Tales from the Head Grand Hotel Painter

Our guest blogger has been working with Grand Hotel for 12 years and is responsible for all of the painting that gets done inside and outside of the hotel all season long, including the off-season when the majority of the work gets done.  He has asked to remain nameless, however if you see a guy with a paint brush this year he may just be the guy.


Tales from the Head Grand Hotel Painter

Every spring I get the same question several times a day. Are you going to get it done in time? I often reply, “Have you ever read the headline Grand Hotel delays opening so painters can finish?” And of course, the answer to that question is no. We always get it done on time, there is no other option. A more applicable question might be, “How many ‘round the clock shifts are you guys going to work to get it done?” You see, this is Grand Hotel, it doesn’t wait, it doesn’t open on a delay, and it is ALWAYS ready to go when those doors open at noon on opening day. Not many hotels open to a full house which is often the case here, meaning that the entire hotel’s painting, from the bar rail of the Cupola Bar to the salmon colored ceilings Astor’s Salon and Spa have to look their best.

Close call

Guest Room
Guest Room Almost Ready to Go

The day before the hotel opens, the hotel is ready to go.  But nothing is officially finished until the Musser Family does their personal inspection and makes a list of anything they feel needs to be addressed to get the hotel to the standard they uphold. On a good year, that list can be executed in a few hours, on a not so good year…..well the paint crew will be working late into the night to prepare the hotel in a manner consistent with a level of grand excellence.

I am not gonna lie, there have been times when painters have been walking down a hallway from an area they just finished as the first guest of the season passes them in route to that very place. (Whew, that was a close one!)


The Interior


The interior of the Hotel is a little easier of course because weather doesn’t play a role as it does on the exterior of the hotel. Over the course of the winter, a crew of roughly 14 painters work full time to put up hundreds of gallons of paint and over a 1,000 yards of wallpaper. Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper specs out any new spaces, while many existing areas are repainted.

The Exterior

Painting the exterior of Grand Hotel is a whole other situation. We generally start each year by the first week of April but that doesn’t always happen because sometimes it is still snowing. The hotel brings in two large cherry pickers (80 feet and 135 feet) so that even the top of the flag pole high atop the Cupola bar gets painted before opening day. In just the month of April, exterior operations will put up between 150 to 200 gallons of paint in a matter of three weeks. That includes 70 gallons that are used just to paint the floor of the magnificent Front Porch.

Work Does Not Stop for Weather

Did someone say weather?

With the rapidly changing weather patterns in the Straits of Mackinac, I not only run the paint crew but become the defacto weather man, keeping a constant eye on the radar, the forecast, wind direction and humidity to determine where we will work on any given day, or sometime any given hour. It is not uncommon to have 6 painters working on the porch at 10am only to have the same 6 painting inside the lobby by 2pm because of inclement weather.

During the summer, the painters try to stay out of the guest’s sight. We tend to work on things “off-campus” such as the employee housing or the off-site restaurants. However, it isn’t uncommon to arrive for work in the morning to be told that ”A pipe burst in room 353, there currently isn’t a ceiling and it has guest arriving at 3pm.” When this happens, the carpenters and the painters use a few expediting tricks we know and those guests will arrive on time in a room with a brand new ceiling.

Hallway Stripes

I consider myself lucky as I am one of the few members of the staff that has been in absolutely every room, nook and cranny of the hotel. Although, it took me almost 3 years to say that was the case. On occasion, I do get to have some fun. Whenever I meet someone that is staying at the hotel, I will ask their room number, and 90% of the time I can tell them the name and description of their wallpaper. This is no small feat as there are 390 rooms, and no two are decorated alike.


Fun Facts:

– The Hotel is not heated in the winter. Whichever area is being worked on is closed in and portable heaters are used.

– There are over 260 different wallpaper patterns inside of the Grand Hotel.

– The pool is repainted every year.

– The white columns in the dining room are painted 3 times a year to keep their appearance pristine.

– Several hundred pieces of furniture are refinished every winter, including all the famous rocking chairs on the Front Porch.

– It only takes two guys, 1 day (with the help of a cherry picker and an air-less sprayer) to paint the pillars on the front of the hotel.