The Pell Lobby
In 1756, the poet Robert Burns allegedly wrote the poem “To a Mouse” on the spot for a mouse whose burrow he had disturbed while plowing his field. It included the famous line “The best laid schemes of Mice and Men/oft go awry.”
When A4 Architecture originally undertook the renovation of the 126 room Ramada Inn in Middletown RI in 2019, we had grand visions of how we would transform this 1970’s behemoth into a charming New England resort hotel. We laid out schemes to fix the exterior, add new elevators and additional fire stairs, and transform all the tired and dated rooms.
The hotel joined the Hyatt family of hotels under the Joie De Vivre family, which are typically unique, fun and funky independently operated locations. The establishment was renamed “The Pell” in honor of the bridge that is visible from the front of the hotel.
Then in March of 2020 came COVID. Hotel occupancy quickly dropped to near zero and all hotel properties cash flows (and therefore values) dropped just as precipitously. Architectural projects often face dramatic changes in the midst of a project, but this was perhaps the most dramatic change in the plan we had faced. With no certainty of what the future held, the construction budget needed to be cut.
We retooled our interior plans, keeping the most essential elements and moving the others to a future “Phase 2.” We revised all the designs and drawings to reflect a budget that was a fraction of what we had initially projected but in such a way that it could still accommodate the complete vision for the building in the future. All of the paper-thin walls separating the rooms were still padded with soundproofing and the exterior walls had insulation and thermal breaks added to improve energy efficiency to save the project money overtime.
The bathrooms were completely updated because they simply had to be. The visual aesthetic was transformed to “beach resort chic.” Light wood and white painted shiplap were employed to give the spaces a casual but also elegant feeling. The mantra we used in all our decision making about design, fit, and finish was “relaxed luxury.”
We carried out some large and small scale planning gestures, like adding a hotel room to the restaurant which had separated it from the lobby. We created a new quiet lounge off the other side of the lobby with a fireplace and moved the athletic facility to a better location.
In the end, although we don’t necessarily think of the project as having reached its end, the building is completely transformed, opened up and made beautiful. The new rooms and baths are a pleasure to use, and the common areas begin to make the place feel like the resort that The Pell is quickly becoming! The hotel rooms are selling out at $600 a night and the future of the Pell looks brighter than ever.
Ross Cann, RA, AIA, LEED AP, is an author, historian, and practicing architect living and working in Newport, RI. He holds degrees with honor in Architecture from Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia Universities.