Going into its fourth weekend, Hotel Pikku still has that new hotel smell. The three-suite boutique opened quietly in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and last week hosted an open house and cake party for friends and neighbors.

It's the culmination of a longtime dream for Chelsy Whittington, who owns the hotel with her husband Andy Matson. Not only is she a fan and follower of Liz Lambert - described by Texas Monthly as the "avatar of cool for the inn crowd's in crowd" - she is her own target audience. Hotel Pikku is the kind of place where the couple stay when they travel.

"When the opportunity came to do one on a small scale, we really wanted to try it," said Whittington, who is the visitor experience manager at Vikre Distillery and worked for many years at New Scenic Cafe. "Even though it isn't something that has been done a ton, it allows us to do it on a manageable scale."

Whittington and Matson bought the building for $120,000 three years ago and first converted the street-level space into a store and studio, rented by Candace LaCosse of Hemlocks Leatherworks. The upstairs was already divided into apartments, Whittington said, so the project was less about renovations and more about surfaces: painting, flooring, new windows.

Midway through last week, they had hosted about 15 guests so far and had also gotten queries about 2019 Grandma's Marathon weekend.

 

Scandinavian influences

Each of the suites has a living room, a bedroom, its own bathroom and a dynamic piece of art by Patricia Canelake, who is Matson's aunt. Two include a kitchen stocked with a few essentials - plates, pans, glassware, a colander and a glass pour-over coffeemaker - and the other has a single small retro-looking Igloo refrigerator. There are matching star light fixtures and the bathrooms are done in penny tile. Guests have been leaving notes in the leather-bound journal in each room.

The Hotel Pikku is on the second floor at 1923 W. Superior St. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
The Hotel Pikku is on the second floor at 1923 W. Superior St. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
The style is spare, vintage and Scandinavian (pikku means "little" in Finnish), with well-curated details from estate sales, eBay, Craigslist and Urban Outfitters.

Between each suite there is a rectangular atrium with skylights and mobiles of lupines and sugar maple leaves created by Peter Witrak. Whittington plans to incorporate more locally made pieces as she goes along.

The owners and friends have done test sleepovers to figure out the missing pieces, like towel hooks or a place to set down a glass. LaCosse spent the night in room three last week and said it was quiet and felt like a staycation.

"Chelsy has such a great eye," said LaCosse. "She created a lot of the Vikre aesthetic, too. It's perfect and minimalistic and Scandinavian and cute in the right way."

Early reviewers on Airbnb have all given it five stars, the best rating, and have noted the local touches, the quiet rooms and the location. Two reviewers describe the room as a "flat."

Whittington and Matson, who is part of the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen lineage, spent $280,000 on the project. There are two parking spaces behind the hotel in addition to street parking.

Rooms run between $100-$150 per night and are available through either the hotel's website or Airbnb. While the aesthetic is a touch retro, the self check-in is a modern touch. Guests are given access to a keypad code for entry.

During a recent visit to the hotel, Whittington had guests arriving within the hour. She had left folded sheets of paper complete with a few recommendations, then handwritten the name of the guest on the outside.

"I like to boss people on vacation," she said.

So you want to sleep in Lincoln Park

The neighborhood's other lodging options include the Motel 6 at 27th Avenue West and, though it's technically downtown, the Radisson Hotel is part of the Lincoln Park Business Group. There are at least a couple spots listed on Airbnb - including Hotel Pikku, which is small enough to also be listed on the site.

Paper cutouts resembling maple leaves hang in a glassed-in, sky-lit atrium in the Hotel Pikku. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
Paper cutouts resembling maple leaves hang in a glassed-in, sky-lit atrium in the Hotel Pikku. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
Hotel Pikku is the most central location, though, for visitors who want to stay in the heart of the shiny and new. OMC Smokehouse, Corktown Deli & Brews, Love Creamery, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Ursa Minor Brewing and more are within walking distance.

Charles Deville, president of the Lincoln Park Business Group, said the neighborhood is seeing an uptick in tourists, in addition to locals. He said the group is excited about Hotel Pikku.

"This just opens the opportunity for people to stay right there in that section of Lincoln Park that's really blossoming right now," he said. "Bringing the idea of stay, eat and shop. It's on a small scale and that's how things (have to) start sometimes."

The innkeepers were among the first to move into the neighborhood, and neighbor Bryan French of the Duluth Folk School, called them energetic, helpful people who are great to have around. It helps that they have a link to candy, he joked.

"We're all kind of part of this whole Lincoln Park silliness," French said. "We're all in the same boat, all on the same vague timeline. We're all stressing for similar reasons and different tempos. It's been great to be a part of."

LaCosse has had street-level seats for the guests who have come and gone.

"It's so fun," she said. "They peek in the shop and come in and say hi."

The hardest part of the process has been learning when to DIY and when to hire a contractor, Whittington said. The best part: "Having it complete," she said. "It's something we've been working toward for a while, and having people express how much they like it."

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