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:
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.
The Nonamesset Room has distinctive red coral lamps and a private deck with water views over Woods Hole harbor.
Hardwood floors, vintage restored bathtub and an unusual shape cast iron sink define the bath in the Nonamesset Room.
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.
So, 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.
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??
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!