Luxury and Longevity

By Kathy Norcross Watts
Greensboro Monthly Magazine, December 2007

greensboromonthlyDennis and Nancy Quaintance know their industry well. They know how to make guests feel at home, and they know how to keep them coming back. With the launch of their latest project, Proximity Hotel, the Quaintances also now know what makes luxury last.

Indulging ourselves in good coffee and easy conversation, Nancy King Quaintance and I sit at Print Works Bistro, adjacent to the new Proximity Hotel. We are watching a mid-morning downpour fill the tributary to Buffalo Creek, a waterway the Quaintances restored during Proximity’s construction.

Then, Nancy’s phone rings. It’s her husband, Dennis, who is walking the three miles from their downtown home to the hotel. Rain is falling in torrents. “He’s having a ball,” Nancy says with a laugh. “He gets work done; he gets exercise.”

He also got a little damp, Dennis confesses when he joins us shortly after his hike.

A waitress brings him coffee and water with lemon, and Dennis pauses for a second before asking, “We don’t do that here, do we?” He’s talking about adding lemon. Most people add lemon to cover up the taste of the water, he explains, but a new filtration system ensures their water is tasty on its own. “I just want to make sure the filters are working right.”

It’s this attention to detail — every detail — for which the Quaintances are known.

Dennis, chief executive officer and chief design officer for Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels, says he sees this focus as his responsibility, one that he loves. But the Quaintances are not alone.

Mike Weaver — the “Weaver” of Quaintance-Weaver — and Dennis have been business partners for 19 years. “We are friends,” Dennis says, “and we thought it would be fun to do business together because we had similar values: We really believed in capitalism. And we believe in diversity and inclusion. We believe in sustainable practices. I think they have to coexist.”

To this end, the team considered every possible option that would help it achieve its goal of making sure customers are — and feel — safe, sleep well, and enjoy bathing in the new 147-room hotel. And, in the process of meeting those expectations, the group also incorporated sustainable practices throughout the hotel’s construction and operation in a way that not only promotes all sorts of conservation, but maintains and enhances the luxuries within its walls.

“You have to say ‘why not?’ ” explains Nancy, vice president of Quaintance-Weaver and mother of two. “You look at your kids. How can our generation not do something to help with our problems?”

“We have a completely different idea of our business,” she adds, referring to the company goals. “We think in terms of not 10 years, but 100 years. Whatever we build, we’re also going to operate, and whatever we build, we want to be around for our children’s children’s children.”

A shared passion

Both Nancy and Dennis knew early on what they wanted to do. Dennis greensboromonthly2grew up in Nevada, and he slept with his two brothers on a pull-down bed in a travel trailer. As a young child, he found colorful sedimentary rocks layered with iron pyrite and other ores and sold them to travelers who stopped at the local filling station.

His first job was as a housekeeper’s assistant at a hotel in Missoula, Montana, and he soon worked his way up to general manager. After high school, Dennis continued working in leadership at several hotels around the Northwest before moving to Greensboro in the 1970s to help a friend open Franklin’s Off Friendly.

Nancy grew up in the Town of Guilford College. At 15, she traveled to Disney World for her first job, where she washed dishes in the theme park’s underground staff cafeteria. “I loved it,” Nancy recalls. “I like making people happy. It’s either what you want to spend your life doing, or it’s a nightmare. You know immediately. It’s in your blood.”

Nancy graduated from Disney’s management training program, studied culinary arts at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island, and received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. The couple met when Nancy began working for Franklin’s Off Friendly, and in 1983 they married. The Quaintances now have 9-year-old twins — and an undeniably thriving corporation.

First and foremost, luxury

Standing inside the Proximity Hotel, you almost get the feeling you’re outside — likely due to the numerous windows, the lush latte-hued draperies with chocolate-colored designs hugging the walls, the neutral palette, and the original art by Chip Holton that carries a natural theme throughout the hotel.

The 10-foot ceilings add elegance to guest rooms, and nine-pane square windows offer a wide view of the outdoors. Elevators have been placed in the middle of the building so that every guest room has a window. And windows and doors all open, which Nancy says isn’t always true at hotels.

Spiral floating staircases grace the main lobby, and each floor has its own lobby area, complete with a computer and printer and honor-system snacks. Some of the spacious guest rooms have baths with parting walls that provide a perfect view of the television from the soaking tub.

There’s an indoor pool and a social lobby where guests can visit, or perhaps gather for a game of cards. Matching sofa pillows in the downstairs lobby highlight the copper awning in the Bluebell Garden, which is nestled between the hotel and Print Works Bistro, where no seat is more than a few feet from a window.

In the hotel and restaurant, which are named after two local Cone Mills cotton mills, sustainable elements are more subtle, but just as important. For example, the group chose to use fly ash in their concrete — a step that diverted between 500,000 and 600,000 pounds of ash from the landfill, Dennis notes. Once it’s stained, the ash is nearly invisible, enhancing the finish. Additionally, the restaurant bar is made from reclaimed walnut. And one of the most impressive extras is an elevator that generates electricity as it goes down.

“It’s the combination of everything together that makes it great,” Nancy notes, referring to the new hotel.

Dennis thrives on the challenging task of finding the right pairing of sustainability tools that won’t compromise luxury, and he seems eager to surprise guests with details about how the hotel was created. But, he didn’t do anything that didn’t make sense financially. The Quaintances spent two years planning and researching. They visited hotels all over the country — from Miami to Maine, including Des Moines, Phoenix, Chicago, and Seattle, as well as London and Canada.

“We went to all these places to see not just what was going on in big cities, but what people were doing in cities comparable to Greensboro,” Dennis says. “It’s a fun thing to do. We took the children with us a lot. We changed hotels every day.”

They used every facility in the hotels, too: They took the sheets and pillowcases off, took drawers out of the dresser to see who made the furniture, and even ordered 20 items off the room service menu in order to have a frame of reference. For the Quaintances, this kind of work is fun.

LEEDing the way

When asked about his heightened awareness of the fragility of nature, Dennis attributes it to seeing the Montana tree line as a young adult. “Several times a year I’d be in a situation where I was on the tree line or near it,” he says. “It’s very distinct: One place there’s a tree; another place there’s not.”

“In nature everything’s a dialogue. Let’s work with its energy rather than trying to control it and chop it.”

Hotel LEED Coordinator Leah Thompson consulted with the Quaintances to help them meet standards to achieve recognition by the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program. They hope to be the first hotel in the country to achieve the platinum level.

“We always say it’s like falling off a log,” Thompson explains, referring to simple details that are easily changed. For example, a developer receives LEED credit for using white roofing material, which reflects sunlight. “You’re not absorbing so much heat, and you’re saving money on energy,” she explains. “LEED was great because it gave you the opportunity to think of things you might not have thought about.”

In some areas, though, the Quaintances had to educate their vendors, Nancy adds. Some items were not easy to find, like a specific fluorescent bulb that would use much less energy and still glow warmly.

But the work pays off. In fact, Dennis says he expects to see a return on the investment on sustainable practices in less than 10 years, maybe as soon as seven. The cost of installing solar panels to heat water will see a return in less than five years, he adds, due in part to low-interest loans for renewable energy and tax credits.

“This hasn’t been a crusade,” Dennis says. “I think you can speak your truth without having to make somebody else wrong.” But city officials hope others will follow the Proximity example.
“We’ve been trying to encourage low-impact development,” notes David Phlegar, water-quality supervisor for the City of Greensboro. “What it’s going to take is someone to take that risk and step out in front of everybody else and show that it can be done, that it can be profitable and marketable.”

As the Proximity Hotel makes her grand debut, it appears the Quaintances have done just that.

• Kathy Norcross Watts has a master’s degree in regional planning. Now that she’s seen Proximity Hotel, she hopes to plan a green getaway.

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