STEPHEN THOMPSON: Somewhere in time beauty awaits – beautiful, unchanged

We knew we’d picked an interesting place to stay when our carriage driver turned and asked, “So … just how wild is your hotel room?” But I’m jumping ahead in time with the telling of this story.

Patti and I married 20 years ago. We celebrated this year’s anniversary by taking a trip to Michigan’s Mackinac Island and staying at the Grand Hotel. You might remember the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, was filmed on location at the Grand Hotel. Lucky for me, the movie made such an impression on Patti that the Grand Hotel made her bucket list of must-see places.

We’ve vacationed in some interesting locals, but the Grand Hotel is perhaps the most striking one, partly because of its unique island setting and partly because of the island’s quaintness. For instance, getting to the island involved a 20-minute ferry ride and once there, our transportation choices were limited to carriages, bicycles, or walking – due to a century-old law banning horseless carriages from the island. Believe me, we’d never willingly ride in the town’s one and only allowed automobile – an ambulance!

The more the rest of the world changes, the more the Grand Hotel stays the same. Eveningwear is still required in all areas of the hotel after 6:30 p.m. I noticed only three concessions to modern times the Grand has made: electric lights, the Internet and having world-renown interior designer Carlton Varney redecorate the property in a high-end 1950s’ style.

Which brings us back to our carriage driver’s question: “So … just how wild is your hotel room?” To say the least, our room was very colorful.

A travel writer who worked for a season at the Grand Hotel and who posts under the name, “The Travelling Assassin,” describes it in a way that nailed exactly what we saw.

“Walking around the Grand Hotel you are immersed in a blur of vibrant colour. Some rooms are literally breathtaking. Others look like Kermit the Frog’s crime scene after he was brutally murdered and his remains used as paint, others looked like nautical themed high-class red light districts. Some just stood out for their elegant simplicity but each room had visual reminders of Varney’s unmistakable personal design philosophies and style.”

The thing we have to love about Carlton Varney is how his work draws a passionate response from almost everyone. With his use of saturated garden colors and large riotous patterns, his style is instantly identifiable. I saw Varney’s genius subtly present in his commanding use of scale and was awed by his flawless placement of furniture and art.

It may have been a once in a lifetime trip, but it’s pleasant to think that should we ever return, Mackinac Island and its Grand Hotel awaits us – beautiful and unchanged somewhere in time.

Live in beauty!

Stephen Thompson, Allied ASID has been creating tasteful interiors since 1975. For questions, comments, or consultations contact Designer Connection, P.O. Box 361, Tupelo, MS 38802 or

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