Bringing Back the Historic Hotel Saranac

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Bringing a hotel back to life isn’t easy. Especially if it’s been closed for an extended period.  Plus, ensuring the property meets the needs of the current guests while still honoring its legacy is a hearty challenge. Enter Sue Pollio, RSJ Associates, LLC, President and Founder, and an owner tasked with reinventing the Hotel Saranac, which originally debuted in 1927. Now $30 million and three years later, Pollio shares with Samuelson Furniture what the experience was like regarding her role as the project’s interior designer and procurement pro.

Vintage Photograph of the Hotel Saranac

Interview with Sue Pollio, President and Founder

RSJ Associates, LLC

What compelled you to restore the hotel? What was your driving force?

We have a strong family connection to Saranac Lake and vacationed there for years. My mom grew up there. The hotel was a place that was in need of a renovation, but still a home to people to celebrate everything such as weddings and proms.

What challenges did you meet in trying to preserve the historical nature of the hotel while appealing to today’s traveler?

There were many things we might have done differently if this was a new building and didn’t have tax credits associated with it. For example, we had to create some ADA guestrooms by transforming some traditional rooms to meet this important requirement.

Also, some rooms are tiny by today’s standards, some fewer than 10 feet wide. To get the critical tax credits that made the project viable, we could not take walls down. That meant guestroom bathrooms that are 4’x6’ remain. That was quite a challenge for the designers and construction people. There were no sprinklers or HVAC, which had to be installed. But we figured it out and the result is stunning.

Thankfully we had Samuelson to create incredible casegoods that are more like millwork pieces. There are no standard rooms here and we decided to feature headboards from floor to ceiling, hiding electric behind crown molding and within the case goods. And of course, we added electric outlets to every room.

What types of things did you uncover during the renovation?

We found layers and layers of things. For example, we brought back beautiful French doors that had led to the terrace over the years. Also noted, while removing sheet rock from the ground floor lobby area, the “arcade” as it was known back in the day was revealed with original plate glass windows complete with law office lettering; the old news stand; the former barbershop and beauty parlor area; even a concealed stairway.  Preserved, among numerous other treasures are the vintage brass letter-drop and two phone booths now used to post visitor’s memories of the hotel. work.

2018 Guestrooms

What updates were made to the historical features you maintained?

We did as much as we had to do, such as fixing a leaky roof that caused some spaces to get destroyed. The Great Hall had plaster beams with intricate detailing the water had damaged. We also pulled up carpet revealing a rare herringbone floor, which we brought back and kept all original. There was lots of terrazzo in public spaces, which was pitted over the years. We had to sand it down, fill it and make it conform to the character.

If you didn’t use a historical element (or were forced to remove something), did you represent it somehow? How are you representing the history within the hotel?

We wanted to make sure the architectural parts stayed old.

But we didn’t buy 1920's furniture. We wanted the furniture to feel new and fresh and let the architecture accentuate the historic. We were careful not to make everything look brand new.