A visit to the Grand Hotel is like a walk back in time

Good morning, all you lovely people! I hope you are enjoying your summer. Recently, during a family visit at Highland House, my niece Aubrey and I were talking about fabulous places to vacation. She is very adult for her age and a complete delight to spend time with, as is her sister Hailey. But on this occasion it was just Aubrey and I having an engaging conversation. She asked for my recommendation on an amazing place to vacation with the entire family. Without hesitation I said the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan.

As I told her, a visit to the Grand Hotel is like a walk back in time—literally—because no motorized vehicles (other than emergency vehicles) are allowed on the island. Your mode of transportation will be a horse and carriage, bicycle or, of course, your feet. You may actually recognize this hotel: It was the setting for a beloved movie, Somewhere in Time, starring Jane Seymour and the late Christopher Reeve. This beautiful love story will melt anyone’s heart with its romantic storyline, stunning scenery and wonderful characters.

Carleton Varney, owner and president of Dorothy Draper & Co., completed the interior design here. As famed decorator Dorothy was, Mr. Varney is fearless with the use of colors, floral patterns and bold contrast, such as his signature use of black and white. Let me set the stage for you in regards to this magnificent hotel! You might even do a bit of investigation on your own—perhaps to plan an amazing anniversary trip someday.

Grand It Is

The name of the Grand Hotel is most certainly appropriate. It is just that: grand! The hotel boasts the longest porch in the world—a massive 660 feet, which is more than two football fields in length! The porch overlooks the spectacular Tea Garden. If you ever dreamed of adding some pure elegance to your garden, consider implementing some of the design elements of the Tea Garden for your own Grand Home! Or, take the lead from the porch itself, as it holds 260 Chippendale-type boxes with over 1,600 geranium plants. Amazing!

Indulge me by learning a bit of history before I move on, pretty please! Five of our country’s presidents have visited the Grand Hotel: Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Bush and, Clinton. But this may be the most delicious event to share: Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph for the first time on the porch! Imagine sitting in one of the 100 white rockers on that particular day, sipping a bit of Champagne. How amazing is that one invention? Think about what it has given to us as a society. For example, try standing in a crowded elevator with just silence rather than soothing music. Thank you Mr. Edison for taking some discomfort out of life by providing us with recorded music.

Walk This Way…

So, let’s step into the hotel and see what the deliriously delightful lobby has waiting for your arrival. The geranium is the official flower of the hotel with some 2,500 plants growing on the property. The lobby echoes this in a carpet that features a sea of geraniums and a blocking of geranium leaves on a rich black background. Mr. Varney designed this simply marvelous carpet and had it installed in 1980. Now, let’s consider how you can take this amazing and daring statement into your own home. Let’s say it’s time to replace the carpet, but your home is still filled with running and jumping children. In that case, contemplate just this type of patterned carpet. What a glorious way to hide some of life’s mistakes. Many amazing decorating ideas can be derived from hotels, and patterned carpet might just be one of them.

Sit for a Spell

One of my favorite features in the hotel is the velvet sofas, the color of geranium leaves, that reside on carpet in the same hue as geranium blooms. Although this may sound like a holiday palette perfect for Christmas, it actually feels brilliant and bright. Just waiting for someone on these graceful sofas is actually a wonderful treat and the people watching…hmm! Because the red and green are complementary colors, opposites of each other on the color wheel, they bring out the best in each other. If you have never considered such a strong color combination for your home, you might think about it now. Rooms that use any combination of complementary colors as the catalyst for the color scheme are quite lovely and bright. The predominate two colors really put a palette into motion, giving such a great base to start layering other hues into the mix. So consider the orange/blue, violet/yellow, and red/green on the color wheel when you are thinking of a room color change.

Royal Suites

Moving on, let’s visit one of the suites and see what you might take advantage of for your own bedroom! In a personal note I received from Mr. Varney, he referred to the First Ladies as American Royalty and his suites reflect that royal vision. For starters, there’s the Jacqueline Kennedy Suite, which is perfect for some borrowed design ideas. As you see, it is very elegant, much like Jacqueline herself. And how grand to say your inspiration came from the Jacqueline Kennedy Suite at the Grand Hotel? Now who is a fancy pants, gorgeous? Why you, of course.

From this room, let me share some ideas that are easily adapted to anyone’s home. I must thank the hotel’s concierge, Bob Tagatz, for taking the time to do some research for me for this column.

Color Scheme: The first element to catch your eye is the blue and gold color scheme—such a classic and so restful for a bedroom. The gold damask wall coverings certainly aids in developing the tonal quality of the room, entrancing guests with the warmth of delicious gold.

Patterns: The airiness of the cabana stripe on Roman shades (and repeated in the bed linens) makes for the perfect treatment for privacy and helps calm the seriousness of the suite. You might consider a wide striped fabric for a room that might be a little standoffish! The swags and draping cascading over the bed create a graceful canopy, made less stuffy through a large-scale French check pattern.

Fabrics: The choice of fabrics can alter the personality of the room as well, with silk lending it a more elegant ballroom feel and cotton offering a friendlier air.

Bed: You certainly cannot ignore the elegant painted bed featuring the same gold detailing as the wood portion of the canopy. According to Mr. Tagatz, the bed is a reproduction from the Rococo period. For your own First Lady Suite, you might consider a painted headboard and footboard with the elegant gold leaf detailing.

Side tables: A dear friend, designer David Rote, and I came to the conclusion that the demilune (half-round tables) being used as bed tables were most definitely Adams. The decorative chain of foliage on the apron (the horizontal area that connects the top to the legs) is a dead giveaway of that design period.

Artwork: The room features 16 black-and-white photos of J.F.K. and a copy of Mrs. Kennedy’s White House portrait. How simple would it be to include lovely photos and portraits of your own family members, reproduced in black and white, in your own fabulous suite? A Rococo style mirror completes the look.

So, there you have it: A room certainly fit for a First Lady featuring bits and pieces that are easily adaptable to our own five-star suite.

Let me leave you with lines from the opening day speech, delivered by Chauncey Depew the statesman who named the Grand Hotel in 1887: “This institution is more than a hotel. It is a symbol of the grandness of American hospitality and may the stars and stripes continue to wave over it as long as it remains worthy of the Grand tradition.”

I will be here next week to talk about something different!

Jan Colvin has been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID).

Jan welcomes questions, which will be answered in her columns. Send your questions to: jan@jcolvininteriors.com