Hip-crunchy-sexy-chic. Porches, the new inn adjacent to MASS MoCA, claims to be all these things and more. Its self-image is that of a beacon of hip savvyness in a desert of New England industrial decay － allying itself with the urban exile compound across the street.
In many regards, Porches lives up to its self-imposed reputation as the “Berkshire’s ultra-savvy hip new inn.” Porches has been written up extensively in the national press, featured on top lists in top travel magazines, including New York Magazine, and was recently named Inn of the Month in Travel & Leisure. The first five houses of the inn opened in 1999; the sixth, which will provide long-term accommodations, is currently being renovated and will open soon.
The renovators have kept as much of the original structures of the mill-houses as possible. Much of the siding has been salvaged, and that which has been added has been treated to match the old siding. Old window frames were converted into mirrors for the bathrooms. Vintage plates and T.V. lamps decorate the rooms and hallways, lending the inn a glimpse into the past.
The inn offers complimentary continental breakfast and limited room service. In the morning, if guests wish, they can have breakfast brought to their room in a tin lunch pail. The porches along the front of the inn, along with a meeting room, a lounge area, and a dining room, provide a good deal of communal space for guests to meet and mingle. In the afternoon, the inn offers a bar for guests and community members in the two cozy, bright lounge rooms near the reception area.
One of the most impressive features of the inn is the amount of light and the relaxed atmosphere they have developed within what was once a gloomy setting. Roofs have been lifted and walls moved back to provide space for numerous skylights that illuminate the entire building.
The buildings are all painted in subdued, calm colors, different shades of muted blue, green and pink. Old Paint-by-Numbers decorate the walls. The inn has worked very hard to decorate the rooms with interesting and fun lamps and art work, providing a fun and relaxed setting that also borders on the trendy. This element of chic can be seen in the spa area, which mingles both a glimpse into the past using tin pails for lockers and a taste of the hip with a sauna and an exercise room featuring high-tech aerobics machines.
Porches is North Adams’ industrial grit somehow gone awry － but in a good way. It takes the world of depressed mill houses, sweatshop labor and sprockets and somehow transforms it into an exotic milieu replete with plush accoutrements and Pottery Barn-esque bathroom accessories.
We were reminded of a Dairy Queen, but no ordinary Dairy Queen. No, this was a Dairy Queen that had been converted into a Dean & Deluca － like so many things in the area these days, Porches feels like a Crate & Barrel in a glorified Kmart shell. “Banana Republic! Move aside, we got grit!” the walls of Porches told us.
For those interested in the transformation and gentrification of North Adams, this hotel is a wonderful mini-microcosm of the changes we’ve witnessed in North Adams over the last four years. We couldn’t help but notice the effusive irony that what had once been home to much poverty and urban decay was now a bobo transitional space par excellence.
The hotel has a whiff of internet-startup; it’s too savvy for its own good as it has taken the now out-of-fashion and (literally) bankrupted and cliched dot-com craze to a level that, to be honest, isn’t necessarily conducive to feelings of homeliness. Although a DVD player, cordless phones in rooms and free email access are convenient, they aren’t necessarily what we look for in a home-away-from-home. It is the other, more comfortable aspects of plush living that Porches offers which made us feel cozy and well-rested.
The inn seems to be a work in progress and a living paradox, which can be unsettling, but also gives it an air of excitement. Admittedly, the inn’s location is not at first glance ideal; it sits on a busy street facing the less than picturesque backside of MASS MoCA. However, it also lies in the middle of the Berkshires, and, at night, guests can see the exhibitions through the museum’s lit windows across the street. Porches embodies the thrill and anticipation of a town in transition.
Porches is the closest the Berkshires can ever get to a West Hollywood heroin overdose. It’s not the “Tongue-n-Chic” of Sunset’s The Standard or the Mondrian, but it’s pretty close, if just a little too chic, too savvy, too hip and too dot-com for its own North Adams’ good. Ian Schraeger, though, after a night at Porches might well consider making the hotel his very own.
Porches Inn, 231 River St., North Adams, Mass.; 413/664-0400, fax 413/664-0401