Wood Floors in Newfoundland Hotel Tie to Community

Photos by Iwan Baant
Photos by Iwan Baant
 

The Fogo Island Inn, located off the coast of Newfoundland, serves as an economic driver of the isolated community. Its design features local wood and mimics local architecture. (Photos by Iwan Baant)The Fogo Island Inn, located off the coast of Newfoundland, serves as an economic driver of the isolated community. Its design features local wood and mimics local architecture. (Photos by Iwan Baant)In a recent blog post entitled, "What Starbucks Gets that Architects Don't," Christine Outram accused her fellow architects of designing for the sake of design, not for the people using the space. "You rely on rules and pattern books, but you rarely do in-depth ethnographic research," she writes. "You don't connect with people anymore."

The Fogo Island Inn, designed by Saunders Architecture, does not fall victim to this. From the very beginning, it was built to connect with the community on the rocky 92-square-mile island off the coast of Newfoundland. The design and materials were all chosen with Fogo Islanders and Newfoundlanders in mind. As part of that mission, local carpenters installed local wood in a way that referenced the local architecture-but with a modern twist.

Cultivating Community

When Zita Cobb returned to her hometown on Fogo Island after making millions in the tech industry, she wanted to help her shrinking, economically depressed community, which was hit hard by Canada's cod fishing moratorium of 1992. She set up the Shorefast Foundation, which aims to preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage of the island by making it economically viable. She also created a scholarship fund, allowing kids on the island to go to college like she did.

The inn is made up of two intersecting volumes, forming an X. The floors follow the length of the two legs and intersect here.The inn is made up of two intersecting volumes, forming an X. The floors follow the length of the two legs and intersect here.But then, she recalls in numerous interviews, one mother pointed out, "You're just paying our children to leave us." Cobb realized it wasn't enough to bring money to Fogo Island-she needed to bring people. So Cobb and her foundation turned their talents to architecture, acting as general contractor and recruiting Newfoundland native Todd Saunders and his Norway-based architecture firm to design the Fogo Island Inn.

The 29-room inn is more than housing for tourists. It's the center of Shorefast's mission to employ and engage islanders while attracting artists from around the world. Designers from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe came to stay on Fogo Island to create designs for pieces of furniture that reflected the local culture. Those pieces were then produced by local boat builders and carpenters to furnish the inn. All of the furniture is for sale, and the proceeds go to the local artisans who built them.

photo of Fogo Island InnShorefast also hired as many contractors and carpenters from Fogo and surrounding Newfoundland as it could to construct the inn itself. Part of the team constructing the inn's interiors, including 36,500 square feet of wood flooring, was a group of Irish carpenters who had immigrated to Toronto. Shorefast co-founder Tony Cobb, Zita's brother, sought them out for the project. They requested to stay in the Fogo Island town of Tilting during construction because it felt like home-Fogo is known for its Irish and English heritage, and many residents have a slight Irish brogue.

The inn also serves as a community center with its movie theater, art gallery showing works by Shorefast's artists-in-residence, and a world-class restaurant serving dishes featuring the island's native plants and game. The Inn's bar often features live music, attracting guests and residents alike.

Strangely Familiar

Some of the wood floor in the guest rooms are painted, a common practice in Fogo Island homes.Some of the wood floor in the guest rooms are painted, a common practice in Fogo Island homes.At first glance, the Fogo Island Inn may look like some modern art piece dropped in the middle of the wilderness. "Some people were less enthusiastic," Joseph Kellner, the on-site architect, says of the design. "The thing is, some of the material used, and the stilts and color schemes, reference back to the way things are done on the island. A lot of people say, 'I would never have imagined it, but it does feel strangely familiar.'"

Great emphasis was placed on the materials used. The siding is black spruce, just like every home on the island. The stilts mimic the island's homes and fishing stages-sheds on the water's edge for cleaning fish-which can't sit directly on the rocky shoreline. The quilts on every bed were hand-made by the island's quilting guild to look like the old scrap quilts tucked away in every household's attic. Even the wallpaper was custom-designed to reference the local fishing culture.

There was one instance where the designers decided to diverge from the local style: the painted floors. In most Fogo homes, the antique floors are painted. "If you have a wood floor that's 100 years old, and you paint it, you can still tell it's a wood floor underneath," Kellner says. "However, once we put the paint on the [new] floor, it kind of looked like linoleum." For this reason, only a few of the rooms have painted floors; the rest received the same wax-oil finish as the public areas. "The idea is in the future, if they want, the oil product can be sanded out and painted over," Kellner says. The wax-oil also provides the matte finish and "green profile" the designers sought.

The architects chose yellow birch for common areas because it was the hardest locally available wood. (Photos by Iwan Baant)The architects chose yellow birch for common areas because it was the hardest locally available wood. (Photos by Iwan Baant)
 

Pragmatic Style

The floors, like everything else in the inn, lie at this intersection of practicality and design while trying to stay true to Shorefast's dedication to the community. The design team wanted local wood to support the local economy but opted out of the vernacular spruce floors in favor of something harder that could stand up to commercial traffic. The common areas feature yellow birch, the hardest wood available in Newfoundland, milled by Forest Floors of Stephanville, Newfoundland, but there wasn't enough of it to supply the entire inn.

"There was really only one sawmill that was willing to organize getting all the wood we needed and mill it to the sizes we wanted," Kellner says. "Literally, they had to go out, get the permit from the forestry department, cut down the trees and mill them down."

Because Forest Floors' kiln could only dry so much wood at a time, the supply of yellow birch was limited. For this reason, the guest rooms have maple from Ontario rather than birch.

The style of the floors was also a combination of practicality and design. "The owners did not want to go with an engineered product because it doesn't feel and sound the same as a hardwood, solid floor," Kellner explained. However, they also wanted in-floor heating. To optimize the performance of solid wood with the radiant heating system, the architects chose ¾-inch thick, quartersawn wood laid in 60-, 90- and 120-mm widths throughout the public areas. "Originally we wanted to use all wide plank, but [the heating technicians] were concerned with the expansion and contraction over time that they would crack or cup," Kellner says.

The maple floors in the guest rooms are all 2¼-inches wide-a "more domestic scale." The narrow boards and more stable species also reduce the risk of failure.

Guests can open the floor-to-ceiling windows in their rooms, but the architects aren't too worried about unstable conditions. In Kellner's words, "You don't want the building to look brand new in X amount of years." The inn's fresh air supply system does have a dehumidifying function, but the flooring is expected to stand up to a little sea air.

In fact, the entire inn was built to stand up to wear and tear. "Everything that was chosen was chosen for a reason," Kellner says. That reason? To be sure the building could continue to serve the people of Fogo Island long into the future.


Project Details

Architect: Saunders Architecture (Bergen, Norway) General Contractor: Shorefast Foundation (Joe Batt's Arm, Newfoundland) Flooring Manufacturer: Forest Floors (Stephanville, Newfoundland) Finish Manufacturer: Osmo North America (Seattle)

 

 

 

photo of Saunders Architecture project
 
 
photo of Saunders Architecture project
 
 
photo of Saunders Architecture project
 
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