It’s no mystery why creative types from New York City migrate to the Hudson Valley area for weekends or, sometimes, permanently. Two hours north of the city, the place is filled with ridiculously talented artists, chefs, and writers, plus great farmers’ markets, bars, yoga studios, galleries, shopping, and more.
“It’s like faux country living,” says artist and restaurateur Charlotta Janssen. “You can get everything you want except the city noise and crowded subways.” Charlotta, a part-time resident of Hudson, NY with her photographer husband Shannon Greer, fell in love with the town while looking for a country house where they could escape the concrete jungle of Brooklyn from time to time.
But as often happens in love and art, things did not go quite as planned. Instead of a charming country cottage, Shannon and Charlotta instead fell hard for a circa-1880 industrial building, a former millinery that had more recently been converted to residential units, located right on the town’s main thoroughfare.
At first the plan was to take a floor for themselves, and rent the rest out as apartments. “But Hudson needed more guesthouses,” says Shannon of the recently reincarnated town, which is accessible by train from New York City. “The demand was there for an inn.” When they met a local artist with expertise in hotel management, things fell into place: The one-time millinery would become the Hudson Milliner Guesthouse & Inn.
Renovations began in June 2011. The couple’s vision was rooted in Hudson’s history as a whaling town. (Whales caught at sea would be transported up the Hudson River for processing.) They wanted modern amenities, but old-school character. “The building was in pretty bad shape,” says general contractor Jon Hardy of Hardy’s Contracting, who insulated, added new heating and cooling systems, repainted and sealed brick walls, dropped ceilings, exposed rafters, swapped out pocket doors, replaced millwork, sanded floors, and installed tile, among many other rehabilitations.
Once the structural renovations were sorted, it was on to interior design. The guesthouse would have four suites — named the Top Hat, Fedora, Bowler, and Cloche in homage to the building’s history — each with its own bathroom and kitchen. To begin with, they used salvaged timber from the site to create new designs within, such as a sleeping loft, while reclaimed gas piping was used to build industrial-chic shelves.
Charlotta and Shannon also pounded the pavement for antique furnishings and vintage appliances. “We took our time to fall in love with stuff,” says Shannon. “If something doesn’t fit, it will just look weird.” They scoured regional antique shops and flea markets, including the Brimfield Antique Show, just over the border in Massachusetts, and various markets in Pennsylvania. “As we became more educated in the types of things we were looking for, we learned to find destinations where there would be 100 or 500 dealers of those things,” says Shannon. Among their finds were an antique sleigh bed, a hefty short wave radio, and vintage stoves and refrigerators that were modified or restored to meet the needs of today’s guests. Charlotta also took time to personally lay out the patterns for the tile work, with what she humbly refers to as her “half-hearted photoshop skills.”
In keeping with their thematic vision, Charlotta and Shannon kept the mood rustic and tactile, while leaving the original character of the building in tact. To balance modern, relaxed comfort and historic charm, they chose to keep design elements simple and to embrace imperfection. “If your floor has scuff marks, love them — don’t hide them,” says Charlotta, who wanted to bring out the building’s authentic features and flaws, not cover them up. “I feel more comfortable in a space that someone has thought out than in a place where everything looks like it has just been plucked out of a catalog. If you’re solely thinking about expense versus saving costs and time, you’re missing the point. You’ll bury the character of a place.” After all, they were creating a space where they would be living, too. In the spirit of the sharing economy, when space allows, the couple live at the inn; otherwise they crash at Charlotta’s studio.
Even for professionals, there’s always a learning curve when working with older buildings. For Charlotta and Shannon, who opened the Milliner to guests this past September, the big takeaway was to work with the nature of the building, not against it. “Get the bones right — the layout, the heating and A/C — and everything else you can take your time with,” advises Shannon. “Don’t compromise or cut corners, but be flexible. And be ready for surprises.” As in industrial mill renovations, so in life. “If we could survive this building, we can survive anything! It’s been a really fun journey for us.”
All photos by Shannon Greer Photography.