LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — Two and a half years ago, Alice Amory was using tweezers and gold leaf to plate food at a fancy New York City restaurant, the kind of molecular gastronomy eatery that imported boxes of pine needles from Maine to help with the presentation.
After nearly two decades working in the city, the Camden native decided that she was ready to come home.
“It was a different world,” Amory, now 36, reflected recently from the common room of her newly opened business, the Lincolnville Motel. “It just dawned on me that New York wasn’t really making me that happy anymore.”
So the trained chef returned to midcoast Maine, where she worked at a local restaurant and did private catering, and began noticing Abbington’s Seaview Motel and Cottages, an old 1950s-era motel on Route 1 that had been on the market for awhile.
“I’d drive by and look at it, because the cottages are just so darned cute,” she said.
After crunching the numbers and considering her future plans, Amory decided that she wanted to go for it, and closed on the property on April 3. Though she didn’t want to divulge the sale price, a 2010 property listing shows the asking price for the six-room motel and eight adjacent cottages at $399,000.
In the long term, Amory wants to build a commercial kitchen and eventually open something that hasn’t yet caught on in Maine: a sauna club, complete with cold pools, hot saunas and relaxation rooms. But in the short term, she just wanted to quickly renovate and reopen the motel, placing her own stamp on the property while still hopefully participating in the 2015 tourism season.
The race was on, so Amory and her family and friends got to work.
“It was nonstop constantly every day for a while,” she said.
They pulled out 14 dumpsters worth of fake wood paneling and thick, mustard-colored carpeting. She became a regular at the paint store, purchasing nearly 120 gallons of plain white paint. And when all that demolition and repainting was through, she had the kind of motel that she would want to stay at herself. She definitely knew she wanted to avoid antiques, floral prints and nautical knick-knacks, style choices commonly found on the coast of Maine.
“I wanted to keep it very simple and about the things I think are wonderful about summer vacations,” she said. “I want to help encourage other younger people to come to the area. That was the goal with the rooms and other spaces.”
To that end, she decorated the four newly painted motel rooms and six cottages with record players, giant photographs and illuminated globes — but no televisions. She purchased new, comfortable beds and invested in really nice bedding. She and her crew of workers carved out new common spaces in the motel building where guests can congregate, reading books by the gas fire on rainy days and exchanging their records in the lending library.
The simple decor makes a style statement, and also was helpful for the motel’s bottom line.
“This is just the beginning of it,” she said, referring to her longtime plans. “I didn’t want to pour tons of money that I don’t have into the renovation.”
The snow, which was piled in high drifts around the cottages when she started working on it this spring, eventually melted. And finally, after many last-minute runs to Reny’s in Camden for fans, shower hooks and soap dispensers, the Lincolnville Motel opened for business in late July, with rooms renting from between $100 and $200 per night.
“We just slowly rolled into being,” Amory said. “But August was really good, and the most exciting thing is the feedback has been really positive.”
She did much of her marketing by word of mouth or on the website Airbnb.com, which she said has been “amazing” in terms of connecting her motel to potential customers. Although Airbnb perhaps is better known as the online venue where homeowners rent out space in their own homes to paying guests, it has become a way that some motels and hotels get the word out about their own rooms, and it seems that the younger demographic is quite comfortable finding a place to stay this way, she said.
On the site, the Lincolnville Motel’s reviews are largely of the five-star, glowing variety. One engineer from Somerville, Massachusetts, gushed about the decor.
“I was very surprised and very happy to learn that each room had its own record player and when I found my favorite Beatles album, ‘Rubber Soul,’ in my room, I knew my friends and I were in the right place,” he wrote.
Amory said that she will close her motel down for the season sometime in October.
“I hope next year will be solidly busy,” she said. “It’s been a great adventure … it’s a reflection of my personal style. A little bit of Scandinavian influence. And with less stuff, you can appreciate the details of things.”