Pressing the Right Buttons

Mixing old stories with new ideas in Portland, Maine's newest boutique hotel

06.01.2015

By Ashleigh VanHouten

The 110-room Press Hotel is housed in Maine’s historic Press Herald Building, and billed as Portland’s first lifestyle boutique hotel. It’s a lot to live up to, and New York-based design firm Stonehill & Taylor succeeds in bringing new life to the building while honoring its original use, not only by incorporating new materials, but also offering modern concepts of how a hotel should be used and enjoyed, creating a truly unique, yet familiar space.

The historic quality of the building inspired the design’s material selections in many ways, from the reeded glass doors fashioned after “old editor’s offices,” to the ink-like navy fabrics, said Michael Suomi, principal and vice president of interior design at Stonehill & Taylor. Area rugs are inspired by spilled ink patterns and abstract typewriter keys, and the wall behind the reception area’s front desk features an installation made of letterpress blocks. The lobby lounge tables feature newspaper headlines from the Portland Press Herald that span the last 150 years.

A seamless melding of old and new permeates the reception area: decidedly modern “greige” paint provides a clean backdrop for reclaimed wood columns, herringbone-tiled floors, and original coffer ceilings. Traditional, natural grey and navy tones are highlighted with pops of orange accents. The lobby bar has a fireplace and walnut millwork, and tables and benches were made by local craftsmen.

“Most of the finishes had initially been removed after the sale of the building from the Press Herald to another developer,” explained Suomi. “But we were able to utilize the original entry to the old Press Herald Building and restore both the historic entry staircase and plaster ceiling to regain a sense of space and history.”

To achieve the authenticity needed for such an iconic space, the Stonehill & Taylor team worked closely with Press Herald editors to ensure that elements from the newspaper were woven into the design. In the guestroom corridors, actual headlines

from the paper were used to create newsprint-inspired wallcoverings. A scale, originally used to weigh newspapers, is built into the original basement floor, repurposed as a unique art piece in the fitness center.
Nods to the past continue in the guestrooms, which are inspired by a 1920s writer’s office. There are wood floors, herringbone area rugs, a vintage-styled writer’s desk, and a newspaper rack that hangs current copies of periodicals. In further homage to the written word, the backs of the leather office chairs are embroidered with the classic phrase containing every letter of the alphabet: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

For the public spaces—including the reception, four lobby lounges, an art gallery, and bar—Suomi says the goal was to open the space and connect the first floor with the lower level.

“We achieved this by adding in an opening with a staircase connecting the lobby to the lower level gallery space,” he said. “This also helped add more light in the gallery below.”

It’s exciting and surprising that from such an historic building comes a progressive, modern approach to design. Take for example the hotels’ dedication to local art: The lobby lounges, gallery space, meeting rooms, and guestrooms all showcase art from hand-picked local artists, chosen painstakingly by the design team to find the best representation of Portland’s artistic talent.

“There is a focus on designing lobbies that integrates mixed social seating with food and beverage, work, and event areas, providing guests with flexible multi-function zones that parallel the contemporary blending of work with leisure,” said Suomi. “The resulting overlap of previously separated functions enhances overall energy and usability.”

While it may seem as though multi-purpose means busy, it’s more about comfort and convenience: “Work and life are increasingly intertwining,” said Suomi. “This is in part due to the desire both to be ‘always on’ and to have fun while working.”

As the doors have only recently opened to the public, you can go and experience the intersection of past and present, and of work and play for yourself. Revel in the paper’s 150-year history while you take a drink at the bar, breathing in that new-hotel smell.