From the luxurious comfort of a plush leather couch, positioned in front of a large gas fireplace and surrounded by the warm hues of reclaimed Douglas Fir, Matt and Teri Treat have a rare moment to look around. For the co-owners of the Inn at Lynden, it’s a fleeting opportunity for the couple to acknowledge all they’ve accomplished restoring the 100-year-old Waples Mercantile Building on the city’s Front Street, formerly the Lynden Department Store.
The dynamic husband-and-wife duo first toured the site in 2013 with Jeff and Deb McClure, who would soon become their partners. At that time, the building was a burned out shell, a historic building severely damaged by fire and further afflicted by the damp and cold. Still, it displayed promise, and Matt knew immediately that he wanted in on the partnership. “We thought the idea of a hotel might fly here,” he recalls. “We thought the location was incredible and the possibilities were promising.”
The foursome had all the ingredients of an excellent team: A longstanding, trusting relationship coupled with the superb skill sets of each member. Jeff McClure is an architect; Deb specializes in furniture, fixtures and equipment; Matt was a claims adjuster with State Farm Insurance and had spent 21 years helping homeowners recover from fires and floods; and Teri had a 30-year track record in the hospitality industry. The project had wings from the get-go.
But a strong gut feeling on the potential success of a business won’t get you financing, so hours of research followed. In the process, the Treats and McClures learned there was indeed a need for a boutique hotel in Lynden, and by adding the right retailers to the mix they could create not just rooms for rent, but an experience. The four shared a strong vision for what they would create and never wavered.
“That’s the one thing that’s seen us through on this project,” Matt says. “We doubted the financing, or the construction completion date, or many other things, but when you believe so much in the concept, it just becomes a matter of eliminating obstacles, one by one.”
Fourteen months of hard labor ensued before the Inn at Lynden opened in December 2015, still under partial construction. The first folks to walk through the newly incarnated building were stunned by what they saw. The team had tried to honor the Waples’ history in every way possible, and that meant retaining the historic post and beam structure, refinishing all the beams that had to be removed and reusing them, and keeping the bones of the building intact wherever possible.
“One of our intentions from the beginning was to get the building on the National Historic Registry,” Matt says. “There were criteria we had to follow, but we went far beyond that, saving every stick of wood to either expose it, refurbish it or honor it. It took time, but our builder and project manager were experts in historic renovations.”
“In many ways we were lucky,” Teri adds. “We had the advantage of a great historic shell within which we could start from scratch, with contemporary plumbing, electricity, soundproofing, design and a stylish interior.” As they chose décor and furnishings, the team tried to honor the building by selecting modern items with a historic feel.
Along the way they also managed to find the right retail tenants for the building, a mix that includes Village Books, Drizzle, the Bellingham Baby Company, Overflow Taps and Avenue Bread. For guests at the inn, it means they can have a beer, browse for books or enjoy a meal without having to leave the premises. “What we have here now is not just our vision, but those retailers’ vision, too,” says Matt, shaking his head in disbelief. “We love what our tenants are doing, the collection of concepts and the way the building flows. It’s a big love fest and we’re in it for the long term.”