WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The new Williams Inn is positioned to be a catalyst for the town's retail center on Spring Street as well as a bucolic retreat for guests — as exampled by the deer grazing near the patio this week.
"We really want to be an indoor/outdoor experience," said Kevin Hurley, the inn's general manager, during a press preview just days before the hotel's opening on Thursday. "We will see a lot of those features, again with the windows, and just the way the hotel feels is really connecting ourselves to the outside."
The $32 million, 64-room hotel at the bottom of Spring and Latham streets replaces the 100-room original hotel at Field Park that closed on July 31. The older inn, purchased by Williams College in 2014, was considered outdated and energy inefficient for an institution that's committed itself to sustainability.
That commitment can be seen throughout the 58,000 square-foot three-story New England-style structure — from its reclaimed wood to its high-performance facade and solar PV array.
But it's not utilitarian by any means. The architecture by Cambridge Seven Associates features Goshen stone, an airy stairway, wide windows, and cozy cubbies. A design team from Williams College chose muted tones of blues, yellows, violets and greens and an assortment of pillows, accessories and locally made pottery (which is also for sale) was curated for each room. The logo is a fern against a stacked stone background.
On the first floor, there's a generous lobby with a fireplace, a small library with games and activities curated by Michele Gietz of Where'd You Get That!? and dining and reception space. The ballroom that faces out to the patio can seat up to 200 and be separated into up to three segments; the 62-seat dining room also has two additional meeting spaces with teleconferencing capabilities for a dozen or so each.
There's also a bar area and two outside patios — one connecting the dining room and ballroom in the rear of the hotel for drinks and dining and a smaller area with a firepit at the entrance to the restaurant, The Barn Kitchen & Bar, that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A pedestrian bridge links the restaurant's courtyard to Spring Street. On the structure's south side is a lawn that can be used for tented events during the summer season.
And when the evenings turn chilly, unobtrusive heaters offer not only warmth but a rosy glow over the stone patio.
"There's just such a desire to be outside when you're in places like this, to be able to do things outdoors, it's what people are going for to really get that experience," Hurley said. "It's such a value add for them. And the experience is so great. It's a big focus of the property to make sure that we're connecting the outdoors to what we are."
The exterior evokes a New England farmhouse, rather than the more Colonial look of the original inn. Stone and white clapboard greet the visitor but the back is vertical siding in rustic red for The Barn kitchen while the interior is white beadboard and reclaimed wood. Artworks, some local, are spread throughout the structure.
"We're trying to source with local vendors for everything from collateral to having art pieces in the gallery," Hurley said. "I mean, it really is a big effort of ours because we want to be part of the community and want to really contribute back and have that buy-in where we're kind of the centerpiece where people gather and feel like we're part of them."
The new inn is seeking gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for energy and sustainability and three or four stars for its hospitality.
The energy efficiency goes beyond insulation and windows: Guests become part of the effort through reuse of materials. Each room has cups and a reusable glass water bottle and each floor has a coffee bar for making coffee or tea, or getting water and ice. Bathrooms are fitted out with refillable bottles of Beekman shampoo and conditioner and guests can decide if they want to reuse their sheets and towels. And, keycards have to be slotted into a fixture inside the room to access some of the electrical — when no one's home, there's less "vampire," or standby, energy being used. But there is a small refrigerator and a 55-inch television in each room.
"So we try to really get people out of their rooms and it makes the room where they come in and relax and just have simplicity and just the key features that they need to be comfortable with," Hurley said. "We want them to engage. ... It's a nice place to wind down at the end of the day. But yeah, we really want you to come out and feel with all the elements of the hotel."
That includes the fitness center on the second floor and especially the bar and restaurant on the first floor.
The Barn, with chef Kevin DeMarco, offers a menu informed by locally grown and raised products. The Binghamton, N.Y., native said he was inspired by his mother, "a great cook."
His menu brings "a certain elevation" and a "playful approach" to old favorites, such as a s'mores dessert with made from scratch marshmallows.
"This kind of brings everybody back to their childhood, I mean, who doesn't like s'mores?" he laughed. His goal, he said, is "to make everything as easy, as approachable as possible. Same same idea for breakfast: local farm ingredients, don't mess with them too much. And just make sure they're done really well."
DeMarco's working with several local farms and Marty's Local, a local delivery startup with connections to more than 70 area farms and nurseries that allows for nearly three-season provisions.
"During peak season, I mean I can pretty much get any produce and cheeses local within a few hours," he said. "They'll deliver massive orders to me or I can go pick some at the farm or meet them halfway."
After the old inn was closed, employees went through training to meet the higher expectations of the new hotel along with new hires.
"Anyone who wanted to be here is here," Hurley said. "That was definitely part of our vision. ... So that's why the training is so imperative at this point. I mean, obviously, we've got this beautiful product and a little bit of a different concept restaurant side. So let's make sure that we're giving them the tools to be able to succeed in this environment and still match the expectations of the guests who are going to be coming through the doors."
Darcy Lyle, director of sales, said members of the staff had stayed overnight to try out the experience and several groups had been brought through to sample the menu and beverages, including the staff, Williams College community, and local officials and the business community.
The hotel was also planning to stop by greet local businesses on Spring Street with a small gift, she said, to make up for the construction and detours over the past year.
"We wanted them to get a sense of what's happening," Hurley added. "And a thank you for all their support throughout this development. But also they're going to be able to go out in the community and spread the good word."
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