Handcrafted charm in a tiny hotel

08/22/2014 12:00 AM

08/21/2014 3:16 PM

Inspiration lurked in the hallways of the Charlotte Hotel and Restaurant, ready to throw good vibrations at any passerby.

“What a thrill to be alive on a morning in June,” read one inscription I saw as I left my guest room during a May visit to Virginia’s Eastern Shore. (Note: Happy thoughts are not tied to the calendar.)

“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea,” said another as I rounded a corner.

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” quoted a third, my younger, pigtailed self immediately recognizing Mister Rogers’s tag line.

The stirring aphorisms, which trim the upper-level halls and stairwells, shine some additional light on an already bright decor — artichoke-green exterior, milk-white interior, fetching artworks. The literary designs also helped the owners bridge a gap in their renovation budget.

Gary Cochran and Charlotte Heath, the married owners,

opened the restaurant in November 2003, and the eight-room hotel three months later. They slipped a new jacket on an old set of bones: the White Hotel, which had operated between 1907 and the Great Depression.

When they took over, the building was in critical condition. They had to gut the structure, an extensive — and expensive — undertaking. To save clams, they tapped into their own skills and talents. Gary constructed all the guest-room furniture, including, in my room, the distressed-wood dresser that swallows up the TV set and the bathroom chest with cozy habitats for thick towels. He carved nooks into the wall, creating shadow boxes for nighttime essentials. And he left space beneath the on-tippy-toes bed for luggage storage.

“It’s all part of the illusion,” he said. “It gives the semblance that we are much larger than we really are.”

Charlotte, meanwhile, grabbed her artist’s toolbox and started decorating. She painted colored squares on the bathroom floor to create a bath mat that doesn’t slip underfoot. She covered the wood floors in paint, speeding up the aging process with the sweep of her brush. Every print and painting hanging on the walls bears her signature.

The ground floor is dominated by two dining areas, plus a boxy bar, that double as an art gallery displaying Charlotte’s works. Serious multi-taskers can check off their holiday shopping list between courses.

My room, No. 38, was made for a low-maintenance princess — cozy but not excessive. Fancy was the reading chair by the window, with the glow of streetlights streaming in through gauzy curtains. So was the fleet of hooks for the skeleton door key, which eliminated the parlor game of Which Pocket? And the step stool, which protected Precious from pulling a muscle when climbing into bed.

After a solid night’s rest, I rose early and headed downstairs for the free breakfast, a choice of four menu items. I paused at a proverb for a pre-coffee lift and a life affirmation.

Yes, indeed, I did feel the thrill of being alive on this morning at the Charlotte Hotel. Now, I was ready for waffles.

•  The Charlotte Hotel and Restaurant, 7 North St., Onancock, Va.; 757-787-7400; www.thecharlottehotel.com. Rooms from $130.

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