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Thinking Outside the Air Conditioning Box

Posted Oct 14 2008 4:17am

I stayed at a 70-guest-room hotel that was built in 1926 in Delray Beach, Florida this past long weekend. Named the Colony Hotel, it is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Historic Hotels of America. It is certified as a Florida Green Lodge by the Department of Environmental Protection, and is a founding member of the Green Hotels Association. Green features abound, and even after four days there, continued to surprise me at every turn. Organic towels. China coffee cups as well as compostable to-go cups. Non-toxic cleaners and paints and shower products. Recyling bins. Recycled paper. A turtle nesting area at the beach. And more.

When it comes to cooling the joint, small window air conditioners and ceiling fans take care of the rooms, but the lobby is open air, open door, open window, with countless ceiling fans. This no doubt worked well when the hotel was only open three months of the year, but now that it year-round, and since October in south Florida still means 90 degrees, the heat is heavy in the air.

Yet.

I noticed what happens when people linger on a porch beneath swirling ceiling fans, sweat on their brow already even before their morning coffee. They slow down. They smile at each other. They laugh. They linger. As the upbeat strains of jazz flow through the lobby, the two guys at the front desk leaning on their elbows and chatting with guests when they are not also shuttling guests to the nearby beach club, clearing the breakfast dishes and operating the original 1926 Otis Elevator Company elevator, I start to see that, ya' know what, this is a good thing.

The dining room, once bustling, sat empty, the hotel deciding to do away with dinner service since this hotel is smack in the middle of a vibrant arts and culture street scene lined with a plethora of unique restaurants. And who wants to eat dinner in a steamy hot hotel?

Yet.

When I walked into the vast yellow room, its heart-of-pine wood flooring glistening in the morning sun, I thought of that scene from the Disney movie Anastasia when the girl returns to the Russian palace where she had been a child and the ballroom jolts her memory alive as people from her past appear as if from the walls and dance across the floor. Here, in this ballroom, on this quiet, hot morning, it was as if the sun itself were dancing, its heat gently coaxing memory alive of the people who once walked here, ate here, danced here, through so many historic times in our country's 20th century history as history is being made yet again.

Jestena Boughton, the owner of The Colony Hotel (as well as its sister hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine), donates this otherwise-unused space to be used for charity fashion shows and world-class orchestra performances in order to benefit the community, as well as for morning yoga classes, accompanied by live music every Sunday morning.

Jestena, and Tyson and John and Hugh and everyone else at the front desk, and Marie the elevator operator, I like the magical things that happen when you think outside the box. The air conditioning box, that is.
Nurturing sustainability close to home and around the world. (And other food for thought!)

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