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Interview with Greg Henderson, Roxbury Motel Co-Owner

by Bryan Trainor 20 January, 2011 07:00

Gregory Henderson is co-owner of the Roxbury Motel, located in the Catskill Mountain town of Roxbury, NY. He and his partner Joe Massa's unique approach to contemporary lodging has been featured in a number of publications including New York Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, and Madame, and the Roxbury was called one of the "Grooviest Motels in the U.S." by Daryn Kagen of CNN Live Today.

We asked Greg to sit down with us to discuss the Roxbury Motel, and the role lighting plays in the lodging experience.

Chris Robarge conducted the interview, and is a certified Lighting Specialist and web marketer at Bulbs.com.

Chris Robarge: Tell me a bit about your background, the origins of the hotel, and what made you decide to open Roxbury and get into the lodging business.

Greg Henderson: This was actually career number three for me. For the first ten years of my adult life, I was an actor and involved in an experimental theater company in New York City. We didn’t just put on the plays, we were like Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney putting on the entire show ourselves- sets, lights, and costumes. I learned a lot about putting on a great show, not just being an actor.

After years of this and not knowing where my next meal was coming from, I wound up on Wall Street through a weird twist of fate. After some early success, I was catapulted into a VP position in marketing and communications within two years. The first few years of that were great. Because I finally had a bit of money, I bought a little weekend cabin up in the Catskills so I could escape the city on occasion.

After a few years, I started to realize I was unhappy and I wasn’t really able to be creative to the level I wanted. Then 9/11 happened, and that was the final straw for me. I realized that life is short, that I’d been poor before, and that I could be poor again if it meant I could also be happy.

The Catskills were in desperate need of lodging at that time. A friend of ours in real estate showed us a rundown motel about 30 minutes from our weekend home, and we eventually decided to buy it. During the first stage, we did modern, sleek, whimsical stuff, but not quite as “over-the-top” as our most recent additions. Still, the day we painted the doors lime green, it shocked the county.

We sold out the first weekend we were open, and we never looked back. We doubled our size with the 2007 expansion, and we’ve taken the whimsical concept to the next level with our latest addition, while maintaining a commitment to luxury and elegance.

CR: What year did you open, and when did you expand?

GH: We bought the building in July of 2003 and we opened exactly one year later. Phase Two was almost an identical process. We broke ground in July of 2006 and opened it to the public in July of 2007. Our latest expansion has just opened to the public.

CR: I've noticed a 60/70’s pop-culture theme to many of your rooms, is this something you've focused on? What is your creative process?

GH: I’m a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I was painting my room black with yellow smiley faces when I was in 3rd grade. I think that I tend to focus on the era for that reason.

When we bought the Roxbury, I knew that so many of the places up here were old and Victorian - they had that “Grandma’s B&B” feel to them. We had a feeling there was a market for something different. There was one room in the first section of the motel that It had a zebra couch, fake fur throw rugs, and so on. We originally called it the Austin Powers suite, it’s now known as the Shagadelic. As it turned out, everyone wanted that suite. It was more expensive than the other rooms, but people wanted the experience. That’s part what gave us the confidence, when we built the 2nd wing, to take it to the next level.

Usually with each room, it has to be a TV show or film that meant something to us personally, as kids from the 60’s and 70’s. Then I have to find something that I know is going to make that room work. For example: The suite we modeled after The Jetsons is called George’s Spacepad. I was searching for interesting things online, and I found this bathtub and sink from Italy that light up from within. The whole thing illuminates cherry red. I decided to design the suite around that.

CR: I’ve only seen the pictures, but that was my favorite thing I’ve seen in any of the rooms.

GH: It’s really cool, isn’t it?

GH: Sometimes we’ll have a concept that just doesn’t work out. For example, I really wanted to do a Wonder Woman room in this latest expansion. When we tried to design it, it kept turning into more of a patriotic-themed room. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it didn’t fit the original intent and concept and so we set the idea aside for now.

Right now we’ve got one room left to finish. It is going to be called Mary Anne’s Coconut Cream Pie and will be our version of a Gilligan’s Island themed room. But it’s not going to be at all like what you would expect. It’s going to be literally like you are walking into a coconut cream pie. I’m not going to be able to explain that, so you’ll have to check out the photos or come and see it yourself when it's finished!

CR: Do you get room suggestions from clients?

GH: Every weekend! Really, we get them all the time and we do take them seriously. Willy Wonka is a very common request. Interestingly, Wonder Woman is also a common request, so I think that I’m going to revisit that and try to find something that will really inspire me.

CR: How did you find Bulbs.com?

GH: It’s all about the Internet. We could’ve never happened pre-internet. For starters, there’s no way that we could’ve made guests aware that we exist, especially since we’re in such a remote area. The nearest civilization is an hour away in any direction. From Day 1, this also forced me to become very savvy at locating what I need on the Internet, and that’s how I found Bulbs.com

CR: What challenges have you experienced in lighting the Roxbury?

GH: Part of what I do late at night, for fun, is to sit with my laptop and browse all kinds of cool and interesting light fixtures that people are selling all over the world. This last time, I had a lot of the fixtures custom made due to the size and colors I was looking for, which was a long and challenging process. I had to order most of the lighting for the new wing before we even broke ground just so we could get it in time.

CR: How do you balance aesthetics and efficiency in the lighting you use?

GH: I’m always very concerned with efficiency, in part because all of our heat is electric and hotels here are assessed an additional tax on electricity. The challenge is that many of the bulbs that a typical hotel uses, like some compact fluorescents, I only like to use if they’re going to be covered by a lamp shade. With a lot of our really fun lighting here, being able to see the compact fluorescent would take away from the intended retro feel and focus.

CR: Except maybe in George’s Spacepad, right?

GH: Exactly. Also, our hall passageways are lit with green compact fluorescents from Bulbs.com, and those are definitely cool-looking when you can directly see the bulb. We are also lighting the turret of our new wing with LED lighting. I can program it to be any color, or any sequence of colors. It’s kind of like our own miniature Empire State Building, and it’s a style and caliber of lighting I don’t think anyone in our area has used or even seen, yet we save so much energy using it.

CR: Why do you choose Bulbs.com for your lighting needs?

GH: There’s no question, we’ve stuck with Bulbs.com for the customer service. Our Lighting Specialist, Richard Payne, has been one of the best vendors I’ve ever worked with, hands down. When I need to talk to a vendor I get tired of having to punch 15 different buttons to get to somebody only to have them connect you to somebody else. At the height of construction when we were so busy, I could simply tell Richard I needed 25 candelabra base bulbs that are going to flicker and make my Addam’s Family chandelier look cool, and he actually got it. He understands what I’m trying to accomplish, and I get my shipments the next day.

CR: Who makes Roxbury tick?

GH: At this point I can honestly say that it’s all of our staff. When you’re a small company and you work together so much, it really is a little family. I don’t want for this to come across the wrong way, but I love them and care for them like family because each one is unique, and uniquely essential to our success.

CR: You have done an excellent job using lighting as a highlight rather than an afterthought. Any suggestions for others looking to improve the lighting in their home or lodging rooms?

GH: My main advice would be to not allow lighting to become an afterthought. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on it, but it can be a really basic and essential way to enhance your mood and your quality of life. Lighting can do that. Wherever there’s a painting, or fresh flowers, or an architectural feature, there’s always a potential for lighting to enhance it and create the kind of drama and “pop” that will really make your space look amazing.

For more photos or information about the Roxbury Motel, please visit their website.

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