This summer, a young woman by the name of Mia Sakai reached out to me about starting a company designed to "deconstruct the mystery of building a business from the ground up, one story at a time", POLYNATE. She wanted to interview me, could she stop by some time? Having benefitted myself from kind strangers responding to my 'cold' emails, I was more than happy to oblige, though I have to confess there was a part of me that thought:
"Wait, me? Don't you want business owners? Oh. Right. That IS me now."
And so, on a day so hot and bright her iPad suffered a heat malfunction while recording, we sat down and talked business.
You can read the interview in its entirety here. She asked me really thoughtful and practical questions, and it turns out I had an awful lot to say about how I got here. (Said everyone about themselves ever, I know, haha!)
And while it was kinda surreal to be interviewed as a business owner for the first time, it was even MORE surreal to see my answers all laid out on her beautiful website.
And I honestly got a little dizzy when I realized this was not just a pretty graphic of hotel-esque images but rather, an actual timeline of my LIFE leading up to opening:
I often describe my year at NU Hotel during which I was a Front Desk Agent/ bar tender/ bell hop/ anything-they-effing-needed as a "montage"-- the working-my-way-up montage that I unfortunately had to live in real time with no peppy movie soundtrack at near minimum wage. But here it was! The actual montage! All finally behind me.
Yea, it's still weird. I mean, we've only been open a few days shy of three months. And we haven't even lived up here for a whole year yet. I still say things like, "We just opened". But now comes the rest of it. The running of the business not just planning for it, the continued growth. The numbers that aren't just projections but actual data from actual occupancy reports and such. The payroll taxes and re-ordering of bulk soap, the catching up on laundry, the changing menus and decisions about what types of advertising are working.
I'm happy to report I FUCKING LOVE IT.
Yes, I get tired sometimes. (Did I mention my Friday shift is fifteen hours long?) And yes, I get annoyed and overwhelmed sometimes. (No I'm sorry, I'm not gonna tell the Internet about those guests right now, haha!) But this, all of this, is what I've been working for. And it's making people happy. So happy! And that just makes me want to cry it makes me so fucking happy.
On the tough days I wonder if this is really enough to give the world. A little hotel in the middle of nowhere? But on the good days I know that this is about memory making, about giving a whole slew of people the respite and inspiration they need to go off and be better people. And that's more than enough to keep me going.
We're now accepting applications online here through November 15th for six one-week slots.
See you up here this winter?
We've been open over a month now (woohoo!), so the number one question I've been getting lately from friends and family is: "So, how's it been?"
"Great! Everything I'd hoped it would be and more! Tiring! Satisfying! A little nutty! Fun!"
Then most folks rephrase the question or follow with, "No, but really-- how's it been?" and I have to reiterate that really and truly I meant what I said. Often I have to soothe people by listing specific things I like about it all so far like:
"We've met so many cool people! Everyone's been so supportive! Nearly every weekend is full through October! We got our first repeat guests! No one's trashed a room yet! It's so exciting to finally be doing this thing I've spent the past two-plus years working towards!"
"Yeah, but [insert that person's specific worry here]?"
It's quite sweet actually. Because what I'm hearing when people ask me these questions is that they want me to be happy and they want me to succeed. They want me to mean what I've told them and I do. It has been all those things so far, and sometimes I feel so damn pleased that I catch myself wondering, "Is there something that I'm missing? Something else I should be worrying about?"
Sure there is. There's all kinds of tedious bureaucratic stuff that goes along with opening a business that we're still slogging through, but it doesn't keep me up at night the same way any more for two main reasons:
1. We're open! I've got much more immediate and satisfying things to worry about like who's checking in this afternoon, who's celebrating an anniversary this Friday and needs champagne, how to publicize that party we're having next weekend, when the wine and whiskey is being delivered...
2. I "sleep the sleep of the entrepreneur" as my friend Stephanie who co-owns Community Bookstore says. Aka, I basically black out the moment I put my head on the pillow. Poof! There goes all the worry-time.
And now I should take a moment to thank everyone who's come up to visit, who has sent friends our way, who has called and written to ask, "So how's it been?" because actually you are all a huuuuge part of why what on paper should be the craziest 6 weeks of Steven's and my lives has been so damn fun. So thank you! And come back soon, keep sending friends and family and cool co-workers, because this place is a living thing and thrives when its filled with happy heartbeats.
See you soon!
Seriously. We're in VOGUE!
Not gonna lie-- it's a bit of a thrill to see the words "Spruceton Inn" and "Casey Scieszka" next to the Vogue logo! And I'm extra happy they actually put some of my interview ramblings in the article about life up here:
To be open that is. We've waited soooooo long for this! My first thought in the morning is still, "Ugh, I wonder if we'll hear about the permit today". And then I remember, "That's right we got it! We're open! AND THERE ARE STRANGERS SLEEPING JUST A FEW HUNDRED FEET FROM US." Yea, of course I was anticipating that last part, but it still kind of make me giggle.
Anyway! I want to say a huuuuuuuuuuuge thank you everyone who came out our Opening Weekend. You were all tons of fun and I want you all back ASAP!
A big thank you to my dear friends Lexie and Ryan who win the award of "First Paying Overnight Guests"! Lexie and I have know each other since kindergarten so it was definitely a sweet moment to share with her.
And an enormous thank you to my parents! They'd been planning on coming up for a visit those days anyway and when they were on their way, I got the call with the final ok to open. So it was wonderfully serendipitous to have them here for Opening Weekend!
(Dad always winds up being the photographer and therefore not photographed!)
Because they are the best parents in the world they arrived and went to straight to work. I'm not even kidding. They were literally cleaning toilets right up until we popped the bottle of champagne.
So thank you everyone who's been dropping in, having a drink or a popsicle, booking rooms. It's so fantastic that it's finally HAPPENING!
Since it's a nice crossroads of our look and a good price, we've been hand painting all of our signage out here at the inn. We're going about it in a pretty old fashioned way too: Step 1. Print an outlined and life-sized version of the wording.
Step 2. Flip it over and trace the back with charcoal.
Step 3. Place the paper charcoal side down on the sign and rub so that a faint outline remains on the sign, then paint over it!
Step 4. Wipe down any remaining charcoal once and paint dries and voila!
We used the same method yesterday for painting the room numbers.
The door handles and lights are on alternating sides, so I knew I wanted the numbers to be in the middle to give the building a uniform look.
I thought about painting big numbers right in the middle of the doors but decided that might awkwardly take over. So I decided to paint them centered on the door frame instead. Actual numbers (like 1, 2, 3, 4) would look weeny on that 4" trim and be hard for guests arriving at night to see, so I decided to use the font I made for our logo and spell out the numbers instead.
And I love it!
There was one hitch: we have a mechanicals/laundry room in the middle of the strip. "Laundry" wouldn't be hard to paint but it sure would be boring. So we went with this instead:
Cracks me up!
I know this means that everyone and their mother are going to open that door. I can't decide if it's funniest to just leave it as an immensely boring laundry room or to take it further-- label the washing machine "time machine", the dryer "teleportation device"... You'll have to come for a visit and see for yourself!
(What is I Love Lamp? This is I Love Lamp.)
Yesterday Steven and I were in Lowe's buying lightbulbs and gravel and lord knows what else-- there's always something else!-- and we were totally that miserable couple you see in stores like that. We are both SO. OVER. buying things for this hotel. And want oh so desperately to just open already! We had friends come by on the 4th and it was so much fun--
And encouraging too-- it's so great to see people enjoying themselves on the property. And to learn from what they need and suggest. But it gave us a taste of what it will be like when this place is full of guests and oh my gosh WE WANT MORE. We just want to do this already!
So why aren't we open yet? Because we're waiting on our final permits from New York State and the bureaucratic backlog is staaaaaaaaaggering. We're such a small operation it's hard for us to be a priority, but being this small and missing so much of what would be our busy season means... well, it means that sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep at night.
Before this I never understood why new restaurants and such couldn't give you a hard opening date but I get it now. And the fact that the State can't give me a hard date drives me absolutely bananas because because this is a reservation based business!
Every day I'm asked, "Are you open yet?" Sometimes I laugh about it. Sometimes I explain the situation in detail and list all the silver linings. Other times I think I might just break out into hives right then and there from the anxiety.
So that's where we're at. No, we're not open yet. Yes, it's a huge fucking bummer. But yes, one day this will all just be a funny story to tell. (Knock on wood!) At the very least--apparently I'm in more of a silver linings than a hives mood--it's BEAUTIFUL out here. And there's nothing like the epic scale and force of nature to put things in perspective for you.
Here's to seeing you all up here sooner rather than later!
Today my fan-girl dreams came true: Design*Sponge is featuring the Spruceton Inn!
They call it a "soothing and enlivening escape. Taking cues from the motel’s existing structure, the Spruceton Inn is an endlessly charming and delightfully unfussy retreat, both beautiful and refreshingly simple".
!!!!!!!!!!! [That's my computer version of pure excitement.]
A few weeks ago, Maxwell Tielman came by to shoot the place and I've been looking forward to seeing how he captured it ever since. Needless to say I'm pleased as all heck!
A week or so after that, he wrote to say that they'd like to expand upon the piece and include an interview about the process of renovating etc which I was more than happy to oblige. Lemme say, it was REALLY hard to not write a novella in response-- it's been quite the journey so far.
You can check the whole thing here. And if you aren't an avid reader of Design*Sponge yet, you should be! Like I've said before, I think they do a really wonderful job of being MUCH more than a website of pretty photos.
Thank you Max and everyone at Design*Sponge for the coverage!
Guys, it's been BANANAS. So, yet again, I'm just gonna show you a little sneak peek of something at the Inn. Here's the breakfast nook in one of the Kitchenette rooms:
Steven, my in-house carpenter (when and how did that happen by the way...?!) built the table from barn wood and pre-made legs. He's also the master painter behind the art. We've had a good laugh several times about how he's making hotel art nowadays... Perhaps the classiest hotel art around!
We got the beds delivered for the inn the other day so I immediately set up a room! Obviously I've been making décor plans/purchases throughout our renovation, but I've been reluctant to buy too much in bulk for all the rooms until I could see things together in person. Being able to actually fluff and drag and move things around is infinitely helpful.
It's kind of silly but having BEDS in the rooms has made it feel all the more real. Next step: guests! We've gotten our first batch of reservations so we're on our way. Book your room for July 1st on here. Or enter this Brooklyn Based giveway and win a two night stay AND other great stuff like a $25 bar tab and brunch at the Pheonicia Diner and free tubing!
(What is I Love Lamp? This is I Love Lamp.)
Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical. Having strong critical skills shows that you will not be easily fooled. It is a sign of sophistication, especially when coupled with an acknowledgment of one’s own “privilege.” [Bold emphasis my own.]
Yes, how many times did I hear "critical thinking" thrown around in my education? SO MANY TIMES that's how many. But, like he goes on to say, it's not that great of a life skill. And in fact, it could be a hindrance to a more open and creative learning process:
In campus cultures where being smart means being a critical unmasker, students may become too good at showing how things can’t possibly make sense. They may close themselves off from their potential to find or create meaning and direction from the books, music and experiments they encounter in the classroom.
And why do I care? Out of college? And not a professor? Because it resonates with something I've been thinking a lot about since moving up here and that is:
The value of exploration and support over tunnel vision and criticism.
Opening this inn has been a learning a experience in a thousand ways. But I've especially appreciated having the opportunity to get better at being flexible, and at being able to work towards the big picture of something while not letting small, daily frustrations, inconsistencies, and unforeseen situations stress me out or throw me off course.
We knew things would get complicated, we knew things wouldn't go as planned. But instead of feeling critical (of myself and my team and this property) we've been able to come up with solutions that will make this place even better than we first planned.
I'm not saying I'm an ace at it, but there's something about the folks we're working with and the pace of country life that's opened me up this way.
I've talked about how living up here has cut down on the rat race of constant comparison, how it's made me reconsider things like being a "city person" at heart or how I think I might want to raise kids. Every day I'm surprised by what a difference this surrounding has made in how I feel and interact with the world. And it's funny because I've spent years abroad and when you're out of the country you expect these kind of changes and this kind of reflection, but not so much when you move within the States.
Regardless of exactly what is bringing these questions to the surface, I'm happy to be asking them.
Now that it's fiiiiiiinally getting warm out, Steven and I have started to get our hands dirty tackling some projects like the Mini Barn aka No-More-Goats-Gazebo aka Goatzebo. See, the previous owners had lots and lots o' goats:
Fifty-two to be precise. And they used what was once a hotel bunk room as a pen to separate some of the more aggressive male goats. Steven and I are now de-goat-ing it to turn it into a gazebo of sorts for guests to hang out in.
First we removed the beat up windows and door, and the particle board that was nailed up over the back.
Then with our maul and crowbars, we took out parts of the pens. I say "parts" because we're leaving the walls for a booth-feel. And I say "we" even though this part was clearly all Steven.
Next we swept out all the cobwebs and hay and thought about how on earth we were gonna get rid of the goat-y smell from the particle board floor. I decided to look under the building itself to see if there was perhaps a better sub-floor beneath all the goat grime and there was! So with crowbars we painstakingly removed the rotted particle board floors to reveal a much more people-friendly wood floor.
We got about halfway done with the floor before we decided to call it a day. Sometimes it's best to quit when you're ahead!
Our next steps are to finish ripping up the rest of the floor, give the whole thing a hearty power-wash then paint the shit out of it. And while I'm a total sucker for whitewash, that seems like a bit of a dangerous choice for such an indoor-outdoor space so instead we're going for a "Notre Dame" grey.
Hopefully I'll have some more progress to report next week!
(What is I Love Lamp? This is I Love Lamp.)
Like I said on Instagram, I call this one "Before and Almost-After":
New floors to go with our new windows and freshly painted white walls. You better believe I took my shoes off, padded around barefoot, laid down on it. And the verdict is I LOVE IT! Hopefully you will too when you come for a visit.
Things are coming along.
(What is I Love Lamp? This is I Love Lamp.)