Boutique-style hotel receives prestigious award, guests from around the world
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McCAMMON – When Aaron Hunsaker and his wife moved back to McCammon several years ago, they had no intention of opening a boutique hotel. But that’s exactly what they did, and now the Harkness Hotel is getting worldwide attention.
“In the greater southeastern Idaho region, most people don’t know we exist,” Hunsaker says. “But I’ve noticed a lot more reservations coming in with an Idaho address.”
Guests with European addresses also began making reservations for this summer about a month after receiving the award, says Hunsaker.
Aaron returned from the World Boutique Hotel Awards in London, England, last November where he was given the award for “The Americas’ Most Inspired Design Hotel.”
“At first, I thought it was a joke,” Hunsaker says after receiving the initial nomination in an email about a year ago. “I think I ignored it.”
Hunsaker soon learned it definitely was not a joke. Several months later, he found out they had won and were invited to attend the awards ceremony. Hunsaker ended up attending the black tie event with his hotel manager, not knowing during the trip just how prestigious the award is throughout the world.
“I had never heard of it, but we had no hotel experience before we started this,” Hunsaker says. “There’s a couple different awards that target the boutique hotel industry. This one seems to be one of the most prestigious because it’s the only one that sends judges to the property.”
Heidi Belnap, the hotel manager, says they didn’t know a judge had been to their hotel until after the fact.
“They send people to experience the hotel for themselves. It was all done anonymously so we (had no way of knowing) who was coming or when,” says Belnap.
Opening the Harkness Hotel
Hunsaker and his wife opened the Harkness Hotel in 2014 at 206 Center Street in McCammon. It was an old building dating back to the early 1900s that had been vacant for many years when Aaron and his wife first purchased it.
“We tried to take it back to what it was like originally, but we were not trying to make it correct to the period,” Aaron says. “It’s an old, historic building with a healthy dose of modern (touch) to it.”
The idea from the beginning, Aaron says, was to bring back the character of the original building.
The building has 10 rooms that come equipped with modern tile and showers with glass enclosures and big shower heads. But the rooms floors, trim work, and doors, for example, were built to resemble what it would have looked like 100 years ago.
Each room has a different color scheme and is named after the color scheme. Those color schemes include silver, ebony, copper, indigo, ruby, pearl, gold, plum, ivory and slate.
In addition to the retro feel, the building has a lot of European flavors. Instead of the simple farmhouse look that we’re used to in America, Hunsaker says the building has a lot more spectacle and is more elaborate in its presentation.
“A lot of the materials used — like the tile and the wallpaper — came from Europe,” Hunsaker says. “Over the front desk of our lobby is a custom-made light fixture that has over 1,000 feet of crystal strands hanging from it.”
The building also includes eight-foot high windows, 12 to 14-foot ceilings, and other high-end materials.
From conception to completion
Aaron grew up in McCammon but went to Europe to get an education. He later got a job in Washinton, D.C. with no plan to ever return to Idaho. But after meeting his wife and having a child, they decided D.C. was not the place they wanted to raise a family. They eventually moved back to McCammon.
“As we were looking for a place to stay, it felt like there was nothing here but chain hotels and dated bed and breakfasts’. We started joking that somebody should find a cool old building and turn it into a hotel. We didn’t mean for that to be us,” Hunsaker recalls.
They looked at numerous old buildings throughout eastern Idaho, but it was an old two-story, 24,000 square foot retail building in McCammon they liked best.
“It had been a grocery store when I was a kid,” says Hunsaker. “This is the one we liked even though it was in the worst condition.”
The building was originally built as a mixed-use building, Hunsaker says, so it was divided into different spaces.
Originally, it was a mercantile that included a bank, a post office, and apartments on the top floor. It later became home to a hair salon and a fabric store. A movie store came along later after a side expansion was added. The Hunsakers purchased the building and the surrounding acreage in 2013 to transform it into a boutique hotel.
From conception to completion, the project took about a year.
“It just doesn’t feel like western boomtown construction, but it’s worked for what we’re doing,” says Hunsaker.
Most of the rooms are on the top level, but Hunsaker says they’re currently only using about a third of the building.
“That’s one thing we liked about the building because it allowed us to work on it in stages,” says Hunsaker. “We opened a salon and spa (in another section of the building) nearly two years ago. The last thing we’d like to do is add a restaurant to it,” Hunsaker says.
Hunsaker says he wants a separate vendor to manage the restaurant. Another option being considered is adding a garden space. The building also includes a basement originally used as a stable for horses.
“It’s a very unusual basement. We may incorporate part of that,” says Hunsaker. “One idea is to put in hydroponics and grow food for the restaurant in the basement. Right now everything is just ideas and hypothetical, but we’d like to see it completed within the next few years.”
The hotel has attracted guests from all over the world since it opened four and a half years ago. Hunsaker says they see a lot of international tourists in the summer months who are on their way to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson. Lava Hot Springs is another draw for the hotel, but most of the guests are couples from Utah and Boise who just want to get away.
“It’s different than anything you’re going to stay in because it’s family-owned and run,” says Belnap. “As a family, we invested so much into this and so we have a personal interest in it. You feel that when you come here. We like to visit with the people who come and have made friends with our guests.”
Prices of the room vary, depending on the time of year and day of the week, but generally range from $100 to $250 a night. To make a reservation, call (208) 254-4340 or visit the website.