October 26, 2020
Coastal Chic, Not Cliche, Guides Newport’s Wayfinder Hotel
With the help of local talent, Reunion Goods & Services turns a “plain Jane” hotel into a sleek, seaside retreat.
If nicknames are revealing, then the “Queen of Summer Resorts” aptly captures the spirit of Newport, Rhode Island, where yacht-lined marinas, Gilded Age mansions, and nautical-themed tchotchke shops abound. But there’s another side to the City by the Sea, one that is less boat shoes and more boho. Rooted in a rich tradition of furniture-making and music (think: Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals), it brings to its craggy coastline a new crop of artists, designers, and worldly beachgoers. And it is this very cultural zeitgeist that has served up inspiration for the new Wayfinder Hotel.
Situated just off the beaten path, the 197-room boutique retreat offers travelers a contemporary escape from the town’s tourist-thronged wharfs. It is the latest venture of hotelier Phil Hospod, the founder of Dovetail + Co, who spent several years at the Sydell Group as part of the development team behind such projects as The Line DC and the Freehand NYC. For the Wayfinder, he tapped native Newport talent, including local artists and restaurateurs, to lend a homegrown design sensibility to the project. Among the fleet of collaborators is NYC-based design studio, Reunion Goods & Services, which transformed the former Mainstay Hotel into a modern, seaside getaway.
“The [Mainstay’s] last renovation was maybe in the 1980s,” explains Carrie Dessertine, principal in charge of interior architecture at Reunion. “It was plain Jane, and very transactional—you know the standard hospitality grade, with acorn colored wood headboards mounted to the wall.”
In spite of the drab interior, the bones of the building provided a promising blueprint for the renovation. The designers made a number of strategic, architectural changes to maximize space and bring light into the public areas on the ground floor. By removing the luggage storage and back-of-the-house offices, they turned the once cramped lobby into an inviting hub for socializing and relaxing.
The cozy lobby—anchored by a large, mustard yellow fireplace in the center of the room—adds residential touches to make visitors feel right at home, including moveable poufs, whimsical artwork by Newport–based Catherine Druken, and a large, custom-designed sofa. The textured yet neutral terrazzo floor is offset with pops of color and a blue painted ceiling.
Looking to the expressive New England coastline, the designers infused the interiors with a warm, beach house aesthetic. “The shoreline [here] has a higher contrast in color and feel with the darkness and rockiness. There’s a little more edginess to it. And that was our original starting point,” says Dessertine.
But the designers, as per Dovetail’s directive, steered clear of any seafaring tropes that are all too ubiquitous in resort towns like Newport. “We wanted to at least conjure up the feeling of the ocean,” says Dessertine, “but to avoid the cliche is of nautical life.” And this approach came into play inside Nomi Park, the hotel’s restaurant from the Mission Group, where artwork, furnishings, and colors reflect the coastal landscape. The teal bar and burnt orange leather banquettes, for instance, are designed to evoke the ocean and the sun setting over the horizon while the deep blue chairs by Rhode Island–based studio, O&G, reference the rocky shoreline.
Like the public spaces, the guest rooms were much in need of an overhaul. “They were your cookie cutter hotel design, and we really wanted to make a departure from that and make the space feel very personal,” says Laura Flam, who is a principal, overseeing interior decoration at Reunion. Furnished with custom-designed beds, graphic artwork, and vintage trunks for nightstands, the rooms are also a subtle nod to the sea with their sage green walls and caning accents. “I think there’s a curated style but not a matchy-matchy thing in the room. And it suggests, ‘I’m staying in my friend’s guest house at the beach’ instead of ‘I’m in a hotel room,’” says Flam.
Even by the pool, the ocean won’t feel too far away thanks to a hand-painted motif featuring waves by Rhode Island artist Sean Spellman. But beyond the sea, the developers hope that a sense of Newport’s local identity comes across too.
“They really wanted to reflect the surroundings of being in Newport,” says Dessertine, “and not just what you’d imagine as old Newport—there’s a thriving art scene, there’s a thriving restaurant scene. And [Dovetail] really wanted to pick up on the energy of that.”
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