NEW ASHFORD — Who can resist the charm of a classic midcentury motor lodge? The sleek lines of the roadside architecture were combined with the new and exciting phenomenon of an affordable vacation just off the freeway. As a result, the motels of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s sprang up like weeds between cracks in the asphalt. Often anchored by a restaurant, a gift shop, and, of course, a pool.
But as midcentury architecture and motor lodges fell out of favor, many of these gems were bulldozed to make room for strip malls, big box stores, and generic family-style dining chains. Some were abandoned as nature had its way with forgotten swimming pools and miles of deserted shag carpets.
In the Berkshires, the Springs Motel, a 1959 motor lodge with a lobby straight out of Palm Springs, faced a similar fate until it was purchased by 34-year-old Lindsey Kurowski last year. Along with three of her siblings (plus contributions from her grandmother), she renovated the motel on the Magnolia Network show “Inn the Works.” The reality show followed her as she took the crusty Springs from an eyesore to a polished jewel.
At least, that’s the way it looked on TV. But the motel I saw on the show didn’t match what I saw when I checked in last week. When I stepped into the room, it didn’t possess the charm of the spaces on the show. Instead, the first thing I noticed was a single bent wire hanger dangling sadly on a rod that had clearly been there since 1959 and given a slap-dash coat of paint. There were things, quite a few things, that I was willing to overlook: Poorly patched-up walls and bad paint jobs, the tiny freezer in the mini-fridge with enough built-up frost to save the polar bears, and hideous fluorescent lighting. What I couldn’t forgive was the bathroom.
I admire that Kurowski kept the original tile, but I couldn’t admire the mold. There was mold in the grout and there was mold on the caulk that was flaking away from around the 1959 aluminum windows and crevices surrounding the tub. The toilet was not flushed, and I’ll say no more about that.
What in the name of Chip and Joanna Gaines was going on here? I was the only person staying at the hotel that night. There was no staff, just a number to text if I needed anything. To his credit, the gent manning the phone was very responsive. But as a result, I was only able to get a quick peek into the lobby. The area in front of the lobby was transformed into a beer garden. The interior of the trailer that was brought in to be used as a bar for the beer garden was a mess (granted, I shouldn’t have been in the trailer, but still...).
In its favor, my room had a comfortable new bed and a new television, plus some fresh furniture. (I wasn’t thrilled about the fake plant, but that’s a topic for another day.) Also, I couldn’t argue with the price of $140 for the night. But what I expected was something more in line with Tourists, another motor lodge in the Berkshires that was given a makeover. A pretty spectacular makeover.
I decided the only fair thing to do was to call Kurowski after my stay (as per Globe policy, the hotel didn’t know a reporter was staying at the hotel while I was there, and I paid the published rate) and find out what was going on with the Springs Motel. Why was it not the same place I saw on “Inn the Works”?
To her credit, Kurowski was apologetic and took responsibility for the problems that I encountered. Staffing issues have plagued the Springs Motel, just as they have plagued others across the entire hospitality industry. Supply chain issues have also held up things like new windows. But perhaps the biggest issue is perception. While “Inn the Works” presented the Springs Motel as a tidy, finished product by the end of the season, Kurowski said it’s still very much a work in progress.
“It’s like ‘Hey, here’s the stuff we did for TV, isn’t it great? And now here’s the 80 percent that I still need to do over time.’ I’m not independently wealthy. So every year I’ll just reinvest back into the place,” she said. “It’s a place that’s in process, and I think that that is something that people should get when they watch the show. I come across as a person who’s like ‘Hey, I’ve done this before!’ But I’m figuring it out and constantly learning.
“I’m still proud to have it open,” she said. “We have a ton of people who came that really liked it. We had a really busy season, and I think a lot of that is because you can’t find a lot of affordable rooms out here.”
She was right about that. I scanned reviews of the hotel, and a large percentage of guests gave it high marks. Many were pleased with the outside lawn, which is filled with intimate seating areas, picnic tables, and lawn games. She wisely took the parking spaces in front of the rooms, and turned asphalt into a grass-covered recreation area. Perhaps my perception of the property would have been different if I had been here during the summer or fall when the lawn was green and filled with people.
A stay at Springs Motel offers a rare look behind the curtain of home renovation shows. What viewers usually see on screen are finished spaces, staged and sparkling. What they don’t see are the rooms that weren’t renovated, or only partially renovated. The difference here is that at a motel, we get to see those unfinished spaces. We see the cracks in the facade — or at least the mold in the bathrooms.
It’s important to mention that not every room in the Springs Motel was like mine. Two of the cabins on the property were finished, along with a larger room known as the Honeymoon Suite. But sacrifices are made for the magic of television. For instance, when “Inn the Works” started airing, the liquor license for the outdoor beer garden had yet to be approved, despite a scene showing the family imbibing. She said the motel has since obtained its liquor license. But the grind of making renovations on a tight filming schedule makes it impossible to complete everything, she said.
Kurowski, who bought the property for $833,000 last year, estimated that she has so far spent close to $500,000 on renovations, and that’s just the beginning. Earlier this month she took down part of the hotel that was so dilapidated it couldn’t be saved. These are all the not-so-pretty things that cost money, but don’t appear on TV. She still has a lot to do. But the good news for the Springs Motel is that it has an owner who cares about the property and is looking at it as a long-range project.
Normally I would permanently write off a place like the Springs Motel, but given her enthusiasm and commitment, I’m curious to see what Kurowski will be able to accomplish. I’ll sneak back in a year or two and see if this motel has been given the love it fully deserves. Stay tuned.