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Palm Beach family makes the most of closed hotel

Owners of Colony Hotel find 'beautiful upside' during pandemic
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Posted at 12:07 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 17:59:15-04

PALM BEACH, Fla. — While every family will remember the pandemic differently, the family who owns the historic Colony Hotel will remember it in full color.

The Wetenhall family is living, working, schooling and cooking at home, just like other families across South Florida. The difference is they can spend time in the charming and colorful walls and 89 rooms of their historic hotel, which first opened in 1947.

They worked with photographer Nick Mele to capture the family in various portraits showcasing the unusual and at times humorous experience.

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CEO Sarah Wetenhall explained how the last two months have played out.

"I think it's been a lot like every other family," she said. "Some days are wonderful and great and you feel like you’re nailing it. And some days are incredibly painful. And other days feel like you've lived 50 years in one day. It's the full range of the human experience. It's that experience but within a larger palette perhaps. Again, within 89 rooms."

Wetenhall said the photos played double-duty.

"We kind of came up with the idea, what would it be like to have somebody catalogue and photograph all of these memories?" she said. "Not only for us, for history, but also to share with the public. Because we also are challenged as a hotel and as a brand with how do you keep the public engaged and thinking about you when you're closed?"

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The photos magnified the personalities of each family member, particularly their children.

"We did three days of shots and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't continue it because there's literally no end to it," she said.

While the pandemic has been a challenge for the Colony and other family-owned businesses, Wetenhall is looking for the blessings and possibilities. She said what she calls the "beautiful upside" has been that the time allowed the family to open their minds, reflect and expand on their vision for their business.

"My husband and I, when we purchased the hotel in 2016, we purchased the hotel and it was Dec. 28 and so we dove right into the high season," she said. "And so we never had the opportunity to pause the business. And we've tried to be strategic in what we've done and how we've evolved the brand. But, at the same time, we've never had the opportunity to close the business and put together a strategic plan, to really, to take that time and reflect."

Within that reflection and time to wander, the family has learned about the detail and unexpected delights of their hotel, which they said has the depth and personality of a human.

"We discovered a hidden room above the kitchen, which is kind of exciting. Like a little half floor, a staircase that was walled off years ago and yep, again, this is what you get with an historic hotel," Wetenhall said. "We've discovered a few little funny things, but it's been a wild ride."