There is a natural tension between historical authenticity and making a renovated building practical and useful, interior designer Lori LaRochelle said.
But there will be plenty in the Gerald Senior Residence to signify its former existence as a hotel.
Perhaps the best sense of what daily life in the Gerald used to be like will be found in a planned display near the lobby.
A cubbyhole built into the hallway wall will be lined with glass shelves and used to display some of the artifacts found in the building, including a series of toilet paper dispensers, boxes that functioned more like a box of tissues would today, with one piece of paper coming out at a time.
“They were really kind of cool,” LaRochelle said.
The small steel boxes, with ornate decorations, are a sign of the sumptuous lifestyle of those who stayed at the Gerald.
“In that time period, usually bathrooms were in the hallways for the guests,” she said. “In this hotel, the bathrooms were incorporated into the rooms.”
The display also will hold newspapers from the early 1900s, receipts and an old mop washbucket.
“They’re not the glamorous things,” she said. “They’re the things that were used pretty much every day.”
There are some pieces that she still is working on. A set of double doors has been preserved, but LaRochelle isn’t yet sure where it will end up.
She said she’d also like to find a photo that captures one of the more interesting details about the building after the hotel closed.
“It was purchased by a funeral parlor, but they also had a furniture store. They had dead people and were selling furniture at the same time,” she said. “I thought that was so peculiar.”
The walls will be decorated with artwork from the Victorian era, which LaRochelle said “give the building a little color and some pizazz.”
The artwork, presented in authentic Victorian-style frames, will include two prints by Vincent van Gogh, one by Gustav Klimt, one by Paul Ranson, and one by Paul Cezanne.
In most of the paintings, characterized by bold colors and surrealist twists, some of the most famous artists who ever lived offer their take on natural subjects such as flowers, a ravine, the woods or an apple tree.
Only one, van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace at Night,” has human subjects, and they are background characters in a cobblestone street bordered by buildings and a star-studded sky.
Another frame will hold a print based on a photograph of the hotel’s community room, which was made available by the Fairfield Historical Society. The painting that was once on the wall has been lost to history, but LaRochelle is trying to recreate it by blowing up the actual historical image and printing the result on a canvas.
“Hopefully, we can get it in color,” she said. “The wall already has the frame.”
Other pieces of art, mostly involving actual photos of the Gerald, will be bought from the historical society.
LaRochelle said the building will help not only the seniors who live in it, but the community at large.
“I consider it to be quite the honor to be chosen and allowed to do it,” she said. “I think it’s going to be wonderful. I think it’s going to be the thing that restores Fairfield.”