America’s institutions of higher learning have always exerted a profound influence on the college towns they dominate, and sometimes this extends even to off-campus architecture. Williams Inn, the hotel built and owned by Williams College, a private-liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a prime example of the type of visionary decisions that not only are changing the look and feel of communities but that are also bringing students and residents together.
Designed by CambridgeSeven of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Williams Inn redefines the town’s main road, which is called Spring Street, and is part of a larger college project on the street that includes a college bookstore, a large public park, and new retail shops that aims to reimagine and reinvigorate the old industrial town of Williamstown in the bucolic Berkshires of fall-foliage fame.
The inn, which won a 2020 Pinnacle Award of Excellence from the Natural Stone Institute and a 2020 honorable mention, mountain destination, from the LIV Hospitality Design Awards, replaces an outdated hotel that was a mile away from the center of town.
“We had an extremely sophisticated client who wanted the hotel to embody the values of the community; they wanted it to represent the mission of the college,” says CambridgeSeven Principal Stefanie Greenfield, AIA, adding that her firm also designed the book store and the park. “Our client, Rita Coppola-Wallace, had a vision that the project would be for the whole community. Together we envisioned that the inn could serve as the living room of the town, where everyone can sit in the lobby or out on the terrace to come for dinner and drinks.”
The inn is in a prime spot: It’s next to the Clark Art Institute and the Taconic Golf Club. A key part of the project was building trust between the college and community to create the public-private space.
“We hoped the project could act as a real welcome mat for local events and regional experiences,” Greenfield says. “A place not only for faculty, sports teams, prospective students, and their parents to stay but also for the public to come for a really fun weekend jaunt.”
CambridgeSeven, which designed Harvard’s Charles Hotel and Dartmouth’s Hanover Inn, spent a year studying sites for the 60,000-square-foot LEED Gold inn, which has 64 hotel rooms, a restaurant, meeting rooms, ballroom-size events spaces, and Freedom Gray tin-zinc roofs that feature solar panels.
“We drew inspiration from the Berkshire mountains and Williamstown’s agrarian heritage as well as from Thomas Hubka’s book, Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England,” Greenfield says. “Through the harmonious use of stone at the façade, base, and terraces, we created a building deeply rooted in its landscape while making a nod to contemporary forms of construction and detailing.”
The inn, which is in a tight site, is comprised of three connected traditional-style sections that typically are associated with northern New England farms. The stone-clad main house has the main entrance, the first-floor lobby, and the three-room suite; the clapboard back house holds an event space for 300 guests as well as guest rooms; and the wood-clad barn houses a 50-seat restaurant and more guest rooms.
“The idea was to create a design that would feel organic and look like it was built over time, with the massing responsive to surrounding homes,” Greenfield says, adding that the grand staircase was designed on an intimate instead of an institutional scale to convey a feeling of down-home hospitality. “The inn is carefully curated—the buildings don’t face the street, and everything’s off center so it feels like it grew out of the land. It’s so in sync with the site that you couldn’t move it anywhere else.”
Landscaping also contributes to the illusion. “We wanted people to have to peek through the trees to see the inn,” she says. “That’s a Berkshires thing. In the winter, when there are no leaves, you can see the twinkling lights on the terrace. The look changes seasonally with the landscape.”
Oversize windows, which are unusual in the guest rooms of modern hotels, and a central wooden porch, modified to ground level to accommodate universal design standards, also evoke earlier times in a contemporary manner. Likewise, traditional rooftop elements, such as monitors and barn vents, were repurposed as plumbing vents and to house kitchen hood ventilation.
The building’s three sections, which are reached either via a footbridge or by a vehicular bridge that crosses a restored perennial stream, are connected by outdoor landscape rooms.
CambridgeSeven selected Liberty Hill granite from western Connecticut that complements the dolomite of the campus’ 19th-century buildings.
“We reviewed options at over 10 New England quarries,” Greenfield says, adding that the same granite was used on the facade, terraces, and terrace pavers, and local Goshen stone was used on the landscape walls and the vehicular bridge. “And we tailored the selection by mining over 570 tons of raw blocks, including specially sized large pieces, from deeper in the quarry to achieve darker grays and less pink veining.”
The team also gave careful consideration to the subtle exterior red color of the barn, which was painted with three layers of color, including a gray to suggest the wear commonly seen on older Berkshire barns.
The interior public spaces also blur the lines between contemporary and traditional. The spacious, open-plan lobby, for instance, is anchored by a fireplace made of the same Liberty Hill granite of the main house’s façade, and its ceilings are defined by reclaimed wood beams sourced from an antique barn in Vermont.
The most gratifying part of the project, Greenfield says, was seeing it in use.
“Any time I pass by, there are people occupying all the spaces, both exterior and interior,” she says. “That’s so heart-warming.”
Master Planning and Architecture CambridgeSeven
Landscape Architect Stephen Stimson
Structural Engineer Odeh Engineers
Liberty Hill Granite Connecticut Stone
Architectural Millwork and Paneling Stark Mountain Woodworking
Wood-Plank Flooring Kember Flooring
Wood Doors Exterior and Interior Upstate Door
Freedom Gray Roof Revere Copper
Aluminum-Clad Wood Windows Marvin Windows
Reclaimed wood at reception desk Tobacco barns, South Hadley, MA