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Hotel’s interior designers focus on ‘what’s Wright’

by Joe Buttweiler –

MASON CITY — Designing and furnishing the guest rooms of an historic hotel without the benefit of photos can be a tough challenge when you know scrutiny to detail will be sharp.

Add in factors such as small room sizes and the need to balance architectural authenticity with all the conveniences of modern inns and you’ve got a delicate design challenge.

Interior designers with Bergland + Cram and folks at Historic Properties Inc., which will manage the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, researched what they could about the original interiors of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel and focused on making the 27 guest rooms as historically accurate yet accommodating as possible.

“We had to take the style of architecture and style of furnishings that were popular when it opened in 1910 into account,” said Scott Borcherding, interior designer with Bergland + Cram, the Mason City firm that is lead architect of the $18 million historic renovation in downtown Mason City.

About all they had on the guest rooms was an old newspaper clipping that described a brass bed and a Cadillac desk, said Dana Thomas, also an interior designer with Bergland + Cram.

To get an idea of the paints used, they took core samples of walls throughout the Park Inn and adjacent City National Bank building, which are being restored together into one hotel. More than 30 samples were taken and analyzed, in some areas revealing that more than a dozen layers of paint had been applied, Borcherding said.

Thomas said one of the guest rooms is being restored pretty much as it was. The two-room “Historic Room,” as they’re calling it, will have a sleeping room with a brass bed and desk simulating the original, while the living area will have a couch, chair and armoire with a refrigerator, storage and other amenities, Borcherding said.

The other 26 guest rooms – while adhering to the historic design elements — will be more modern, Borcherding said, with wireless Internet, refrigerators and flat-screen TVs.
Most of the rooms will have either a king or a queen-size bed. Some will have a sleeper sofa as well, and three will be handicapped-accessible. There will also be a bridal suite with a whirlpool, and a business suite.
Rooms will be painted in neutral tones with accents of brick red – colors that were common to the Prairie School style – with geometric shapes and organic patterns for upholstery.

Rooms will have a lot of wood trim, with headboards attached to the walls, and Wright-themed sconces, said Steve Noto of HPI.

Bathrooms will have showers, vanities, sinks and period-appropriate light fixtures, flooring and wall tile, Borcherding said.

HPI has been busy buying the materials and installation is expected to begin later this month, Thomas said. “A lot of it is being made specially for us,” Noto said, adding that only certain manufacturers are licensed to reproduce Wright-designed furniture.

He said an old pool table built in the 1920s is being sought for the hotel’s billiards room, and a table from the law library in the original building will be reproduced.

Public areas of the building, which is expected to open this summer, will feature 12 barrel chair replicas, Borcherding said. They are recreations of Wright-designed chairs that were in the original City National Bank.

Thomas, Borcherding, Noto and colleagues at HPI – Joan Gasaway and Hillary Navratil – have done “quite a bit of collaboration” on design and furnishings, Noto said.

“We’re trying to keep it corporate-minded for the business traveler and also making it interesting enough to attract the architectural and Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts,” said Noto. While many of the guests will be Wright and architecture enthusiasts, most will be business travelers who are more interested in modern conveniences, he said.

Material and furniture vendors have been great to work with, Borcharding said. For instance, “We had to make sure the carpet was going to perform in high-traffic areas because we don’t want it to wear out in a couple years.”

So they worked with the carpeting vendor to come up with wool carpeting – which was the preferred type back then – that would wear well and hold its color and design.

There will be 13 different patterns of carpeting in the hotel, all based on Wright designs and colors.
Other vendors have been eager to contribute in any way they can, he said. “From floor coverings to window coverings to furniture, there’s just a lot of interest and participation in the project.”

Overall, it’s been challenging working with a building that’s 100 years old and its antiquated heating and cooling systems, plumbing and phone lines, Borcherding said, noting that some of areas being transformed into guest rooms weren’t originally used that way.

He and Thomas said the design and furnishing process has come down to learning what they could about the past, adhering to Wright’s design elements, and focusing on convenience of guests.

And it has involved a fair amount of intuition, Borcherding said. “After a while you just know what’s Wright,” he said.

It has become a slogan for the project, he said – figuring out “what’s Wright and what’s wrong.”

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