefully that means the leaks will stop for a while, although with an old house like this one you never know.

I am in love with the artistry in the tools that are used, the colors and the shapes.  Here is a photo essay on what I see:

Saws with long cords that cast shadows in the afternoon sun….

Electrical wiring coiled like a snake with a blue metal hue…

Sawhorses occupying hallways with dignity….

Tool belts with worn buckles tossed to the floor during coffee breaks….

Saws with bright red handles, dressed up like a miniskirt on a pretty girl…

And most importantly, the men who use these tools deftly, with confidence, putting an elaborate jigsaw puzzle together board by board.  They consult the plans that are staple-gunned to a piece of plywood on the wall, but more importantly, they use their experience to make the building whole again.  I am so appreciative of the care with which these dedicated individuals work each day.  It is only because of their focus and determination that the Woods Hole Inn will all come back together again, better than before.

The Second Dormer

December 2, 2011 by Beth Colt

As the walls come down at the Woods Hole Inn, new bright lumber is installed next to the aged, dark timbers of 140 years ago — marrying the old with the new.  Vintage, restored.

This week, they ripped the second dormer off the top of the building.  I always knew these roofs would need to be re-built (as the structure was compromised years ago with the addition of shed roofs improperly installed) but I will admit that when I approved of that concept, I never imagined that the whole thing would come off and look open to the sky like this.  It is exciting to watch, and makes one think (briefly) of making it a solarium with a glass roof.  And from so high up over the harbor, you really feel like one of the seagulls circling the ferry for scraps.

The feeling of flying is augmented by the steady breeze off the water, and significantly more pleasant on warmer sunny days like this one.  The crew looks frequently at the weather forecast, because rain at this delicate juncture would be a disaster for the rooms below.  But, knock wood, very sunny all this week with hopes that this will be closed up tight in three days.

I went to visit my next door neighbor Joyce yesterday, to say hello and make sure she was alright with the proximity of all the banging and hammering.  She has run the shop next door “Under the Sun” for decades and she lives above it, making most of what she sells in her fabulous workshop filled with lamp shades in progress, metal wire for jewelry making, wool for felting, paints for water coloring and so much more!  She bought the property in the 1960s from the McLean family who also owned the Woods Hole Inn at that time.

She said she loved the radio and the sound of the crew singing along (we have one particularly loud crooner on site).  She said the sound of those hammers was music to her ears: “I have been waiting for this for thirty years!”   She is excited to see what it will all look like when it’s done.  Me too!

More photos of progress this week:

And so we continue!  To remain sane, I enjoy walks at dusk around Woods Hole with my family.  The photo at the top is a panorama shot on Penzance Point where stately houses line the harbor looking out toward Martha’s Vineyard.  Divine at dusk.

Found Objects

December 1, 2011 by Beth Colt

Glowery day at the WH drawbridge in late November, 2011

I have been thinking quite a bit about the people who built the Woods Hole Inn back in the 1870’s.  They looked out over the same harbor, probably more big ships in it than now, but for sure ferry service plying Vineyard Sound in the same brisk and predictable fashion.  Like us, I imagine that they were happy with the way fall seems to never end on Cape Cod, enjoying the brisk wind that whistles up past the inn on sunny days and bemoaning the rain when it slowed them down.   Only about 140 years ago, these guys worked entirely with hand-tools — the grandparents of our grandparents.

So the renovation of the top two floors of the Woods Hole Inn moves relentlessly onward.  With each passing day, with every dormer rebuilt or ceiling gutted, we find clues about the people who came before us, the hardy souls who also lived here on the edge of the world.

Yesterday, a shingle was discovered.  Every chance this would have been tossed without a glance, but Bruce (one of the framing crew) noticed and nabbed it before it went to the dumpster.  Since we have no idea the exact year the building was built, this is a pretty huge clue — hard to imagine they would have re-shingled so soon, so I am going to guess August 11, 1887 is the completion date.

Shingle from restoration of the Woods Hole Inn.

I can’t wait to show this to my new friends at the Woods Hole Museum.  Other treasures emerged in the last few weeks.  One is a large piece of upholstered furniture, maybe the side of a chaise someone planned to repair?  I need to share this with Skinner to see if it has any “significance” then decide what the heck to do with it!

I particularly like this letter, part of it devoured by a nineteenth century mouse.  From what I can make out it is a super top secret, highly confidential sales pitch from a pencil vendor offering pencils at an excellent price — The Long Pencil Company of Chicago Illinois writing to Mr. Briggs (a former owner), dated September 11, 1894.  Long before email and Google Ad Words…

Another interesting scrap of newspaper was salvageable and dates from the Boston Globe in the late 1800’s:

And another interesting fragment — and we found many of these in the rafters along with the strong smell of fish as the wood was cut out:

I love that mackerel is a specialty and my clever friend Nick made me laugh by suggesting that “Stillman was easier to deal with than Griffin.”  I suspect the third floor of the inn may have been used by a wholesaler of salt-fish and he kept his labels in the attic.  He may even have stored or cured fish up there, as the smell was really strong when the beams were cut out.

And so the clues leave us with more questions than answers, but they are fascinating.  All of the building crew — from the plumber to the electrician to the framers — have gotten into the hunt.  I will let you know if we find more, and you can come next summer to see the highlights on display in the lobby of the Inn.  Here is the whole letter, in closing, in case you can make out more of it than I could.  Perhaps someone more accustomed to this old style of writing could write a translation into the comments?

Letter from pencil company 1894.

The Roof Comes Off…

November 21, 2011 by Beth Colt

Work continues at the Inn at a breakneck pace, as both my contractor and I are eager to get the place sealed up before the real cold socks in.  The Marvin custom windows take longer than you might think  — now they are saying early December.  Ergh.  But everything else seems to be going well, knock wood.  The weather has obliged, it is still a balmy 50 degrees in the daytime here.  Days are getting shorter and work starts early and finishes at dusk.

The views from the upper floors continue to astound me.  Last week the floors were still open allowing a two story view of the place:

Then in an instant (it seemed) down went the third floor, plus new stairs were installed.  I wasn’t keen on balancing the rafters like the boys, but now I can walk up there.  The structural engineer came by and liked the solid feeling that comes from all this re-enforcement.  “Stiff” he called it, while bouncing a bit on the new plywood.  I guess that’s good.

Today was a bit of a shocker as I arrived mid-morning to the roof open to the sky.   The front dormers had shed roofs added incorrectly decades ago.  No wonder the windows eventually blew out — the structure was totally compromised by hacking the roof rafters.  It had to be completely rebuilt to come up to code.  I guess the good news is that despite the expense, this part of the building will be like new.   OK, not just like new.  Actually ALL new.

It was a bit glower-y and at one point it started to sprinkle, but thankfully the weather report was accurate and there was no real rain.  By late in the afternoon, thanks to a hard-working framing crew, the roof was starting to come back together.  I love the way these guys work in concert, moving around and cooperating with so much grace.  I guess they study the architectural drawings the night before so that there is no time wasted on site.  They have a plan.  Best of all, they seem to always be smiling.  There is a joy in the work, singing and laughing.  I can feel it in the finished product.

And while our crew scurried around on our  little ant-hill, the ferries came and went carrying people to the Vineyard, many of whom didn’t notice that say, the roof is gone from that building over there.  Across the street at the coffee shop, they were serving lattes to customers who heard a bang but had no idea that a room up there was totally exposed to the harbor.   In the laboratories of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (aka “WHOI”) right next door, same thing.  Even my husband, back at his desk, totally unaware.  We are all in our own little worlds… Micro-climates…  Fishbowls…

This blog is about me sharing my small fishbowl with you:)  Happy Thanksgiving!  May your weekend be filled with the joy of a new roof successfully installed on a New England fall day.

Devil in the Details

November 2, 2011 by Beth Colt

What does “vintage” mean to you? And how do you renovate an old building without losing it’s soul?

The devil is in the details.

My goal in this renovation of the Woods Hole Inn is to dance on the fine line of “new-ish” — by which I mean modern, comfortable, functioning — without losing the soul.  As they tear out the horsehair plaster, am I robbing the building of something precious and irreplaceable?  Modernity (i.e. new bathrooms, electrical outlets that work without burning the place down and other small details like that) can not be achieved without some demolition.  But how much is enough?  And will next year’s guests appreciate it?

Honoring the small design details is important to me; check out this bulls eye door trim which I am fighting to keep upstairs.  Even an exact copy of this will never look the same as this original with it’s 20 coats of paint, each one a badge of honor in a long and useful life.

cape cod vacations, restoring old homes

Or how about this incredible floor in the front living room of the Inn.  People come into the inn, regularly, and ask me how I got this “effect”   …Ummm, let’s see.  Start with original growth hardwood, cut up on the hill right here and planed in a sawmill.  Paint it four or five times over the course of a century, walk on it a lot preferably with muddy quahog boots.  When you celebrate it’s 100th birthday, ask someone to sand it down but (this part is very important!) fire him about half way through the job.  Then, wait another 25 years, put one layer of polyurethane down, pour yourself a gin and tonic and enjoy.

These are the “vintage” parts of the inn that people come and admire. But not everything that I fight to save strikes a chord with guests.  Let me share a brief example with you.

I am a fan of old mirrors like the one in Room One (see below).   I very deliberately renovated around this, admiring the flowering mercury glass effect that is working it’s way up from the bottom.  For me, it is like a tangible reminder of many hot, sticky summer days where you throw yourself in the salt water for relief then come home for a nice cool shower before a dock-side dinner of ice-cold oysters, lobster claw drenched in salty butter, hot summer corn and hand-churned vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. This look only comes with years of exposure to salty ocean air.  It feels earned, like a stylish survivor.  When I look at myself in this aging mirror, I feel a bit like Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons, like I have a period costume on and my day will surely be filled with love letters.

vintage restored

Look closely on the bottom of the mirror to see the mark of the ocean air on this vintage mirror cabinet.

But some guests disagree.  One recently wrote a review on TripAdvisor specifically calling this detail out as something that she did NOT value.  She is not the first!  Others have mentioned to me that they specifically did not like this feeling of age on this particular mirror.  And when I look at it in that light I think, what am I crazy!  Rip it out!  Who cares about my own likes and dislikes if it keeps guests happy.

And it doesn’t stop there.  The judgement calls, they come up every day.  Should we leave the old brick fireplace exposed or cover it up?  Can the wide-board floors be repaired, new wood inserted where the walls once were so that you will see the old layout, the bones of the building preserved?  Or will that look like we simply cut corners?  If the window trim can be saved, should it be at the expense of less insulation in the walls?  What is more “green” – saving the trim or making sure the building is more heat efficient?  Wow!  These are hard questions!!

There is a fine line between vintage and just old.  I was grappling with this today as I walked home and I passed these two guys outside the Marine Biological Labs (“MBL”) scrubbing rust out of 1970’s era radiators.  Another fellow stepped outside just as I walked by and said with disdain, “They gave it away.”  And one of the seated guys said incredulously, “Gave it away! Why would anyone do that?”  I don’t even know what “it” is, but I feel their pain.

"Why would anyone do that?"

Woods Hole is a thrifty, Yankee place where scrubbing out rusty radiators is preferable to buying new, where lathe is left in walls and mirrors with water-damage are cherished, where even in cutting edge scientific institutions it is not abnormal to see two guys huddled in the lea of a November north wind cursing the fool who didn’t see the value in an old piece of metal.

I strive to bring this spirit to the restoration of the Inn without losing the modern vibe.  The push pull of old vs new, the constant barrage of questions about what to keep and what to toss, the thrill of the new space and the sorrow as they cart off the old is at the core of why I love my job.  I just don’t want to hear “Why would anyone do that?” come April.

So….What do YOU think I should do about the mirror in Room One?

Peeling an Onion

October 24, 2011 by Beth Colt

Old lathe revealed as the plaster comes down to make way for a new interior layout at the Woods Hole Inn.

Week three of construction started today.  Our crew is still demolishing the interiors, literally peeling back the onion-like layers of time to reveal the bones of the house.  Our structural engineer Mark comes every so often to make sure the place is still standing.  Today he told me that the wood was in excellent condition, first cut hardwood like you can no longer buy.  Who ever built this did it the right way, he told me.  Seems a bit unseemly, but I will admit that I beamed with pride.  Like the mother of a newborn, projects feel like babies and no matter how ugly they may look, we love them.

I like to come stand in the barn-like space, gaping up two stories, ceiling and floor boards stripped away.  It looks like a SoHo loft, or the Parisian atelier of a famous designer.  Can’t we keep it just like this? I think.  And then I remember that there are not too many fashion designers looking for rental space in Woods Hole.  OK, I will stick with the plan and transform it into the weekend getaway FOR fashion designers…  Yes, yes, that is it.

Atelier or future inn?

The guys arrive at 7 am and they work with crowbars, sledgehammers, saws.  Masks are a must as the plaster dust swirls in the ocean breeze from open windows and wheelbarrows of debris head toward a revolving dumpster.  There is a majesty to the work, a pace respected to the minute.  Breaks are observed, meals shared, and “Lady on deck” shouted when I come close.  I secretly wonder what they are saying when I am not there, although they may not be able to hear each other much over the blasting radio and the thud of metal on horsehair plaster.  Underneath is the lathe, thin boards that were used before drywall to adhere the plaster to.  They are so beautiful, my heart aches as they are carted away.

Being in there now — views of the ocean everywhere you peek — feels like flying inside the bones of a huge feather-less bird.  There is a lightness — an airy feeling with the windows open, the roof space soaring two stories above you — that creates the sensation of flying.  Maybe it’s just me, as the project flies along, feeling suspended in time, searching for my place in the process.

I pace the dusty boards — this will be the bedroom, here is where the new window goes, oh you can see the ocean from here! — scheming and referencing the floorplans when I get confused.  I am desperate to make sure that when the dust settles, some of the majesty of the building itself, it’s strong bones and lithe walls, will still be evident.  Check back in to see future progress!

If These Walls Could Talk…

October 14, 2011 by Beth Colt

These boots were made for walking...

This week, construction began on the new rooms at the Woods Hole Inn.  With a crew of five demolition experts, the walls came down on the top floor revealing the majesty of a high-ceilinged space with amazing light and great views…when you can see through the construction dust that is.

Franko and the boys arrived Tuesday with crowbars and mallets to pound it out.  Electricians stripped back the wires and a plumber came in to unhook the old claw foot tub.  We pulled as much moulding as we could so we can re-use it as we put the place back together again.

I snuck in the day before they arrived and took some “before” photos.  Inn guests happily ensconced in the lap of luxury two stories below would be shocked by the state of affairs up here.  The windows were blown out and boarded up after various storms years ago.  There was a rabbit warren of tiny rooms, accessed by a barn-like stairway.  One bath for maybe 10 cubby-sized spaces, some only big enough for a bed roll.

I have met a few people who lived up here summers in the 70s and earlier, but I don’t think it has been habitable for maybe thirty years now.   One former waitress at the Landfall told me she paid $25 per week.  Another former resident bragged that a lot of pot was smoked up here, back in the sixties when Woods Hole was a real hippie hang out.

The Woods Hole Inn was more flophouse than eco-destination at that point.  Summer college kids slummed it with the former chauffeurs of Penzance Point estates and other retired alcoholics.  One man told me his mother advised he run past the building, as there were often “unsavory characters” on the front stoop.

Here are a few photos of what it looked like just before the demo crew showed up:

Long narrow corridors painted brown!

Frescoes of peeling wallpaper.

Air conditioners marked "leaks" and an American Flag.

It’s was really hard to photograph because the rooms were small and dark.  We had already done some minor demo three years ago while renovating other parts of the building.  On top of that, it appears that the piles of old air conditioners were mating with the dusty artificial Christmas trees, or something like that.   That the debris was replicating in the dark is the only explanation I can come up for why the junk seemed to grow larger each time I ventured up.

But after three days with a sledgehammer, you could see the old lathe and look through walls to the windows beyond, Cape light streaming in and promising a better future.  Franko told me they had found some really old work boots (see above) and other debris — fell down from the ceilings he said.  A couple of really vintage brandy bottles, a pair of cotton spats with little hooks for covering the calves when riding (?), a tiny wooden sailboat-toy painted a matte blue,  a dusty old stuffed kitty long forgotten by it’s childish master.

Lathe walls revealed when the plaster comes off.

This window has been boarded up for over a decade.

Cape light turns ghostly with the walls all down...

I am working on an exhibit of artifacts to trace the history of the inn.  Any input from people who know more than I do would be greatly appreciated.  The final will be on display in the lobby next summer so come take a look.  And come back to this blog for more posts about our progress.  The expected completion is spring 2012 when the Inn will re-open with 14 new rooms and suites.  See you then!

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