From the Desk of Sara Allen
2020 was a crazy year for everyone. While society was melting down, our team worked on the historic preservation of the Sugar Hill Inn.
My Dad (the Inn’s owner) passed away in the global pandemic from Pancreatic Cancer. I can’t thank the Inn family enough for all of your nice emails and cards. When my Dad passed away, I became responsible for my Dad’s beloved country inn. Dad and a hardworking team restored the Sugar Hill Inn for the first time, nearly fifteen years ago. That restoration process led to the Inn being able to join Select Registry Distinguished Inns and our recognition as one of the best fine dining restaurants in the state of New Hampshire. My Father wrote a book about his adventures restoring the Sugar Hill Inn.
I watched that first restoration process as a college student and never imagined I’d get handed the second one. I knew we were in for a wild ride when the power went out in the kitchen during the breakfast service. We ran the waffle iron from the front desk. The day the plumber told me that if we didn’t replace our oil tanks, they might shatter, and fill the basement with oil is one I will never forget.
This post includes some of the adventures we’ve had this year, while restoring the building.
The Dream Cottage
The Dream Cottage was designed by Dad. If a building can miss its father, the Dream Cottage decided to have a nervous breakdown. I felt like standing outside and explaining that he was my Daddy too. First, the hot water system failed. Innkeeper Katie and I were always climbing into the utility closet to reset the water tanks. One day, the tanks just started spewing water. It is not easy getting into this utility closet in a skirt or while expecting a baby.
The Dream Cottage fireplace had a set of gas “logs,” that are no longer installed by builders as they don’t vent well. These logs posed a long list of mechanical problems. The fireplace had a fan system on top of the chimney that failed. A failed fireplace ventilation system is of questionable safety. Everything decided to break right before the peak foliage season. The fireplace sent soot all around the Dream Cottage. Our awesome team scrubbed the entire Dream Cottage out together. On the way out of the Dream Cottage, the ShopVac came open and sent the soot back around the room. The smoke detectors all went off. Our Facilities Manager, Taylor is a great person because any normal human being would have let a few cusswords fly. I personally would have quit. If Taylor ever needs a kidney, I owe him one. We cut the power to the Dream Cottage and Taylor removed the ventilation system on the chimney.
When the new replacement stove arrives for the Dream Cottage, I am going to open a bottle of champagne. The fireplace store was backed up for months, there is a shortage of gas technicians to install it, and the first stove I picked was back ordered due to COVID. I have called every fireplace guy in the state of New Hampshire. Trying to get this all put back together led to a massive fight with the local fireplace store because I just desperately want to keep this place together. If you’re going to do anything in life, do it passionately. Our new stove arrives December 20th!
The Dream Cottage has a luxurious bathroom with a huge soaking tub, sauna, and a river rock spa shower. People would use the river rock shower in the Dream Cottage and then turn in the loose rocks. The shower was leaking and falling apart. For years, the rocks had been glued back the wrong way. Each time they fell out.
Taylor and his Dad built this new shower floor that is so perfect it is a work of art. During the installation process, Taylor thought he hit our radiant heating. Leaking radiant heating can cause huge problems. Everything is all patched up, but the absolute panic when we thought we’d have to rip out the whole Dream Cottage floor was something else. I’ve never been more proud of anyone for walking it off. Every team member who goes into the Dream Cottage is super excited to talk about the shower floor. This is OUR FLOOR.
I am proud to report a new shower floor is installed, a new water system is installed, and on December 20th we get our brand new stove/fireplace. Please join me on 12.20 for champagne.
The First Floor
The Inn runs all year with the exception of vacations in November and April. When vacation comes around, nobody is excited to stick around to have the floors resurfaced. It became hard not to notice that the dining room had gigantic black patches on the floor.
Being forced to close due to a global pandemic seemed like best time to preserve the floors. The work was done by a server in the restaurant named Jeremy. There is truly only one Jeremy in this world. Thank you for caring about the place. Chef Val helped fund this project. Our bar top is made from salvaged bowling alley wood. After years of wear, the top surface was full of peeling stain and splotches. The bar was sanded down and re-stained.
All of this preservation work went on while customers picked up their takeout in the lobby. The lobby was stuffed full of furniture, while we resurfaced the floors. You had to climb behind a tarp to get the food from the kitchen. I thought we looked like a gigantic estate sale because we were teetering on one. A big thank you to anyone who picked up food from a facility with all of their furniture on the porch or piled high in the lobby.
The Inn Joins the Modern Age
For years, restaurant bills at the Inn were handwritten. It was supposed to reflect the old world charm of a country inn. To do basic record keeping, you’d find a staff member and demand they empty their pockets. Each night, the front desk person waited until the last guest had paid to manually put the bills into the computer.
Chef Val brought the Inn into 2020, by putting the company on a restaurant point of sale system. There was only one problem. The kitchen didn’t have the right setup to run Ethernet cables. Jeremy and Taylor went crawling under the house to rig the right cables. Taylor was underground for so long I went to check on him to make sure he wasn’t dead. The restaurant hadn’t changed for almost fifteen years. Adding modern processes was a big deal. Our entire Wine Spectator award winning wine cellar is programmed into the point of sale system. It took a little bit to learn this system. The entire team has the menu at customer service memorized. We’ve stopped calling customer service…every day.
“That Rug has Been Down There for Fifteen Years.”
Each year, the Inn conquers a few prioritized renovation projects. Some of the smaller rooms in the Inn went without much love for years. This year, we resurfaced two bathtubs that had started to peel.
2020 was an uphill marathon just to be a nice enough place just to take a bath in. Both the Rose Room and the Blue Room needed new paint jobs. The Blue Room had this busy wallpaper that made you a little dizzy when you walked in. Peeling wallpaper is tedious work and it went on for what felt like weeks. Our wallpaper steamer even set off the smoke detector and the Fire Chief came to pay us a visit.
The Rose Room was painted an odd green color by a well meaning person, back in the day. Everything in there was cranberry in the room including a set of chairs with a hatch pattern that made you dizzy. Both the new Rose and Blue Rooms include photographs by local National Geographic photographer, Shaun Terhune.
I’ve become the old shredded rug police. Our masseuse has had the same rug in her spa room for fifteen years. Our next challenge is making Susan a spa room befitting someone who has put in fifteen years of work. The hall runner that Chef Val has spent his entire career here with has been replaced.
“I Like My Floors Without Red Wine.”
Over the course of the last year, it was brought to my attention that the Peckett Suit looked a little crazy. When you walked in the door, a gigantic red wine stain greeted you. Every member of the morning crew including myself, has crawled around on their hands and knees trying to scrub out stains. The room was stuffed full of so much furniture that you could barely walk through it. Our receptionist is a retired decorator and couldn’t wait to get in there. The color scheme was cranberry and orange? Weird floral prints were everywhere. The room included a massive television cabinet just to hold a tiny television. See the new room below. The room is all clean and fresh. The Peckett Suit includes paintings by local artist Kathy Perry.
“I Like my Lights with Fewer Bugs?”
The Moses Aldrich Room had a particularly weird problem. The old light fixture was shaped like a base drum. Flies liked to crawl inside it and die. Nobody wants to look up in bed and see dead bugs. Even the most dedicated staff member isn’t going to take apart the lighting…daily. So this bright chandelier is my happy place. The Garden Cottage bathroom needed a new light fixture because the so-called mood lighting was leading to a lot of eyeliner being put in the wrong places.
Tomorrow, the Inn’s air conditioners will get a good scrubbing by a professional service. Taylor and I once sat at the desk and watched videos on caring for air conditioners. Ironically, the best time to get your air conditioners cleaned is Christmas.
Finally, one of the most beautiful things about the Sugar Hill Inn is our fire escape. One day, I looked at it and it had shifted. Boards were crooked. When you drive up to the Inn, please admire the world’s most beautiful fire escape. It was built by Taylor and his Dad.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of restoring the Sugar Hill Inn…