Transcription of Cabot Lyman and Ruth Woodbury Starr for the show Designing Anew #293

Lisa Belisle: It’s my great pleasure, today, to speak with Cabot Lyman and Ruth Woodbury Starr. Cabot Lyman is the owner of Lyman-Morse Boat Building. He moved to Maine and started the boat building company in 1978. In 2016, he opened 250 Main Hotel, a boutique hotel in Rockland. Ruth Woodbury Starr, a Maine native, is general manager of the hotel. It’s really great to have you both here.
Cabot Lyman: Thank you.
Ruth Starr: Thanks for having us.
Lisa Belisle: 250 Main is really a unique hotel for the state of Maine. When I think of the Press Hotel and 250 Main as being the ones of their sort, I believe in the state. I haven’t stayed everywhere, obviously, but what was your inspiration for this?
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. The idea was to have something that was going along with what was happening in Portland, which was getting more, I don’t know, as I say, Brooklyn-chic kind of atmosphere, and I guess quite modern in what people are doing today and our own touches. We were building it from scratch, so we had the advantage of not trying to fix up an old building, so it was easier for us to do it than other places. Yeah. I think it came out pretty well. It was a combination of an architect and interior designer and a lot of us tweaking. So it worked pretty well.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. There are a lot of interesting touches. I think, the iPads that are replacing all of the papers that normally one gets in the hotel, and the lounge, downstairs, that offers some breakfast, but also has drinks later in the day, and the artwork. I mean, the artwork is really great. It’s all curated. Is that right, Ruth?
Ruth Starr: It is. It’s a cooperative of most of the galleries right in our midcoast area, mostly in Rockland, and all of the art is for sale through the gallerist and proceeds going to the artist, so it’s a way to support that part of our community, and it changes out quarterly, so it’s sort of like a gallery.
Lisa Belisle: There’s also enough space. The way that the ceilings are done between floors and with the big fireplace, that there are very big pieces and very unique pieces, too. It’s not your average hotel art.
Cabot Lyman: That was part of the design and part of the real thing was to have real art, rather than the prints that you see in most hotels. This works out really well for everybody. Yeah. That’s fun. What’s been fun for me is that we’ve got a lot of children of good friends of mine that are actually exhibiting in the hotel, which I absolutely love. So, it’s great.
Lisa Belisle: It really couldn’t be in a better location, either. I mean, Rockland has some places to stay, but this is right on Main Street, but not, and close, but it’s not in the middle, so you cannot get through with your car.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve got great views of the waterfront and the sunrise. I mean, the deck is wonderful. The top floors are so expansive, but really there isn’t a bad view from any room.
Cabot Lyman: No. You’re right. It worked out really well. It was hard lot, because of the way it’s angled, but the angle ended out turning out to be a real plus. So, it’s great. Yeah. That’s why…. My sons got me into this, so they saw the lot for sale, so that’s what we went for.
Lisa Belisle: It seems as though someone who has spent more time doing boat building stuff, moving into hotels, that might have been kind of an interesting experience.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. I think the comment is maybe I should just shoot myself… not really, the hotel has worked out great. It was a bit of a slow time for the boat building industry, so we started to wander towards a little bit, how to keep our guys busy and a little of diversification, and a little investment in the future. So we did it. It’s worked out great. Really. I’m really pleased with the building. It’s great. We got Migis running it. They’ve done a great job. That’s what a lot of the like, iPads and so forth, that comes from the Migis touch. Migis of course is the outfit that’s running it, who Ruth works with.
Ruth Starr: We still are very closely with Lyman-Morse. For example, my facilities director is straight from the boatyard, he can fix anything, build anything. He can 3D print a soap dish or a shower pan, so we’re never in disrepair. That’s for sure. Handy guys over from the boatyard.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. Actually, that’s really cool, the idea that you can do 3D printing and come up with something that’s very useful.
Ruth Starr: Yeah. Give him a hammer and a piece of wood, and it’s always going to be a beautiful property.
Lisa Belisle: Migis is doing some interesting things. I know that I interviewed…. He was a youngish gentleman.
Ruth Starr: You interviewed Jed Porta, I believe.
Lisa Belisle: Yes. For a little TV segment.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: I was really intrigued to hear that, not unlike what’s going on in Cabot’s family, that there’s a lot of family back and forth. There’s a lot of interaction. There’s a lot of wanting to maintain the sense of family and community, but also looking toward the future.
Ruth Starr: That’s right. Yeah. It feels really good, for me, to be working for two family companies, and Maine family companies, so it means a lot. Both of them, I think, have a little bit of throwback, but a lot of innovation, and that’s what happens when you move down generations, too. It’s a great combination. It’s great to know you are working for good people.
Lisa Belisle: Where did you grow up, Ruth?
Ruth Starr: I grew up, up north at Millinocket. I had a paper business family and I’ve been all over the state. I also grew up with a troller right in Rockland Harbor, a boat, I grew up on, so family in Rockland and high school there, so every time I look out my office window I sort of think about coming full circle and really sharing, I’m from all over the state, and sharing that with my visitors.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. It sounds like you have kind of the love of the inside part of the state, and-….
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Also the love of the coast.
Ruth Starr: Absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: Which, I know, Cabot, you and I were talking about your Vermont connections. So, you have the same kind of thing, although it’s love of inside of New England, I guess. You’re a coastal guy, but you also love going back to the mountains.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Both. Very much so. We came here because the coast, and we came here because of boats. Heidi and I spent a lot of time after college, we were running charter boats, and sailing around in the Mediterranean for quite a while, back in what I would call our hippie days. That really pushed us into Maine, back to Maine. I grew up coming up the coast, up here, and being on boats and working on boats. So it was all about Maine.
Lisa Belisle: Was it important when you were looking at the lot for the hotel that it be looking out on essentially a working waterfront?
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Absolutely. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. That’s a really nice lot for Rockland, Maine, and Rockland’s on a roll, so it worked out really well to have that lot come up, and we were already starting to look about what the future brings, and that lot came up, so we jumped on that, very quickly. It is an exceptional lot for Rockland. Yeah. That park in front will always be open, so it works out great.
Lisa Belisle: Now, you told me before we came on the air that you wanted there to be kind of marine and nautical touches, but you didn’t want it to be your standard hotel that, you know, with anchors and anchors on the pillows, and….
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: You didn’t say that, but….
Cabot Lyman: Well, my wife was very, Heidi was very adamant about that. We weren’t going to do that. Yeah. I think we got enough marine in there, but not overwhelming.
Lisa Belisle: Ruth, what are some of your favorite, I guess, marine-inspired touches within 250 Main?
Ruth Starr: I think there’s just generally a lot of nods to Maine industry. The fabrication, the eye beams, it reminds me of Bath Iron Works, and the boatyard, so I love that there’s Kevlar sail rope running the banisters and wrapping our rooftop deck. The rooftop deck sort of comes to a point, so it’s shaped like a bow of a boat, so you can be king of the world there up there on the top corner, so it’s very subtle and you really have to look for it, but the wood, the shiplap, all referencing, I think, our state’s past in industry.
Lisa Belisle: I noticed when I was going up the stairs that you’ve painted quotes in the stairwell.
Ruth Starr: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And that made sure that the stairwells also are nice enough that people would like to take the stairs, which is unusual, I take a lot of stairs, and a lot of places don’t, it’s sort of an afterthought, like if there’s a fire you could take the stairs, but otherwise that’s not what we expect you to do.
Cabot Lyman: That’s right.
Lisa Belisle: Where did that come from?
Cabot Lyman: That was my idea. I’ve seen that in other places, and it’s just really neat when you walk up the stairs to see something, as you say, make it fun to go up those stairs, and I have a feeling that future generations are going to use stairs more than the elevators, just because we’re all realizing what we need to do. Anyway, I often use stairs and not elevators in a building.
Lisa Belisle: Now, people who are going to Rockland, they’re going to have to specifically go in….
Cabot Lyman: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s what I want them to do.
Ruth Starr: We won’t spoil it.
Lisa Belisle: That’s right. I’m not going to….
Cabot Lyman: And I noticed that kids like to run up and down the stairs, so that’s good.
Lisa Belisle: It’s very good for the parents; we’re trying to get some sleep.
Cabot Lyman: Exactly.
Lisa Belisle: That’s for sure. Ruth, you have a background in wellness. You actually worked at Soma Wellness.
Ruth Starr: I saw you interview Julie Wright.
Lisa Belisle: Exactly.
Ruth Starr: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of crossover in what I do now and have always done with what I did for Julie. Wellness is important to me, personally, but I think there is a real intimacy and tenderness in taking care of people overnight and in those vulnerable hours, especially when they’re far from home, and I just think a general aspect of why people travel is that escape, to get away. You know? I want to provide that safety and security… it’s another thing we do in our business kind of drive, but overall just really taking care of people and providing a safe space for whatever they need, that’s wellness.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve noticed that hospitality in Maine, I mean, we’ve always had a strong sense of hospitality, because we’ve been welcoming people from other places for a long time, but it seems as if it’s even more upping its game, it seems like we are really trying to compete with some of the bigger markets; at the same time, I know that sometimes getting enough people to work in the hospitality field can be a challenge.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: What has that been like up in the Rockland area?
Ruth Starr: I’m very proud to say that we are providing close to a dozen year-round positions, and the winter has proved really good to get us all through. There is a big difference between Portland, where I lived for years, and the midcoast area, in terms of seasonality. It can be kind of tough to make it through the winter, but I think we’re providing something that’s fun and educational. I would like my professional legacy to be sort of providing an educational setting, I think the hospitality industry is a great place for people, such as some young people in our area who may not have access to higher education to still advance in a field, where if you’re willing to do and learn you can really get a head in the hotel business, and I’m trying to provide a working environment where I can teach them everything I know. Once I’ve got a good person, I try to keep them, and try to provide not just a job, but maybe potential careers for people.
Lisa Belisle: I know that, that’s really important. We actually, one of our sales account managers was in hospitality, I think for at least a couple of decades, and the skills that she learned, that she brought into our organization were really quite wonderful. You know? It’s the ability to be organized, and work with people, and understand how to make people feel good, and welcome, and cared for.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Cabot, I’m wondering because you’ve been doing boat building for quite a long time. You started Lyman-Morse Boat Building in Thomaston after you moved here in 1978. That’s a few decades.
Cabot Lyman: A few decades.
Lisa Belisle: So you’ve probably seen some things, and your business has grown a lot.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What are some of the things that you’ve learned through this process?
Cabot Lyman: Whoa. A lot. You know, I enjoy being an employer with skilled people. We’ve got great crews. We’ve certainly seen a huge growth in our area. It’s really changed from 40 years ago. Thomaston, Rockland, Camden. So it’s a great place to live, bring up kids, and it’s been a good run. As things, what we’ve learned is whoa, a lot. You know? Especially in the boating industry. Now, I’ve learned a lot about the hotel industry, I had no idea that existed, so I’ve learned that every day.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. That’s, I mean, if you’ve done one thing for so long, and say your son convinces you that we should go take a right turn.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Were you able to adapt to that idea, easily, or….
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. I’m easy to do that. Yeah. I have three sons, who are pretty involved with me, and we all decided as a group, but I also have a theory that every business has a run for about 30 years, and then you’ve got to get some new blood, so I’m pretty much retired from boats. My son has put in a really good crew together, and doing really well. It was a long six, seven years here with a downturn, for all boat businesses, not just us. So we’ve come out of a bit, now, so we’re a lot busier, and things are good. The midcoast area is growing, so all of it, hopefully that will last, you know, keep ongoing.
Lisa Belisle: If you grew up, originally from the Millinocket area, Ruth, you’ve also seen significant changes to….
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Your hometown region.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: I think this is kind of [inaudible 00:45:50] of Maine. Maine always has kind of a back and forth, and we are one thing and then something changes and then we’re something different. We’re constantly having to remake ourselves. Have you had the sense that things are on the upturn for Millinocket?
Ruth Starr: That’s one that everyone has been following, and I guess it remains to be seen, but I think there’s some positive things happening, and I think Millinocket will always keep some integrity as well, so I’m interested to see…. I mean, what it was when I grew up it certainly no longer exists, but yeah, I’d love to see the locals benefit from everything that’s happening there.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. The new monument up there is pretty interesting. I wasn’t part of the conversation, but I heard about the conversation with some of the wardens, so they’re all buying houses in Millinocket, now there’s some people coming in. Yeah. As we know, every national park has great economy around it. Let’s hope. Huh?
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. Lucas St. Clair, he’s an impressive individual. He’s very thoughtful. He’s one of our Maine Live speakers, and he’s been in the magazine. I’ve interviewed him, and one of the things that I’ve been impressed with is his ability to keep pushing forward despite naysayers.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Which isn’t always easy to do.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ruth Starr: We know, Cabot, knows a bit about that.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Ruth Starr: In licensing and permits in building this.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. I want to hear some of this dirt then, Cabot. If this is something that you have some experience with.
Cabot Lyman: We ran into some opposition, because they didn’t like the idea of a new building like this, but we were, Scott Tease, and I were very adamant that you cannot copy old buildings, you don’t want to, and historical societies around the country are very much behind us, now, because they don’t want you to go in and try to duplicate an old building. Because you can do it, and it doesn’t work, so we wanted to distinctly, a kind of unique building that was standing on its own, be good for that south end of Rockland. I think we nailed it really well. Of course, there was a lot of naysayers in the beginning because they want to keep everything as the way they moved in, but people in Rockland that have been there forever have been totally supportive. It’s been great. It’s been interesting, I had no idea I was going to run into that. Zero. Because social media is out of my realm, and they use social media without any kind of real input; in other words, they’re not involved. You can do subtle things on social media and make a big splash, but you’re not really involved in the process. So that was a big surprise to me. We learned a lot.
Ruth Starr: The moral of the story is, change happens.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Is it possible to hold both things? To maintain the integrity of the community.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Maintain support of the people who have lived there….
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: Maybe generations….
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: But, also bring something in that is new, that might benefit the economy and these families. Is it possible to do both?
Cabot Lyman: Absolutely. I think we did that. I think we’ve got a good building, and it looks good, and it does, and it’s going to be there for a long time. It’s well built. It fits right in on Main Street, in terms of, you know it’s the first building in 100 plus years that’s been built on Main Street. It’s quite a bit longer than that, actually. There was a fire in Rockland in 1952, and some really nice old buildings got burned, and they never got replaced because that was the advent, the whole car was moving in, so everybody moved out. They didn’t rebuild anything in Rockland, so we’re the first ones to really go ahead and build a new building, and some of the old buildings that had burned were just fantastic, but you cannot replace that; you’ve got to start something new. I think Rockland is on such a roll that it’s time to present a little newer face. Some people didn’t like that, but generally everybody is all quieted down. Everybody is quite happy.
Lisa Belisle: On that note, does it seem as if there is some interesting energy going on? I know that Dowling Walsh, and there are several other galleries in the area, they’ve been there for a while, now. Obviously you have the Farnsworth on Main Street, now you have the contemporary art museum that has just reopened….
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. That’s great.
Lisa Belisle: In the middle of Rockland, which is very modern looking.
Cabot Lyman: Very modern. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Obviously, it’s good contemporary art.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: There’s actually kind of some interesting synergy between the design of your building and of the CMCA.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Again, it’s the question of….
Cabot Lyman: It was unplanned.
Lisa Belisle: Does it seem as if, if you bring something over here, and you open up that possibility, that it makes it possible for other people to entertain growth and change in building?
Cabot Lyman: Absolutely. I think it’s important. We’re starting to see, the CMCA good example, how they came in on their own and unbeknownst to us, but it works really well with our building. It works really well for Rockland. It’s great. Rockland become a gallery and a foodie town, so there’s quite a lot to do for people that are interested in that. The Strand Theater has this terrific venues, and people are traveling up from Portland to see what’s going on. Musicians are coming up there to be part of the whole musical thing in The Strand, and of course, I like the movies they show, so it’s great. Yeah. Rockland has changed a lot. Farnsworth Museum is kind of [inaudible 00:51:52] oriented, but a lot of really good stuff in there. Yeah. It’s a change town. Hopefully, we’ll be part of it. Hopefully, it will work out by the push of the lot. I don’t know.
Ruth Starr: Great minds think alike.
Lisa Belisle: I was just wondering, Ruth: as someone who’s on the lower end of the age range, what’s it like to be back in Rockland?
Ruth Starr: Right.
Lisa Belisle: After living in Portland and other….
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Parts of the world.
Ruth Starr: It’s great. We’ve got lots going on. My husband and family are in the art fields, working at galleries, and at the Farnsworth, we’ve got the bash celebration this weekend, which is sort of the young person innovative art party going on, and they had a pre-party last Thursday with a sumo theme. It’s origami theme this year, so it’s all the young people. Lots and lots to do, even in March, so if we can do this in March and having a thriving hotel and we’re doing events in the lobby, I think there’s a great opportunity in Rockland for younger people. Yeah.
Cabot Lyman: We had no idea what was going on in Rockland when we opened the hotel. It’s unbelievable how many things jump out at us.
Ruth Starr: Yeah.
Cabot Lyman: From the Fisherman’s Forum to some of the food things going on, and all of a sudden, we’re really busy, and it’s really neat stuff. Everybody is having fun.
Lisa Belisle: You also, in the fall Camden, Rockport, or Rockland, you pull in people from all over the world with the Camden International Film Festival.
Cabot Lyman: All that stuff that’s going on in Camden helps feed us, too. Yeah. They fill up, up there, and also some people like being in Rockland better.
Lisa Belisle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cabot Lyman: I’m in both towns, pretty heavily invested in all three towns, so it doesn’t matter to me. You know? Let’s bring them all in. Let’s keep all three towns going.
Ruth Starr: The rock coast.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. It’s interesting because people think of Maine, and they have a very specific idea of what Maine is like, depending upon where they’ve traveled, but I think your part of the coast is quite unique compared to some of the other… you know, Mount Desert Island is its own thing. Down here in Portland we’re our own thing, but your area, I mean, with the jetty and Owls Head just up the road, I mean, there are some really different things that people can experience in your part of the world.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Portland is the driving agent for all of us. Things are going well down here and that kind of helps push, but the idea is Portland has become a very modern kind of cool town and that’s pushing that whole coast of Maine, and so we’re feeding off of that a bit. It’s great. Yeah.
Ruth Starr: What we offer is very different, though. It’s still an escape, still a getaway.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah. Definitely an escape. We’ve got a lot of Portland people coming up for anniversaries, and birthdays, whatever. It’s a nice turn from Portland.
Lisa Belisle: It was really interesting to me, because the magazine does a Cinq A Sept event, you know, five to seven, once a month in different parts of Maine, and we did ours up in Camden a couple of weeks ago, and it was packed.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: We happened to be at the Camden Harbor Inn, and I’m sure at some point we will ask if you would like to work….
Ruth Starr: It would be great.
Lisa Belisle: With us at 250 Main, because I think it would be a great Cinq A Sept in Rockland, but the midcoast region. I mean, there were people like overflowing the porch and out into the parking lot, and this was March.
Ruth Starr: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: There’s still a lot that’s going on in Maine…
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: Even not during lobster season.
Cabot Lyman: We’re a year-round community, now. 40 years ago, that just wasn’t happening. We’ve reached, as a friend of mine, who has since died, but he was saying, we’re a little like Santa Fe in some way, where we reached a critical mass of the full year-round community now, where it’s just a vacation place, so it’s very much changed that way. Yeah. There’s just something happening every weekend up there. It’s really busy. I’m just amazed. We used to be pretty quiet, the whole winter up there.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. I find when I go up there and when I stayed at 250 Main, I just could not eat at all the restaurants I wanted to eat at.
Cabot Lyman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: I couldn’t visit all the places that I wanted to visit, and this is the rock coast.
Cabot Lyman: That’s right.
Lisa Belisle: You’d think that it would be small enough and manageable enough that would be possible.
Cabot Lyman: Right.
Lisa Belisle: But, there is, there’s a lot going on.
Cabot Lyman: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What do you see happening, Ruth, with 250 Main? You’ve been open since 2016, so not quite a year….
Cabot Lyman: We haven’t been open a year. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What are you hoping as the manager? What are you hoping to see happen with the hotel?
Ruth Starr: Well, there’s a lot going on in Maine this year, and I was just at the governor’s conference on tourism last week, so certainly to stay abreast of all of that and stay pragmatic, but also, you know, the second season, sort of more, put down some roots and find that sort of rooted pattern, especially with the seasons being so strong. But I hope that as we do put down roots that we still maintain our cutting edge. I think that our edge is a big thing. Cabot’s a little bit of a visionary and a maverick, and I want to stay true to that no matter what. I always want to stay true to Rockland.
Lisa Belisle: I appreciate you both coming in and talking with me, today. I really do love the work that you’ve done.
Cabot Lyman: Good. Thanks.
Lisa Belisle: To stay there was such a treat. I’m hoping that we’re back again soon. I’ve been speaking with Cabot Lyman, who’s the owner of Lyman-Morse Boat Building, who moved to Maine and started the boat building company in 1978 and then in 2016 opened 250 Main, a boutique hotel in Rockland. And also with Ruth Woodbury Starr, a Maine native, who is the general manager of the hotel. Thanks so much for coming in and for all the good work you’re doing.
Cabot Lyman: Thank you.
Ruth Starr: Thank you.