The Bass Cottage Inn and Ullikana
By Hilary Nangle
Photographs by Trent Bell
Refined Victoriana in Bar Harbor
Just off Bar Harbor’s Main Street, steps away from ice cream parlors and T-shirt shops, banks and restaurants, are two side-by-side Victorian mansions, both survivors of the Great Fire of 1947. The Ullikana and the Bass Cottage Inn not only share an address in The Field, a pocket of quiet and seclusion that few tourists stumble upon, but also a heritage as cottages for the elite rusticators who summered here.
Both were built in 1885, the Ullikana by Alpheus Hardy, the town’s original summer cottage dweller, and the Bass Cottage Inn, by former Bangor mayor and socialite Joseph Parker Bass, who also served as state representative and owner/editor of the Bangor Daily Commercial newspaper. Both, thanks to the creative visions of their owners, are now successful bed-and-breakfast inns. That’s where the similarities end.
Only the blossoming rainbow of flowers, shrubs, and trees outside the Ullikana hints at what awaits inside. Open the Dutch door to the Tudor mansion, and step into a riot of color and art, a playful melange of antiques and country pieces juxtaposed with contemporary artwork and folk craft.
In 1991, when New Yorkers Hélène Harton, who previously taught French at the United Nations, and Roy Kasindorf, who worked in commercial photography, first saw the Ullikana, their reactions were mixed. Roy took one look at the sheet-covered, cobweb-draped interior and whispered: “Let’s get out of here.” Hélène replied: “Shhh, I’ll talk to you later.”
Where Roy saw financial disaster; Hélène saw creative potential. “We had seen a lot of places that were turnkey, and I couldn’t see myself undoing what someone had done,” says Hélène, a soft accent betraying her Montreal roots. They had arrived at the perfect time to catch the sunlight beaming through the huge stained-glass window on the stairwell, and she was smitten. “I loved the feel of the house, the character, the spirit. Like a blank canvas, you could make it your own.”
Instead of decorating the Ullikana as a period house, Hélène let her creative juices flow. She mixed pieces from their former New York life with antiques that came with the house, artwork they’d acquired over the years from friends with works by local artisans. “Mixing the old and new is fun,” Hélène says. “It’s liberating.”
The eclectic style shines, blending parts as effectively as the Madeleine Peyroux or Cesária Évora CDs playing softly in the background. No two rooms are alike; no two even echo each other. Soft floral wallpaper in one room, bright gold and rose paint in another, toile de joie and gingham, hand-painted furniture and antique wicker all meld together, old and new playfully balanced by Hélène’s sense of color and art.
Around every corner, on every wall, atop almost every available surface is something often unexpected, a curiosity inviting guests to take a closer look. There are paper works by island artist Melitta Westerlund, hand-carved wooden marionettes that dance by the living room fireplace, Passamaquoddy baskets and intriguing sculptures on the stairwell window, handmade dolls on a couch, a collection of vases in the dining room, and photos, prints, and original paintings on the walls. And yet, there is no feeling of clutter.
That ease of décor and Roy and Hélène’s easygoing style set the tone for the inn itself and the Yellow House, across the lane, with an additional six rooms decorated in old Bar Harbor style. Outside, sculptures by Westerlund pepper the lawns and gardens between. Guests from both share an easy camaraderie fostered by a shared wine-and-cheese hour in the afternoon, where they often swap tips for dining and activities.
Every morning, Hélène creates three-course breakfasts, which Roy serves on the harbor-view patio when the weather cooperates, by the fire in the dining room if it doesn’t. It always begins with muffins, followed by a fruit course, then a hot entrée, alternating sweet with savory each day. Not simply eggs, but Swiss eggs; not everyday pancakes, but lemon soufflé pancakes with warm berry sauce; no run-of-the-mill omelet, but an Italian omelet. Afterward, Roy helps guests plan their day. “That’s the part I really like,” he says. The well-worn wall map of the island attests to his daily point-and-trace-the-trails sessions.
Wi-Fi is one of the few concessions to technology the inn has made. There are no TVs on the property, nor are there whirlpool tubs, rain showers, or in-room phones. Roy reluctantly agreed to an online reservations system. “I’m still against it, but I’m not winning that fight,” he says. “I like talking with people, but people want to reserve online and not talk to me. My fear is guests won’t have that personal contact. Actually, I fear I’m not needed.”
That’s unlikely. “We do it ourselves, we don’t have a big staff,” Roy says. They employ a few housekeepers, an afternoon innkeeper, but Roy and Hélène are on seven days a week, six months a year. “It’s our 19th season,” Roy adds, then shakes his head. “It’s ridiculous, you have to be very strange to last as long as we have.”
16 The Field | Bar Harbor | 207.288.9552 | ullikana.com
Jeff Anderholm was senior vice president of marketing for a Boston-area software firm when he hit the wall. “I was at a London conference making a speech. There were about forty people in the audience, half of whom were asleep, and suddenly I thought:
What am I doing with my life?”
Later that day, Jeff’s wife, Teri, found him back in the hotel sitting in the dark and contemplating what was next. At the time, Jeff’s company was acquiring another one. “I had the opportunity to leave with a golden handshake,” he says. And he did.
The couple had talked for years about operating a B&B. Both were familiar with the hospitality industry. Jeff had worked at inns in southern Maine and Teri’s family was in the restaurant business. They developed a model: an inn with a half-year season, by the water, in a great tourist destination. “We didn’t want to build a river and stock it with fish. We just wanted to catch fish already coming through the river,” he quips.
When they found the Bass Cottage, it was practically a teardown. “It was far-gone, but there was a beautiful feeling of people who had spent their lives there,” Teri says. Although still operating as a B&B, it had suffered about thirty years of deferred maintenance, Jeff says. After a bit of back and forth, they became the third owners of the mansion.
“We never liked the heavy oppressive style of Victoriana,” Jeff says. “We wanted a lighter, more soothing environment—something less cluttered and more sophisticated.”
They began by removing the stained wallpaper, then ended up opening up most of the walls. “It was more work than we thought,” Jeff concedes. They found water damage, structural issues, and safety problems. “It reminded me of This Old House, when Steve or Norm says, ‘Wait until the homeowner hears about this!’ I had three months of that.” The couple spent a full year renovating and decorating.
One of the things that drew them to the house in the first place was size, openness, and flow of the first-floor common areas. A glassed-in sunporch wraps around the first floor and opens through French doors to the dining room. That in turn opens through French doors to front and back parlors, which flow into a library. On the other side of the entry foyer is a lounge with a stained-glass ceiling panel and a side pantry.
Rooms are accented with tile-framed fireplaces, magnificent oak woodwork, and stained-glass windows. Each has sitting areas, making it possible for guests to have private spaces, even in the common areas. Persian rugs top quarter-sawn oak floors. “I wanted it to be classic and timeless and calming, a place for people to relax and feel at ease,” Teri says.
She designed each room with a friend or family member in mind, placing at least one Bass family collectible purchased with the inn in every room. Her goal was to create an eclectic mix of old pieces combined with the comfortable features of modern living.
“You accumulate things you really like that make you feel comfortable and evoke memories.”
The result is a most un-Victorian Victorian. It’s light and airy, with cream and pastel painted walls and a blend of antiques and timeless furnishings. There is not clutter, no frou-frou. Guest rooms have TVs and DVD players, and there’s a library of movies available. Rooms are carpeted, robes are provided, towels are fluffy, sheets are soft, pillows and duvets are down, housekeeping leaves chocolates. Baths are modern, some with whirlpool tubs. “We view this more as a small boutique hotel,” Jeff says. “Technically, we’re a B&B, but that’s just a starting point to a small luxury hotel.”
At breakfast, prepared by chef Chris Pollard, guests dine at separate linen-draped tables and choose from two entrees—one savory, one sweet—in addition to a fresh baked item and a fruit course. Possibilities include a breakfast rostie, crème brûlée French toast, shrimp on a raft, or lobster quiche. Each afternoon sweets magically appear in the pantry, where tea, coffee, and cold drinks are always available. And in the evening, wine and house-made hors d’oeuvres are served on the sunporch. Occasionally, the inn offers bistro weekends, when Teri, a trained chef, whips up a varied regional menu.
“This is our sixth season and we haven’t even talked about selling. There’s still a lot of excitement. We get about 30-percent return guests,” Jeff says. “They’re like old friends coming through the front door.”
14 The Field | Bar Harbor | 207.288.1234 | basscottage.com