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History Meets Contemporary in NJ Boutique Property

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August 21, 2010 — When proprietor Barry Sussman took over the Peacock Inn in Princeton, NJ, several years ago, he thought it was going to be an easy transition. Little did he know, the process was going to be anything but smooth, but the end product was worth the four years of effort it would take to get it up to his standards.

The Inn had been open and operating when Sussman took it over, but it was run down, with dated designs from top to bottom. His idea was to give the entire place a facelift, but leave the structure essentially intact. “As we got into it, we found more and more things wrong,” he remembered. In the end, Sussman ended up having to essentially gut the entire building and start from scratch. The Inn had a soft opening at the end of January 2010, and officially opened their dining room, the last room to be finished, on May 17.

His go-to person for the design from start to finish was Annette Palmieri, owner of Annette Palmieri Designs. “We wanted to give it a modern flare, but keep the integrity of being in Princeton,” she said in reference to the design choices.

Those choices were important because the Peacock Inn isn’t just another hotel. Built in the 1700s, it’s housed such notables as members of the Continental Congress, Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. While not on the historic registries yet because the building was moved several blocks in 1875, Sussman and Palmiere were both very aware of the rich history of the building, and wanted to preserve the spirit of it as much as possible.

However, since the building has been a bed and breakfast since the 1920s, Palmiere did have her job cut out for her. “It was really awful [when we first started],” she noted, referring to the dark, dated peacock wallpaper they found on most of the walls. “Now it’s very calming.” In addition to changing the wall colors, Sussman and Palmieri removed one of two staircases that at one time sat at the front of the house and what was once two small rooms is now one larger bar area. “The décor was very dated and confusing with too much going on, now it’s calming, and like you would expect a boutique hotel to look today,” Palmieri said.

The basement was another major area of transformation. The ceilings were very low, so they made the decision to dig down and sink the foundation a bit to give them more height. The space now functions as a meeting area as well as dining room.

To Palmieri’s surprise, as they dug down and started peeling back the years of wallcoverings, they found three etchings that were probably, she noted, done in the 20s. Sussman said they believe the drawings were done by period artist John Held Jr. One depicts flappers—lending credence to the 1920s dating, since the building was used as a speakeasy during that era—and another shows Princeton mathematician John Von Neumann, who also worked on the famed Manhattan Project, driving and reading a book. The etchings were carefully preserved and now hang above the fireplaces of each of the three dining rooms. “I was constantly checking with [the contractors hired to renovate the basement] making sure the etchings were okay,” Palmieri said.

Another big change Sussman and Palmieri decided on, once it was clear everything inside had to change, was to re-work the guest rooms. When Sussman first purchased the Inn, there were 17 rooms and nine bathrooms – most rooms did not have a private bathroom. Now, the Peacock Inn has 16 rooms, all with their own private bath and radiant heating in the bathroom floors. They feature all glass-enclosed showers and Molton Brown products. Sussman noted that, when they first contacted Molton Brown, which is usually only found in five-star, upscale locations, at first they were turned down. However, the Peacock Inn is now a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which, in the end, gave them the clout they needed to secure the high-end products for their guests.

No two of the guest rooms are exactly alike. Palmieri noted it was challenging to decorate, since no two rooms are laid out the same. Size and shape dictated which furniture could go in each room, so she decided to play off that and make each one as unique as possible. They all share the same carpeting, but they are painted one of three colors in addition to having different pieces out of either the Trump or Central Park collections from Lexington Furniture. Palmieri noted at one point she had the plans for all the rooms spread out all over as she tried to figure out what to use where, and she admits she had some worries. But, “when everything came in, it worked perfectly.”

One point of pride for Sussman is that all the rooms feature Hollandia International mattresses. “Some people have come just to try out the mattresses,” he said. “They’re phenomenal.”

The rooms also got upgraded air conditioning in the renovations, going from window units to a Mitsubishi zoned system that guests can control from their rooms, but can also be controlled from the front desk, allowing them to bring rooms to requested temperatures before guests arrive while ensuring they can stay as energy efficient as possible.

In the end, Sussman had a vision of a high-end boutique

hotel that would do Princeton proud. With Palmieri’s help, he was able to achieve that vision. “People can’t believe the transformation,” he noted. “Everyone who walks in says ‘wow’. It’s a great asset for Princeton.”

“It was a labor of love, but exhausting,” Palmieri said. “It was challenging, to say the least, but I love the project and I’m so proud of what it turned out to be.”

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