Making the Grade: Historic Hotel Reborn as the Graduate New Haven

The iconic past of a 127-year-old hotel has been rekindled, thanks to the expertise and hard work of a Connecticut painting contractor.

History in the remaking

Built in 1894, the Hotel Duncan has a long, storied history in its location across from the Yale University School of Art in downtown New Haven.

Among its many purposes, the property has served as a 19th century boarding house and a 20th century student dormitory, and is home to the state’s oldest hand-operated elevator.

So when AJ Capital Partners, a Chicago-based investment and development firm, purchased the property with plans to add it to its upscale, boutique Graduate Hotel collection, they wanted to retain as much of this local landmark’s visual heritage as possible.

K. Morgan Associates, a New Haven- based commercial painting company, was charged with recreating, and in some cases restoring, numerous unique and specialized finishes throughout the hotel. Adding to the degree of difficulty with these requirements came an extremely tight timeline.

“This was a large-scale, detailed project conducted under high pressure, but all the challenges and deadlines we faced were worthwhile when we walked through the finished spaces of the hotel,” says Mike Mikolinski, chief estimator and project manager at K. Morgan. “It provided another opportunity to leave a project better than the way we found it.”

Paint and painters played a big role

K. Morgan’s role included painting all interior and exterior elements including walls, ceilings, bathrooms, windows, doors, trim, ceilings, and exterior bump outs and panels including some gold accented details. Custom painting and treatments were applied in several areas including the Theo Epstein Scouting Room, filled with books, photographs, posters, and pennants from Yale sports history.

“We used a heavily embossed European wallcovering at the ceiling panels and painted it with a base coat of Emerald® Urethane Trim Enamel for the artist that applied a hammered metal faux finish,” Mikolinski says.

Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel Semi-Gloss was K. Morgan’s choice throughout the project.

“This product was selected due to the hardness, durability and aesthetics as we were shop-finishing doors and trim throughout the project and needed the coating to hold up to handling and transporting,” Mikolinski says. “We are using Emerald Urethane often for frames and railings etc. due to its durability and levelling as well as its workability.”

Extra durability needed for bathrooms

Duration Home® Interior Acrylic Latex Matte was selected for the bathrooms in the newly renovated 72-room hotel.

“The bathrooms required a durable and resilient coating to hold up against cleaning and shower steam,” Mikolinski says. “The color was also a deep color, and we didn’t want to take a chance with burnishing. Duration Home exceeded expectations for this project and we are pleased that we used it.”

Looking back, Mikolinski says, it was a privilege to be selected for the hotel renovation and to work with so many highly skilled craftsmen. Their Sherwin-Williams rep, Jeff Joyce, was also extremely helpful and supportive throughout the project.

“Not many unique and distinctive painting challenges like this come your way very often,” says Don DeMaio, president of K. Morgan Associates. “I tip my hat to our project manager Mike, our foreman Eddie Hook, and the entire crew for a job well done. They made us all proud to be a part of this amazing project.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 of PPC magazine. Written by Al Pirozzoli and PPC Editor Mike Starling. Photography courtesy K. Morgan Associates and the Graduate Hotel New Haven. Read about other successful painting projects in the PPC magazine archive.