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Seaside Tradition: Beauport Hotel

2017 Palladio New Design & Construction, More Than 30,000 sq.ft. Winner: OLSON LEWIS + Architects
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2017 Palladio New Design & Construction, More Than 30,000 sq.ft. Winner: OLSON LEWIS + Architects

Project: Beauport Hotel, Gloucester, MA

Architect: OLSON LEWIS + Architects, Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA; John T. Olson, AIA, Principal; Steven Scapicchio, AIA, LEED AP, Architect; Matthew Spears, Designer

When he talks about his design inspiration for the Beauport Hotel in Gloucester, MA, architect John Olson, AIA, principal, OLSON LEWIS + Architects, holds up a fistful of antique postcards. They depict grand oceanside hotels with towers and turrets, endless porches and imposing porte cochéres, often with a Pierce Arrow parked in it. In other words, he found guidance for his new hotel design in the late 19th-century and early 20th-century summer hotels that once crowded the Cape Ann shore. (Gloucester is one of two towns located on Cape Ann, 40 miles north and east of Boston.)

In the days before independent contractors, staycations and telecommuting, Americans moved into waterfront hotels for weeks at a time. Often, extended families spent the whole summer, and dad would come on the train and spend the weekends. Those leisurely days are gone, as are the massive, unheated summer hotels depicted in Olson’s postcards. But the Beauport Hotel, evokes their spirit. A modern facility built to today’s exacting standards, it nevertheless looks traditional, with the gambrel roof, shingled exterior, tower and porte cochére of its forebears.

The four-story, 115,000-sq.ft. Beauport Hotel, completed in the summer of 2016 at a construction cost of over $5 million, was built on the site of a long-defunct fish processing plant locally famous as the place where Clarence Birdseye pioneered frozen foods. Before the two-year construction project even began, a lengthy process overcame local opposition and razed the concrete commercial building.

Today, the streets around the hotel still house a mixture of waterfront-oriented businesses that serve the fishing fleet and 100-year-old single- and two-family houses. Known as The Fort, the neighborhood is a historic blue-collar enclave with stunning views of Gloucester Harbor. The developers and the builder who spearheaded this ambitious project, Windover Construction of Beverly, MA, banked on the notion that today’s sophisticated traveler would seek out a fine hotel surrounded by a working waterfront.

“This is a whole lot more interesting than the kinds of environments you usually find in tourist areas,” Olson says. “There is always activity on the harbor, and it’s fascinating. As well, you have great access to downtown Gloucester, with its many historic sites, shops and restaurants.

“The developers said that they wanted a traditional seaside hotel,” says Olson, whose architectural firm, OLSON LEWIS + Architects, is located in nearby Manchester-by-the-Sea. “They emphatically did not want a glass box.”

Olson, who has designed a number of hotels and country clubs in places like Bermuda, Curacao, Florida and Cambridge, MA, responded with a Shingle style H-shaped building that perches above Gloucester’s Pavilion Beach and orients towards the ocean beyond. With 94 guest rooms located on the second and third floors, it falls into the boutique hotel category, with attendant upscale facilities and amenities. While the builders originally wanted more guest rooms, municipal height restrictions and setbacks limited available building space.

“There are many different types of guest rooms; fitting them all in was a challenge,” Olson explains. “We designed the building so that as many rooms as possible face the ocean. The H shape provides a lot more waterfront rooms than other layouts would allow for. It creates frontage.”  

It also provides the space for an expansive first floor deck between the two projecting wings. Squarely focused on the water just beyond, it stretches across the area outside the restaurant and bar and opens to them. The deck, furnished with firepits and seating furniture, has hard Ipe decking, while cable railings do minimal interference with the view.

The entrance, located on the side of the building, leads into a stair hall that climbs up one flight to the lobby. Federal flood regulations dictate that the first floor of any building at the water’s edge be constructed above flood level; in the Beauport Hotel, that requirement is met with a ground floor parking facility.

“We pulled everything off the ground, but then made the siding look like a wharf, not like the outside of a parking garage,” Olson says. He achieved this by siding the base of the building with cedar planks that will bleach and become silvery as the sun ages the wood. Above the garage level, the building is sheathed with white cedar shingles that have been stained and thus will retain their pale buff color. The trim is painted white.

The first two levels of the building are constructed on a steel frame, which served as the platform for building the panelized hotel rooms above.

“The trick is to get the public spaces on the water,” Olson says. “Hotel design is really like show biz—you want to see the view and the nice public rooms, and to hide the places you don’t want to see, like the kitchen, the storage and the housekeeping facilities.”

In that spirit, he recommended that the swimming pool be located on the roof, not at lobby level directly outside the bar and restaurant. “No one wants to see a guy in a Speedo while dining,” he smiles. The rooftop pool and bar are restricted to hotel guests and, with stunning views of the city, harbor and the open ocean, has quickly become a guest favorite.

One end of the lobby level is given over to functions, with one large and two smaller ballrooms, a function kitchen and a private section of the large deck. Its waterfront location and luxurious interior have made the Beauport Hotel a hotly desired wedding venue, with nuptials scheduled well into 2019.

To reinforce the sense of historic design, Olson chose traditional materials that include copper on the lower roof levels. The flooring in the restaurant and bar recalls the teak and holly cabin sole of a yacht, except that here, the lighter holly is the dominant wood.

Peter Niemitz of Boston’s Niemitz Design Group executed the interior décor. What drove the design? “We wanted it to look compatible with the exterior,” he says.

Niemitz, whose company specializes in hospitality-driven projects in restaurants, private clubs and boutique hotels, describes how he formulated his ideas of what that should be. “When I thought about what this place should look like, I thought it should be like a classic, sophisticated beach house. I wanted to evoke the history of Gloucester, but with a modern, upscale look.”

To this end, he furnished the public spaces and the guest rooms in a blue, light cream, and brown color palette that interacts well with the many natural woods. For the lobby, he designed blue and cream striped carpeting. “It looks like nautical flags pieced together,” Niemitz says.

Gloucester’s seafaring history informed his design, though he took care to avoid the clichés of so many nautically inspired inns. The pattern on the draperies in the restaurant, for example, depicts a 1930s-style image of a couple in a day sailor printed on gray cotton; when the curtains are open, the pattern disappears. Antique ship’s models and signal flags decorate the public rooms, along with archival photographs of Gloucester fishing schooners and men working on the docks. Lighting is provided by modern versions of classic brass lanterns.

The guest rooms, which all have wall-to-wall carpeting, have driftwood gray porcelain tile on the entry and bathrooms floors, with pebbled tile that evokes river stones flooring the showers. Guest room furnishings are solid oak, with driftwood gray the dominant finish. 24 of the guest rooms have fireplaces.

“The guest rooms are all decorated with photography we found at the Cape Ann Historical Society,” Niemitz explains. “We purchased the rights to reproduce the old black and white images, and they are the perfect art in the rooms, evocative and speaking of Gloucester history.”

Both Olson and Niemitz are especially fond of the expansive lobby. It is separated from the restaurant and bar area by a series of transom-topped French doors.

“I like the way the lobby has a grand hotel feel to it, but it’s light and fun,” Niemitz says. “I especially like the progression of lobby to bar to outdoor deck.” He furnished the lobby with an eclectic collection that includes reproduction spool-style chairs, rattan and upholstered furniture. “I wanted it to look collected, not necessarily from any one era, but to mix it up.”

To pay homage to the famed 19th-century Gloucester painter Fitz Henry Lane, he commissioned a large painting in his style, executed by Providence, Rhode Island, artist Harley Bartlett. It holds pride of place over the lobby’s grand staircase.

Olson points to the lobby as representative of the building’s place in the community. “Most new hotels in towns the size of Gloucester are along the lines of Comfort Inns,” he says. “The public spaces at the Beauport Hotel make it very clear that this is a fine hotel where people want to spend the night, meet friends, have dinner. It has a bar the local population loves and a restaurant that’s becoming a destination for the surrounding area.”

“This hotel is bringing about a big, positive change in Gloucester,” he adds. “You don’t often get to do a design project that’s good for a town.” 

Key Suppliers

Interior Design: Niemitz Design Group, Boston, MA

Design Build Construction Manager: Windover Construction, Beverly, MA

Civil Engineer: Beals Associates, Charlestown, MA

Structural Engineers: Odeh Engineers, North Providence, RI

Environmental Engineers: Haley & Aldrich, Providence, RI

Marine Engineer – Seawall: Childs Engineering, Bellingham, MA

Fire Protection: Covenant Fire Protection, Manchester, NH

Code Consultant: Harold R. Cutler, Sudbury, MA

Electrical: Roy Spittle Associates, Gloucester, MA

Plumbing/HVAC: Superior Plumbing, Dedham, MA

Acoustical: Acentech, Cambridge, MA

Kitchen Equipment: Boston Showcase Design, Newton, MA

Impact-Resistant Window & Sliding Doors: WinDoor, Miami, FL

Main Entry Doors: Window Classics, Miami, FL

Prefabricated Wood Framing: Boise Cascade, Biddeford, MA

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