North Star New England hotel shines with old-new mix

It may seem cliché, but everything old can be new again—in the right hands.

Take a pair of buildings in Pittsfield, MA. They have stood in the town since the 1880s, and their longevity and character have earned them a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

There’s another duo in town, hardly as old but equally significant, not for the past but for the future and bringing change to downtown Pittsfield.

Last June, lifelong residents Laurie and David Tierney III of MM&D, LLC, brought the historic structures to life and within them opened Hotel on North, a 45-room boutique property, the city’s first.

The venture also is the Tierneys’ foray into lodging. “Hotel on North is our contribution to the revitalization of downtown Pittsfield, and the design reflects that mission. The hotel celebrates the building’s heritage with an eclectic and creative mix of furnishings and decor, much from the workshops of local artisans and craftspeople. It is a mix of old and new with preserved and restored architectural features such as columns, brick walls and tin ceilings, blended with modern convenience,” said Laurie Tierney, speaking for the ownership duo.

Acquired in 2012, the owners invested some $14 million into transforming the buildings, the site of the Besse-Clarke menswear and sporting goods emporium from 1910 to 1994, whose facade incorporated large storefront windows that now allow views to the hotel’s lobby. There, an art gallery neighbors a bar, restaurant and lounge that features a vintage birdcage elevator with ornamental grillage from Besse-Clarke that’s been converted into a cocktail space.

Tierney said the hotel was developed to bring world-class hospitality, dining and service to North St. “So, it was critical the hotel reflect the contributions of local businesses, craftspeople, artists and suppliers. Guests can sit at writing desks made by hand from reclaimed wood, view work from regional artists in our gallery and dine on locally sourced food at Eat [and Drink Kitchen and Bar]from Executive Chef Brian Alberg,” she said.

The design vision was a close collaboration between the Tierneys; David Tierney’s sister, Karen Tierney Hunt, who served as the architect for the project; and management company Main Street Hospitality Group’s design team consisting of Chairwoman/Owner Nancy Fitzpatrick, CEO Sarah Eustis and Project Manager Carla Child.

In taking on the design task, Eustis said the team tried to create “a sense of home” and evoke Pittsfield’s industrial, urban past.

“We wanted to create a successful anchor for the downtown Pittsfield arts scene and local businesses by offering a distinctive alternative to the other brands near town. The aesthetic of the property is a key reason why guests are choosing to visit—and revisit,” said Eustis.

Tierney noted the current hotel landscape in Pittsfield is made up of brand-name chain hotels. “As the first boutique property, Hotel on North provides guests with a completely different, more upscale option where [each]room is unique,” she said.

Achieving such uniqueness was not without its challenges, according to Eustis.

“Our team was committed to keeping as many of the building’s features and imperfections as possible—now some of the hotel’s biggest charms—which made laying out the guestrooms difficult. The many wood columns required us to be creative and, in one guestroom, the columns actually work as bedposts,” she said. 

Both Tierney and Eustis consider Hotel on North a “community” effort, with much of the interior fitted out via local and regional businesses, craftspeople, artists and suppliers.

For example, contributing from Pittsfield were Adam Medina, Medina Designs, who served as design consultant for Eat; Annie Selke of Dash & Albert, an Annie Selke Co., responsible for the rugs; Jay Baptiste, decorative painter and restorer who did the finishes; Paul Rich & Sons, which was responsible for all furniture in the hotel’s social spaces; and Philip Bastow, an artist who created custom writing tables and bathroom vanities.

In addition, on the wall in the hotel’s lounge is a large reproduction of a front page of the Berkshire Eagle newspaper, which depicts a crowded street map of Pittsfield in 1899, when the city was an economic powerhouse. 

The largest city in Berkshire County, Pittsfield was a thriving town in the 19th century—Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick there—up until about the 1980s, when the city’s largest employer, GE, basically pulled out of the area as demand for the power transformers it had been building there declined, leaving the city economically distressed. 

Within the past decade, however, Pittsfield, began to see change, largely driven by the arts community, which embraced transforming vacant—albeit architecturally intriguing—storefronts into studios, galleries, restaurants and other boutique concepts. Interestingly, London’s Financial Times in 2010 dubbed it “The Brooklyn of the Berkshires.”

It’s this renaissance that spurred both the Tierneys and MSHG to make Hotel on North a centerpiece of the town, along with other key venues such as the restored Colonial Theatre and Barrington Stage Company.

“Pittsfield has been slowly reinventing itself from an industrial hub to a center of New England art and culture and, as the only design-focused, boutique lodging option in town, Hotel on North anchors that arts-driven revitalization,” said Tierney. “Along with other locally owned restaurants and merchants, we’re creating a downtown arts district with character, one that will attract new visitors looking for a more urban experience in the Berkshires. The hotel also brings new jobs and new life to North St. for the local community.”