Concord, MA: Hawthorne Inn

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d take to convert your home to a great getaway, consider the experience of Gregory Burch and Marilyn Mudry. For some 30 years, they’ve made the Hawthorne Inn in Concord, Massachusetts, home to their family of five […]

By Christine Schultz

Apr 17 2008

Sitting Room
Photo Credit : Roth, Eric

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d take to convert your home to a great getaway, consider the experience of Gregory Burch and Marilyn Mudry. For some 30 years, they’ve made the Hawthorne Inn in Concord, Massachusetts, home to their family of five and more than 100,000 travelers. That’s a lot of houseguests when you’re raising three kids.

Soon after Gregory finished at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, he found a grand Italianate-style building in the 17th-century village of Concord. It was built in 1870 by the minor artist and historian George Arthur Gray, with a stucco exterior added in the 1920s. Set on one and a half acres on Lexington Road, the woodsy grounds had once been surveyed by Henry David Thoreau and had belonged at different times to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott’s family, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The building’s last incarnation had been as a nursing home, with terrible wallpaper, linoleum, and institutional blues and greens. “Pretty funky,” as Gregory recalls. Nonetheless, within 10 minutes of touring the wreck, he saw its potential, bought it for $90,000, and opened it to guests in July 1976.

“It was rather naive from a financial viewpoint, but very fulfilling from a spiritual stance,” says Gregory. “The land and the place called us to make our home here.” He and Marilyn married in the inn’s yard, with guests watching from the windows.

Today, people go into innkeeping with more business sense than spontaneity. But with no formal plan, Marilyn and Gregory set to ripping out walls, tiling baths, sanding, painting, wallpapering, building stone walkways, and planting trees. “I’ve been inside every single wall in this building,” notes Gregory. Having grown up renovating his parents’ rental properties, he’d done enough building rehab to not be scared of tearing down walls. As an artist, he added creative touches — hand-carving a fireplace mantle and making decorative leaded glass windows to let natural light into bathrooms. Over three decades, he and Marilyn have poured $500,000 and endless labor into the inn, now valued at nearly $3 million.

Considered one of New England’s finest establishments, the Hawthorne has been incredibly successful. But Gregory and Marilyn had to balance success with family life, so early on they decided to forgo the extra income from adding guestrooms, instead keeping half of the building for their three children — Ariel, 25, Ezra, 23, and Jasper, 21 — who were all born and raised here. And that decision was key to their longevity in the business. “Our family space is only a door away from the business,” says Gregory, “but we treat it as if it’s an international border.”

The Hawthorne’s policy is: “Children traveling with well-behaved adults are always welcome.” But Gregory and Marilyn allowed their own kids into the inn only by invitation — to meet, say, a head of state, a world-class opera singer, or a group of Disney Imagineers. What growing up at the inn meant for all three was that they had two parents around all the time — before school, for field trips, and after school when they brought friends home to do art projects with their dad in his studio. “It was hectic at times,” recalls Gregory, “but it was excellent.”

Marilyn adds that the innkeeping profession is great when everything goes as planned. But before you get too starry-eyed about it, remember that running a B&B isn’t the relaxing, romantic experience of visiting one. The reality includes cooking, cleaning, comforting cranky guests, juggling bookings, managing baggage, and fixing broken toilets. Not to mention the time when at 1:00 in the morning travelers ignoring the no-vacancy sign rang the inn’s doorbell insistently. “Are you sure you don’t have any vacancies?” they asked.

To successfully live where you work for 30 years, says Marilyn, “you have to have balance in life.” She and Gregory spend lots of time with guests at check-in and breakfast, but evenings are reserved for family and friends. Concord is the perfect place for a quality lifestyle and hospitality. It’s home to one of the nation’s best public school systems; it’s an exceptionally active community; and Boston is close. Guests enjoy the town’s history, literary events, shops and restaurants, canoe rides, visits to their kids at the town’s two prep schools and dozens of area colleges, and tours of sites such as Walden Pond and the Emerson house. With so much to do, people keep coming back. Gregory and Marilyn tell aspiring innkeepers that metropolitan areas are best for year-round B&Bs.

They also recommend trusting your own taste. “Many inns are decorated with a theme, or reflect a time period,” says Gregory. “That’s never been our way. If we like it, we buy it.” They love Japanese ukiyo-e prints, so some four dozen decorate the building’s 18 rooms. They pair the traditional (a Norman Rockwell artist’s proof) with the unexpected (a Haitian voodoo mask), and it works. Everything from whimsical lamps to a Sheraton/Empire desk, an Eastlake platform rocker to a 17th-century Persian helmet, keeps company at this inn.

“But no matter how nice the property,” says Gregory, “if the people who run it are cold, it’s not homey.” That’s why in addition to amenities such as off-street parking, the Hawthorne also offers comforts such as “advice, career counseling, dog adoption services, travel information, tips for the newly married (or soon-to-be), weather forecasts, driving alerts, succor, support, and humor at no extra charge.” And that’s why Marilyn and Gregory might get a card in the mail years after a guest has stayed there, just to say he was remembering them and wondering how they’re doing.