The Grand Hotel Enters a New Era

Nestled on Lake Huron, this classic American hotel has been welcoming generations of families who are drawn to its lost-in-time quality, as well as its all-American values.

Written by:Christina Valhouli
Photographed by:Steve Henke
Exterior of the Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel is home to the longest porch in the world, clocking in at 660 feet long. The porch is lined with white rocking chairs and geraniums and is visible when approaching the island by ferry boat or airplane.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island debuted in 1887, and not much has changed since then—which is exactly the way that its loyal guests like it. When it opened, the Grand Hotel was part of a select group of properties built by US and Canadian railroad companies as a place for guests to stay while traveling the US by steam train. In the late 19th century, guests would hop on a boat across Lake Huron to reach the island, and then take a horse and buggy to arrive at the Grand Hotel. From the water, they would be able to see the hotel’s distinguishing feature, its 660-foot-long porch which is the longest in the world. Back then, families would often stay for the entire two month summer season, and nightly rates were $3 to $5. Guests would dress up for dinner, dance to the sound of a live band, and settle into a rocking chair on the porch to soak up the views of the Straits of Mackinac.

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As the years went by, the Grand Hotel adapted and subtly changed to keep up with the times while still retaining its classic architecture and welcoming feeling. “We never forget our traditions or who we are, but our goal is to offer as many amenities as we can,” says Bob Tagatz, the hotel’s resident historian. In 1935, a radio salon was created so that guests could listen to popular shows, and later the resort added features like golf courses and air conditioning. In the late 1970s, the design firm Dorothy Draper & Co. infused the hotel’s interior with an explosion of bright colors and patterns, which has become its signature look.

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No two rooms at the Grand Hotel are alike, but what they have in common are bright colors and bold patterns. The Vanderbilt Suite has lake views and slate wallpapered walls.

But the Grand Hotel is more than just a colorful place to stay. It symbolizes endurance and embodies a time when life was simpler and slower. The hotel has never closed its doors, even during the Depression, Prohibition, and war time, according to Tagatz. Guests love it because stepping through its doors is like stepping through time, when families dressed up to dine together and played lawn games like croquet. Tagatz says he has met fourth and fifth generation Grand Hotel guests.

Cambria Ivybridge quartz shelving in Grand Hotel retail store designed by Vern Yip

Cambria design shown: Ivybridge™

While the hotel’s signature bright colors haven’t changed, the interior has subtly evolved. In 2021, the renowned designer Vern Yip spearheaded a refresh of the Grand Hotel, focusing on the Esther Williams Swimming Pool area, guest bathrooms, and the retail corridor. The project was challenging, as design materials had to arrive as guests do, via ferry and horse and buggy.

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Vern Yip spearheaded the hotel’s refresh and he selected American-made products where possible, such as Cambria’s Ivybridge design in the retail corridor.

While Yip wanted to preserve many elements of the past, he also wanted to elevate the guest experience. “It’s about respecting the past while moving forward,” he says. Yip selected Cambria products for the guest bathrooms, pool bar, and retail displays, due to their beauty and durability.

Yip also had to respect the hotel’s history, architecture, and signature colors when planning the redesign. “It’s a beloved, iconic hotel, so I approached the project with a lot of reverence,” says Yip. “We were mindful that we were in one of the most beloved hotels in America. It was a huge honor to be a part of the refresh.”

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