The Inn by Mallard Cottage opened the first week in June, and has already seen tourists rethinking their travel plans to include a stay in one of its eight rooms.
It’s quaint, with its clapboard and simple furnishings and handmade elements, but a fusion of quaint and fashionable. Plain white bedrooms are punctuated with the splash of turquoise wooden chairs. A fluffy duvet is complemented by a multicoloured patchwork quilt, handmade by a group of ladies in Jackson’s Arm, White Bay. The minimalist dining room table is actually an old door from the cottage across the street, reworked by owner/chef Todd Perrin.
The inn’s esthetic might best be described as “rural Newfoundland contemporary” or “modern cabin around the bay.”
“We just put up stuff we like,” Perrin shrugs when asked how he and his business partners decided on the inn’s decor. “Some of the stuff we make ourselves. Laura (Higenell, general manager) does pottery, some of the furniture is from the Flake House, teacups and stuff were scrounged from antique stores.”
Mallard Cottage, located in Quidi Vidi Village in St. John’s, was home for the Mallard family from the late 18th century until the early 1980s, and opened as an antique shop in 1985, run by Peg Magnone, who lived across the road. Perrin, his wife, Kim Doyle, and Stephen Lee, a sommelier, bought the building in 2011 and restored it, redeveloping it into a restaurant in 2013 and winning a Southcott Award for excellence in preserving local heritage.
Perrin, Doyle and Lee bought the property across the road from the cottage three years ago, when Magnone moved away.
“Her daughter came over one morning when I was working in the kitchen,” Perrin says. “She said, ‘Mom’s moving back to B.C. Would you be interested in buying the land?’ Without talking to anybody, I was like, yep.”
About a year later, the entrepreneurs started thinking about building an inn. At the time, there was a development ban in Quidi Vidi Village, but once it was lifted in 2015, plans for the inn began. At first it was going to be one building with 12 guest rooms.
“When we talked about it, we realized there was no way to do that without it being a monolith,” Perrin said.
“Breaking it up, subdividing the lot and building two separate houses took us six or eight months longer than it would have if we had built one, and probably 30 to 40 per cent more cost, but it looks like it was always here and that’s more important,” adds Lee. “Most people think the houses are old, which is what we wanted.”
The inn’s two buildings are nearly identical. Each has four 435-square-foot guest rooms, all of them with a king-size bed, lots of natural light and a private bathroom, as well as an open space on the ground floor. In one house that space is the reception area and a gift shop. In the second house, the space is the kitchen, where guests can fix themselves a drink or dinner.
The plan is to eventually offer a meal there, as well as kitchen parties with a live band.
The bedrooms feature small homey touches like the homemade quilts, a pair of hand-knit vamps on a hook, just in case, and a bowl of goodies, including Lees snowballs, Hawkins Cheezies and small bottles of gin and tonic water by local company Third Place Tonic. Baked goods come hand-delivered every morning from the restaurant.
“It really cultivates this feeling of slowing down and relaxing,” Higenell says from behind the reception desk. “That’s the feeling we want to give people.”
The goal with the inn, Perrin says, is to give tourists visiting St. John’s somewhere to stay with an outport feel, somewhere that fits in with the style of places like the Fisher’s Loft in Port Rexton or the Fogo Island Inn.
“St. John’s is the biggest outport in Newfoundland,” Perrin says. “Everyone thinks of it as the city and it is, obviously, but it has everything that rural Newfoundland has. It has whales, icebergs, beautiful hiking trails, views of the ocean and so on, and here in Quidi Vidi we have all that in spades. We wanted to build something so that when people come to Newfoundland and do a tour, do Gros Morne and Fogo and Port Rexton and St. John’s, when they come here they don’t have to stay in a major hotel. They can stay in something like the other places they’ve been.”
The Mallard Cottage owners also have plans for another piece of land in Quidi Vidi: the former Flake House restaurant site, where they plan to build a second, bigger restaurant, with a focus on catering and events like weddings.
Perrin — a two-time contestant on The Food Network’s “Top Chef Canada” TV show — said it was never his hard plan to become a hospitality ambassador for the city; he and his partners are just doing what they like to do.
“Obviously, I love the restaurant business. I like the hospitality industry. I like building stuff. What else am I going to do? It’s important business-wise to do more things and create more opportunities for ourselves and for the people that work for us. I’ve lived down here for 14 years. I’ve spent almost every day down here in Quidi Vidi for the last six years, and I’m sick of looking at this beautiful place being wasted. So this is what we’re trying to do about it.”