The thing about renovation projects in historic buildings is that you are bound to find surprises along the way. It’s reasonable to expect that the floors won’t be level or that the corners and doorways aren’t quite square. But mysteries like how many layers of ceiling are really there and which electrical wires are live and which are no longer being used are discoveries that you find along the way. Trying to decipher the circuitry schematic after a couple hundred years of modifications seems to require an advanced degree. Yes, planning a major renovation like our New England inn dining room is not for the faint of heart, and one must be prepared to go all in once the demolition phase begins!
We had numerous objectives for the renovation of our New London restaurant, including a new feature piece breakfast counter, better lighting, better noise control, to replace the painted acoustic tile ceiling, and to enhance the views by simplifying the window treatments. The overarching design concept was to create a more open, cleaner space that was bright and inviting, less cave-like, and emphasized the views, while retaining the historic feel and flow with the rest of the Inn. We quickly developed the theme of carrying the white oak, that was so prominently featured in the existing wainscoting panels, throughout the room. When we contacted our cabinet maker, Mark Mitchell of M. Forrester Design Concepts, Inc, he immediately built on the white oak theme by introducing a reserved stock of burly white oak for the cabinetry. The graining on this work is simply stunning! The theme extended nicely to the ceiling design as well.
The ceiling concept was based on a coffered design with white oak crown molding around the exterior of the squares. In the center of the coffers is an upholstered panel for sound dampening with an LED lighting feature in the center. The panel is also framed in a white oak molding creating a mirroring effect within the exterior crown. The whole design helps to create a sense of depth and space where the ceiling height is actually limited. The LED lighting is set on a dimmer switch for effective control of the atmosphere in the room.
There were several challenges on this project that we can all laugh about now (and probably for years to come), not the least of which was cramming a 4-week effort into a 1-week shut down. I have resigned that my estimating abilities, which were fairly suspect to begin with, have eroded with age. I believe the fatal flaw was underestimating the multiplicative effect of the 22 squares that comprise the ceiling. While one square did not seem all that time consuming, it was an entirely different story when multiplying all tasks by 22!
Other challenges included removing the old ceiling layers (three was the magic number). Gloves and calluses were not sufficient to prevent the inevitable blistering while pulling out thousands of old rusty staples. We had to reincarnate Harry Houdini to help snake the electric cables for the new lighting fixtures. (He escaped soon after.) And we did finally determine how many innkeepers it takes to screw in a lightbulb – three, as depicted. However, we did manage to avoid tripping the fire alarms on this project.
We also used this project to acquire new life skills that should be useful in the future such as how to use pneumatic nail guns, how to paint inside the lines and not on the floor, and how to staple upholstery fabric to a frame without attaching your shirt to said frame. This project truly could not have been completed without the tremendous support of our incredible crew, who worked tirelessly around the clock to overcome the failures of my estimating abilities. Thank goodness for our incredible crew!
From the crew that worked so hard to bring you this space, we hope the atmosphere at the Oak & Grain dining room sets the mood for your unforgettable experience in dining with us. From the views, to the renovated room, to your newly designed table, every element has been considered for your enjoyment.