An inn where the outside is designed to outshine the interior
By Benjamin Cassidy
NORTH ADAMS, Mass.
“Well the lilies of the field
They just sway all day
Oh but no one
Is ever dressed quite their way
No not no one, not their way,
not their way
So you and I don’t don’t need to worry
You and I don’t need to care anymore.”
‑ Jonathan Richman, “Behold the Lilies of the Field”
When developer Ben Svenson began transforming a former roadside motel in North Adams into destination resort, Jonathan Richman’s “Behold the Lilies of the Field” kept playing in his head. The song alludes to a Bible verse, but Svenson chooses to interpret the lyrics literally.
“It’s all about this idea that, basically, nature is so beautiful, so unimaginably beautiful, that there’s no point in our ever competing with it,” Svenson said by phone in late March.
In designing the 48-room boutique hotel that opened in July 2018 as Tourists, Svenson and a team of developers, designers and architects let that concept guide them. When guests arrive at the parking lot along Route 2, they will notice that the motor resort’s one-story rooms don’t have windows visible from the road, just untreated white oak exteriors. Windows only occupy walls on the opposite ends of the units, the sides facing the Hoosic River, a 220-foot suspension bridge and the surrounding forest. With this setup, the hotel’s leaders aim to block out street noise and allow the natural world to take center stage.
“We’re trying to have people feel like they’re in their own little oasis,” Tourists General Manager Nina Zacek Konsa said during a March tour of the property.
Before guests enter that private serenity, they pass through a central lodge that draws from its 1962 ranch house roots. Svenson purchased the Redwood Motel in April 2015 with an investment team that initially and currently includes fellow Broder Properties leaders Eric Svenson and Dana Nielsen; Wilco bassist John Stirratt; Brooklyn Magazine founder Scott Stedman and Bright Ideas Brewing co-founder Eric Kerns. Svenson began working on the project when he learned, through Stedman, that Stirratt was interested in building a hotel. At the time, the Boston-based Svenson was toiling on a garage meant to serve Boston Logan International Airport.
“I was doing something fairly soulless, and then John raised the prospect of doing something that would be really creatively rewarding,” Svenson recalled.
Svenson had visited the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for the first time about a decade ago and found himself captivated by the surrounding North Adams structures.
“I fell in love with the building stock. I just couldn’t believe, staying at The Porches [Inn], that the building next door was available for one cent on every dollar it would take to actually build that from the ground up,” he recalled.
He recommended that Stirratt consider choosing North Adams for his hotel site. The musician, who was familiar with the Northern Berkshire community that hosts Wilco’s biennial Solid Sound Festival, agreed, and they started looking at properties.
“We wanted to find a building that spoke to the history of this place,” Svenson said.
The old Redwood Motel property was a fit, immediately evoking North Adams’ midcentury Mohawk Trail motor tourism. The Lodge, and architect Hank Scollard’s work throughout the property, reflect this lineage. Its interior exposes the building’s frame. Walls were torn down, revealing the structure’s bones. Insulation was added to the exterior.
“We basically put an exoskeleton on the building,” Konsa said.
The Lodge is plenty rustic — and chic. On a damp March morning, a fire crackled at its far end, framed by a pair of Mario Bellini sofas. Coffee and tea were available at a bar near the entrance to the lodge, which is open to the public and serves breakfast, soup and supper daily, as well as brunch on the weekends. A nearby bookshelf included David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” and Hilton Als’ “White Girls,” among other titles. And across the room, someone was hovering over a laptop at one of the space’s tables, deep in contemplation. Though the lodge hosts concerts on occasion, it’s primarily a place of rest and relaxation where guests can play a game, read or sip wine.
“It really was just our intention for it to be quiet,” Svenson said.
Initially, the project’s goal was just to renovate the Redwood’s 18 rooms. That first summer, with Stirratt in town for Solid Sound, the development team hired a carpenter and painter to quickly refurbish 10 of those units. They used plywood and “Mass MoCA white paint,” according to Svenson.
“Joe Thompson gave us the mix,” he said, referring to Mass MoCA’s director.
People stayed there that summer, and a funny thing happened.
“We totally fell in love with this plywood and white paint aesthetic,” Svenson said. “There was something about it that was so calming, and [it was] really about the shapes and arrangement, and how light moves across the room, and had much less to do with materiality or granite or marble or fancy material.”
Interior designer Julie Pearson preserved this minimalist appearance as the project expanded to 48 rooms. They have been lived in now; since last summer’s opening, the hotel has been at full capacity nearly every weekend, according to Konsa. [As of this writing, some Friday nights in June and July were available in the $300 to $400 range.] Every room has a king-size bed and either a twin or full-size daybed located in a window nook; a rain shower head; homages to Mohawk Trail history in the form of postcards and other collectibles; private or semiprivate decks; and a radio that can be tuned to Stirratt’s playlists on a Tourists station. The musician tailored them to time of year and day, as well as the weather.
“We’ve had to tweak it,” Stirratt said, noting that you can’t get “too rocking” on a Tuesday night.
Named after prominent North Adams businessmen O.A. Archer and Sanford Blackinton, the Archer and Sanford Suites each offers an additional living room and larger decks typical of luxury accommodation. But it’s the normal hotel items you don’t see in Tourists’ rooms that also resonate. Televisions are covered with canvases, and there are no refrigerators. Svenson said that they looked at standard hotel room components and went about “Marie Kondo-ing them.”
“Does this give me joy?” he said they considered.
Once situated in their rooms, guests can embark on that tranquil exploration Svenson and his team sought to create as they gradually acquired more than 30 parcels of land totaling 55 acres. While outdoor furniture sits on decks during the warmer months, rooms are also equipped with folding chairs for guests who want to get out and explore. Walking around the five-building hotel complex, guests and locals can appreciate the sloping lawns, wooden walkways and gated pool orchestrated by Reed Hilderbrand, the Cambridge-based landscape architectural firm that worked on the Clark Art Institute’s grounds.
As venturers approach the Hoosic River, they enter a trail network that begins near The Airport Rooms, a hip bar and restaurant fashioned from an 1813 farmhouse, and continues over a wooden suspension bridge. Its builder and designer, Gerhard Komenda, worked on some of the aerial components at Ramblewild in Lanesborough.
The bridge leads to several diverging paths. One takes you to the Chime Chapel, a sound sculpture created by New Orleans Airlift that looks just as it sounds. Another will bring you to the Blackinton Mill, a pillar of this North Adams neighborhood that is steeped in history. A third will wind you to a wellness platform. The idea is to shepherd an experience that Airbnb and HomeAway can’t necessarily provide.
“There’s this reconsideration of, ‘Why a hotel?’ ” Svenson said. “And, as a result, it’s a focused effort on those attributes that only a hotel can offer and maybe an additional investment in them.”
Those qualities must meet the dueling desires to venture and veg.
“[You can] go hike Greylock or go to Mass MoCA or go fly fishing, but we also wanted to make this space on the property really comfortable,” Konsa said, sitting on one of the lounge’s sofas.
The idea is for Tourists to be both a public and private retreat. Perhaps locals will stop over this June after Solid Sound, where Stirratt and Richman will be performing. All can revel in the buildings’ design, but the natural surrounds should draw the most attention. That was Svenson’s goal.
“Let’s just make a quiet little portal,” he said, “through which you can experience the majesty of the Berkshires’ bucolic wonder.” •
915 State Road, Route 2, North Adams
Benjamin Cassidy is the arts and entertainment reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School and the University of Michigan, Benjamin now lives in Dalton, Mass.