LENOX — Let’s start this story with a cliché because everyone loves a trite turn of phrase. It goes like this: You only get one chance to make a first impression.
The saying came to mind because both Life House, Berkshires hotel in Lenox and the Blue Vista Motor Lodge in Florida (that’s Florida, Mass., the one without alligators) made a good first impression when I spent a gorgeous late summer weekend in the Berkshires. But only one of these recently refreshed hotels delivered. The other, sadly, didn’t live up to the hype or even promised services.
LIFE HOUSE, BERKSHIRES
Life House is a small chain of 10 hotels that the company says are “artfully designed to bring meaning to life and to the universe.” In Lenox, Life House tries to bring meaning to the universe by styling the property to look like a writer’s mountain retreat from the 1970s. Picture Edith Wharton and Nathaniel Hawthorne hanging out at Arlo Guthrie’s house and listening to Carole King’s “Tapestry,” and you get the idea. And if that isn’t clear, just read a recent article from Vogue that states 1970s interior design is back in fashion.
Life House was once a Days Inn on Route 20. As we were driving west, my husband was reading unkind reviews from people who had stayed there. But when we arrived, I was happy to see that the building had molted out of its Days Inn skin. The lobby, which contains a restaurant, a swanky bar, and an artfully decorated lounge (called “the library lounge”), has 28-foot ceilings, dramatic glass chandeliers, and dozens of windows. The furnishings seemed inspired by Rhoda Morgenstern’s New York apartment (that’s a compliment).
We were feeling pretty jazzed, so we ordered a couple of cocktails before we went to the room. The hotel has self-check-in on an iPad. The woman tending bar helped us when we hit a snag. We took our cocktails and sat out by one of several fire pits, sipping and admiring the stars. I started to see why Life House, Berkshires made Conde Nast Traveler’s 2023 Hot List.
The price was not cheap. After taxes and fees it was $407 for a night, so my expectations were high as we entered the room.
The first thing I noticed was a strange wire cage around the air conditioner. After studying pictures of the rooms before the hotel was renovated, it looked as if they were the same air conditioners used when the property was a Days Inn. But why the cage? Was it popular to build chicken coops to hide air conditioners in the 1970s? If so, Life House nailed that trend.
Aside from the caged AC, every part of the room was nicely renovated. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom was fresh, the toiletries were from the very upscale brand Le Labo, and the floor was wood laminate in a herringbone pattern. The footprint of the room was small, just as it had been when it was Days Inn. There was no coffee maker in the room, but most people I know aren’t fans of hotel room coffee.
The trouble started when we turned on the TV. It had an interactive page where you could request items from the front desk, everything from Q-Tips to wine bottle openers. I had forgotten my toothpaste, so I clicked on “toothpaste.” I also clicked on “ice,” because that seemed like a good hotel thing to do. It was around 11 p.m. when I submitted my request. I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Nothing.
If you offer services to guests, such as items from an interactive menu on a TV, you should provide the service. Otherwise, remove the option. Especially at a time when finding workers in the hospitality industry is challenging. Life House is striving to be an outdoorsy writer’s lodge inspired by the 1970s, and aesthetically it works, although it really is a motor lodge on a parking lot.
But it misses the mark on details, like the dust collecting on the shelves of the 28-foot bookcase in the lobby (please, someone buy a roll of paper towels and a can of lemon Pledge!), the parking lot noise, the strange caged air conditioners, and, worst of all, leaving guests feeling ignored. Custom Murano glass chandeliers in the lobby don’t matter if guests walk away unhappy.
LIFE HOUSE, BERKSHIRES
- 64 updated rooms.
- Nice cocktail bar
- Large patio area with tables, sofas, and fire pits.
- Service is lacking.
- Some highway and parking lot noise carries into rooms.
194 Pittsfield Road, Lenox, 855-967-5695, www.lifehousehotels.com
BLUE VISTA MOTOR LODGE
Like Life House, the Blue Vista Motor Lodge in Florida is a renovated motor inn, but the similarities end there. While Life House places its emphasis on style and automation, the owner of Blue Vista places her emphasis on service. At least that was my first impression when I arrived. Instead of checking in with an iPad, owner Stella Downie was behind the desk to check me in. (Downie did not know a travel writer from the Globe was staying at the hotel, and the Globe does not accept free hotel stays.)
In true motor inn fashion, the check-in office also sells food, beverages, T-shirts, and other items that carry the hotel’s logo. It’s a well-curated mix of products. There’s no bar, restaurant, or library lounge, but what Blue Vista has is the best view on the Mohawk Trail. It sits 2,240 feet above sea level, making it the highest point on the trail. There’s nothing but trees as far as the eye can see (and also the historic bronze elk statue nearby).
Downie, an entrepreneur who once ran a toy store in Cambridge (StellaBella Toys) and then opened several indoor trampoline parks, bought the decaying Whitcomb Summit Motor Lodge in 2021 and restored the building into a lovely midcentury throwback. My room was modern and up-to-date, the bed was comfortable, and the bathroom was spotless. It’s all about the view, so keeping the room decor straightforward was a wise move. There’s no way to compete with what’s outside.
There are two outdoor fire pits that offer more scenery, plus a pair of hot tubs behind the hotel. Because I booked at the last minute, the only room left was a king suite, which had a large living room area with a table at the window and a separate bedroom. It was a big room. I paid $366 with taxes and fees for the room on a Saturday night. Weeknight rates are cheaper, as are off-season rates. I searched around the hotel’s website and found rooms in the late fall starting at $129 a night.
With the location and views comes the challenge of finding dinner. Most restaurants are about 10 miles away and there’s no restaurant at the hotel. That’s mostly nitpicking. Truthfully there wasn’t much amiss at Blue Vista. The only complaint I came away with was the TV. There was one channel (I think) that could be watched live. The other options were streaming services that required a hotel guest to sign in with their own subscription. Many hotels are now setting up their systems this way, including Life House. But sometimes it’s nice to just turn on the TV and zone out rather than having to log into accounts.
Comparing Blue Vista and Life House is like trying to compare Elizabeth Taylor’s ex-husbands. Impossible. But, here it goes: Blue Vista can be described as a hotel in the Berkshires with 17 rooms located on 19 acres. Life House describes itself as “a vertically integrated hotel brand, management and software platform.” I don’t even know what that means.
I came away from Blue Vista with an appreciation of a solid, old-school motor inn where the owner is on-site and works long hours. These hotels are few and far between. Or maybe I was just feeling happy after a nice experience with an amazing view.
BLUE VISTA MOTOR LODGE
- Incredible scenery.
- Service-oriented staff.
- Overly complicated television.
229 Mohawk Trail, Florida, 413-664-0007. www.bluevistamotorlodge.com
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