The Briarcliff Motel: Not Just Another Roadside Attraction
Londoners Clare Weatherall and Richard Proctor first came to the Berkshires 15 years ago as tourists on a whirlwind tour of New England, staying mostly at bed & breakfast lodgings. Motels were out of the question. Like many Europeans, their impression of the quintessentially American roadside accommodation had been informed by a Hollywood pantheon that includes Psycho, Natural Born Killers, and Leaving Las Vegas. “To me, a motel is what you see in the movies,” quips Weatherall. “It’s where you go to get murdered or get laid.”
So it may come as a surprise to discover that the couple now owns the Briarcliff, a quintessential 1960s motel set back on Route 7, across from Monument Mountain, in Great Barrington. But anyone who takes a peek inside will find it’s no longer quite so quintessential. Since their purchase of the property in 2011, the Briarcliff has undergone a transformation that sets it apart from other motor lodges in the region. Weatherall and Proctor have given the formerly forlorn flophouse a fetching retro-modern makeover that has earned the motel glowing reviews on Trip Advisor as well as accolades from national magazines ranging from Outside (which in December named the Briarcliff to its list of “The 9 Best Adventure Lodges of 2011”) to Food & Wine.
Their concept: to create a contemporary, value-priced, authentically Berkshire lodging option that provides the privacy and convenience of a motel with the personality and conviviality of a B&B. To that end, they reinvented the standard, impersonal motel check-in room, where, as Weatherall puts it, “They dispense keys from behind a high counter and don’t really look at people; you get a feeling that you’re not very welcome, like Get your key and get out of here.”
By doing away with the barrier-like counter – as well as the industrial carpeting, the wallpaper, and a few of the walls – they created an inviting, rustic-luxe lounge with a long communal table where they serve breakfast, including farm-fresh yogurt and Barrington Roasters coffee, plus Proctor’s homemade granola and Weatherall’s signature scones.
Opening up the lounge enabled them to build a gathering space with comfortable seating nooks filled with light and views of the surrounding mountainside, thanks to three walls of windows and a slider that leads to a back deck.
The lounge is warmed by a high-style Wittus pellet stove and a muted palette (Elena Letteron of the chic Great Barrington shop Germain helped select the colors and fabrics) rich with felted-wool cushions in aubergine, earthy greens, and soothing grays. There’s also a large, wall-mounted flat-screen TV which, Weatherall notes, is rarely switched on. “People want to sit and have breakfast and talk to other people,” she says with evident pride. “We can’t keep people out.”
Also gone is the standard motel room décor. Says Weatherall, “Nearly everything went to Habitat for Humanity or the dumpsters.” The rooms are now clean, crisp, and comfortable, with sleek Euro-style furniture and linens from Ikea. The couple invested in high-quality mattresses and showerheads, and kept the motel’s original vintage sinks (in pinks and blues) and heavy wooden headboards, which they had spray-painted in high-gloss, soft blues and beiges – at Baldwin’s auto repair shop in West Stockbridge – to match the walls.
Personal touches, including pinned-up clusters of old photographs, postcards and other found art, enliven the rooms. Hair dryers are stowed in drawers, not tethered to the walls, and Weatherall hasn’t lost a single item to theft. “People really appreciate what we’re trying to do here,” she says. “People are incredibly and genuinely nice.”
Proctor and Weatherall were well equipped to take on the challenge of transforming the Briarcliff. Back in London, both had long worked in the twin realms of magazines and design. “I worked on various women’s magazines as a writer and copy editor, before ultimately editing interiors titles,” says Weatherall. “Richard was an advertisement director and publisher of women’s magazines, notably Hello! Then in 1995 we started real.london, a small independent agency producing magazine-style content for brands across Europe. Our main client was the world’s largest paint company [AkzoNobel], for whom we produced a magazine about trends in color, which was distributed to consumers in countries all around the world.”
Their work required extensive travel; having logged many hours in hotels they became de facto experts on the lodging industry. In 2005, ten years after they fell in love with the Berkshires on their initial visit, they bought a vacation home in Lee and cast about for a business that would facilitate year-round residence in the region. A hospitality venture seemed a natural fit.
They first considered buying a B&B, but, explains Weatherall, “You kind of become a custodian. We wanted something we could make in our own image.” She also recalled her own trepidations about the forced intimacy of the B&B experience: “We did spend a lot of time wondering whether we’d be judged if we went back to the room at lunchtime to have a nap!”
Once the couple got over their Hollywood-instilled image of the creepy motel, they began to appreciate the egalitarian nature of the accommodations. “It’s not like a B&B where someone gets a broom cupboard while someone else gets the honeymoon suite,” notes Weatherall. “Everyone gets the same size room.” Having brought the décor up to their standards, they’ve developed a formula for success. “People want a good bed, a good shower, and a great cup of coffee. Their needs are simple. If you get those things right, you can’t go wrong.”
But it’s more than that; the savvy couple also realized that the type of traveler they wanted to attract to the Briarcliff requires free high-speed internet – a priority in their upgrades to the motel, which only had local phone service – and that they had to develop a web presence for the motel, which not only had no website or internet service, but was not listed on any web-based travel sites, such as Orbitz or Trip Advisor.
Those issues remedied, the motel’s transformation from hapless to hip has been met with appreciation from guests – both old-timers, who are happy with the upgrades and the still-gentle prices (rooms range from $90 - $115 in low season; $170 - $200 at peak, breakfast included), and newcomers, who appreciate the design sensibility and the personal touches. Business was brisk this summer, with all rooms booked every weekend, and they remain fully booked into the autumn, with plenty of repeat business and advance reservations into next year.
Alas, an innkeeper’s work is never done. Only since summer’s end have they given themselves the luxury of time off. (“Every Wednesday afternoon, like Mary Poppins,” says Weatherall.) This fall the couple is focusing on the exterior, giving it a new blue paint job, and trying to figure out what to do with the landscaping, which is notable for its spiral-cut dwarf evergreens, something of a kitschy local landmark. “I can’t stand them,” says Weatherall. “I feel that if you turn your back on them, they’ll creep up on you. I’d happily give them to anyone who cares to turn up. I really want the landscaping to be part of the mountain, much more natural and loose – native trees and grasses.” They also plan to add a firepit to the front of the property.
“We want the Briarcliff to feel very ‘Berkshires;’ we want it to feel rustic, but modern at the same time. In our mind the Berkshires is having a moment; there’s a whole new cool generation who want to spend their weekends doing the stuff that locals have been doing round here forever — being in the great outdoors, furnishing with nature and found objects, feeling part of small town life in the shops and bars. Picking apples. Drinking craft beer. Ice fishing…” Perhaps having a first encounter with the region that causes them to fall in love with the place, like a certain pair of ex-pat innkeepers. — Bess Hochstein
The Briarcliff Motel
506 Stockbridge Road (Route 7)
Great Barrington, MA 01230
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Counterintuitive Chic: A New Palette at the Red Lion Inn
“I wanted people who are allergic to wallpaper to feel welcome at the Red Lion Inn,” owner Nancy Fitzpatrick says with mischievous glee. She is talking about the 17 new rooms that the landmark hotel (circa 1773) has just added, which have been rigorously designed (and painted, not papered!) to appeal to a demanding, luxury-oriented clientele. But they’re also idiosyncratic, reflecting the inn’s eclectic history and the quirky aesthetics of the owner herself. “I wanted the rooms to have a bohemian quality yet feel totally contemporary,” she says.
Fitzpatrick—a Smith College graduate, Peace Corps alumna, Boston Symphony trustee and Tanglewood habitué—has put her history, heart and soul into the new Maple Glen building (right) on the Red Lion’s campus, which is a village within the village of Stockbridge. “I did a lot of shopping on eBay, and I got a lot of inspiration from Pinterest,” says Fitzpatrick, who decorated each room individually with help from her in-house design team led by Carla Child. “I bought a lot of the artwork on my regular rounds at flea markets and we did a run to Brimfield last summer. I was very clear in my mind about what I wanted to do. I wanted off-beat colors. I did not want this to be wimpy.”
As the daughter of Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick, the legendary couple who founded Country Curtains in 1956 and rescued the Red Lion from the wrecking ball in 1968, she has respect for tradition even though she’s an iconoclast. A decade ago, when she reallized that North Adams needed a first-rate place for MASS MoCA visitors to stay, she created Porches, which has the charm of a New England bed-and-breakfast but the service and amenities of a top-flight boutique hotel.“Maple Glen is really a cross between the style of Porches and the Red Lion,” says Fitzpatrick, who allows that she wasn’t planning on expanding the Red Lion, but her hand was forced when the old sweater shop property adjacent to the inn (on the corner of Route 7 and Maple Street) was put on the market. “We hemmed and hawed, but we didn’t want anyone else to buy it. General manager Bruce Finn did a business plan that justified the investment and we got a small business loan through Lee Bank.”
Fitzpatrick, the former chair of the Berkshire Creative Economy Council. made Maple Glen a local stimulus project. “We hired architect Pam Sandler because she is a Stockbridge person and drives by that corner every day,” says Fitzpatrick, who ordered all the rugs from Annie Selke’s Pittsfield-based Dash & Albert. Furniture maker Peter Thorne of West Stockbridge was commissioned to design the bases for the vanities in all the bathrooms, which have white subway tiles, deep soaking tubs and slate radiant heat floors. The handicap accessible bathroom (above) is a stunning Shaker-esque design that is bound to win awards. All the new furniture was purchased through Paul Rich & Sons in Pittsfield, and the bedspreads, naturally, came from Country Curtains, which has had its flagship store at the Red Lion for more than 40 years.
Besides the unprecedented use of paint instead of wallpaper, the Maple Glen rooms are the first at the Red Lion to have coffeemakers and minibars. But, more interestingly, every room has a “tchotcke box” hanging on the wall; each one contains a random assortment of collectible items like a Pez dispenser, a shell and a vintage postcard. “It’s an idea I borrowed from Burning Man,” says Fitzpatrick, referring to the psychedelic new-age desert festival she attends every year. “There’s a Burning Man tradition that you leave something and you take something, and I hope it catches on here.”
One of the unintended consequences of staying at Maple Glen is that you must wander around behind the main building, which is how I stumbled upon the beautiful swimming pool and hot tub (left) that are discreetly hidden by a picket fence; they’re kept open year-round which makes the Red Lion an improbable in-town resort. The location also led me to have breakfast at the nostalgic Elm Street Market with its lunch counter that looks like it’s straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. “I hope Maple Glen will make people who think they wouldn’t like staying at the Red Lion feel at home,” says Fitzpatrick.“It’s pretty wonderful, isn’t it?” Yes, it absolutely is. —Dan Shaw
The Red Lion Inn
30 Main Street, Stockbridge MA
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At Chesterwood, Meadowlark Gets a Hammertown-Style Makeover
Photography by Paul Rocheleau, courtesy of Chesterwood
When sculptor Daniel Chester French, he of Lincoln Memorial and Minute Man fame, needed to escape the friends, family members, clients, models, assistants, and assorted others who disrupted the serenity of the home, studio, and gardens of his Stockbridge, Massachusetts estate, Chesterwood, he would steal away to his “Little Studio,” a rustic pavilion tucked off in the woods. There, in this secluded atelier, he could concentrate and work in peace.
These days, the fact that French’s sylvan studio retreat (dubbed Meadowlark and converted into a summer house after the artist’s death in 1931) offers haven to other world-weary souls is one of this region’s best hidden-in-plain-sight secrets. In a unique arrangement between Chesterwood – now a National Trust Historic Site — and the Red Lion Inn, you can spend the night (or several of them) at Meadowlark, with free rein to wander throughout French’s estate, even under the starlit skies, after all the day guests have been ushered off the property, or at sunrise, before they arrive. Even better: this year, Meadowlark has a fresh, new look, thanks to Joan Osofsky of Hammertown.
Donna Hassler, Director of Chesterwood, was already a Hammertown Great Barrington customer when a friend noted that Meadowlark’s décor could use an update and suggested that Osofsky might be of help. When asked, Osofsky recalls, “I thought: This is how I can help something that is great. This is a way that business can help the community.”
Osofsky donated design services and material goods, some from Hammertown and some purchased from local suppliers and national companies – furniture, rugs, lighting, kitchenware, and linens – to give Meadowlark a makeover. “The beds were there, but we did everything else,” she says.
Of her fresh take on Meadlowlark, which she characterizes as “modern country,” Osofsky says, “We wanted to keep things clean and simple with furnishings that would not take away from the beauty of the setting and the studio itself.”
In keeping with Meadowlark’s history as part of an upscale, 122-acre country estate, Hammertown’s staff selected low-key, high-end finishes and furnishings: upholstered furniture by Mitchell Gold; top-quality items from local merchants; and ultraluxe Farrow & Ball paint for the walls. The result: a relaxed ambiance with a soothing, neutral palette of soft ivories, woody browns, and quiet taupes that suits Meadowlark’s natural setting and lets the structure sing.
While it’s awe-inspiring to be able to book a getaway in the very space where French worked on some of his most celebrated sculptures – including the iconic seated figure central to the Lincoln Memorial – anyone walking into Meadowlark will be equally awestuck by the cottage’s most prominent feature: a soaring, north-facing skylight/window that fills the living room with the ample natural light so prized by artists.
“Joan really respected the bones of the building and the lightness and openness of the architecture,” says Hassler. “Now you walk in and your eyes go right to the skylight.”
French’s former casting room is now a cozy country kitchen.
Two bedrooms —one upstairs and one down – offer comfort, privacy and the promise of a magical midsummer night’s dream.
“For six months of the year, I am in heaven,” French once remarked of his time at Chesterwood. Given its seclusion and serene surroundings, Meadowlark’s guests might share the sentiment, especially those who need to steal away from the diversions of summer, if only to rejuvenate before braving the scene again the next day. Then again, given Meadowlark’s newly heightened allure, they may just decide to stay put.
Reservations for overnight accommodations at Meadowlark can be made through the Red Lion Inn, which provides sumptuous breakfast baskets along with daily housekeeping services. Room rates range from $315 to $424 per night, depending upon the day of the week and the season.
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The Wake Robin Inn: A Celebration Destination
If you’re one of those people who’ve always dreamed of running a country inn, Michael Loftus & Shaffin Shariff would like to talk to you. Ten years ago, the two men (who were then a couple) moved from Chicago to Lakeville, CT, to overhaul the woebegone Lake Robin Inn, a one-time girl’s private school on eleven acres across the road from Lakeville Lake. Though Loftus had worked for Hilton for many years and they had done their due diligence, buying the 1899 Wake Robin was an act of faith. “It was the build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy,” says Shariff. “We had the idea of running a traditional New England Inn.”
But like so many starry-eyed innkeepers before them, they soon realized that the tourist market could be fickle and that bad weather brought cancellations during the all-important leaf-peeping and ski seasons. So they decided that the best way to keep their 38 bedrooms full was to turn the Wake Robin into what they call a “celebration destination.” Says Shariff: “We decided we would not be an inn for a romantic getaway.”
Instead, the Wake Robin caters to groups (both formally and informally), relying on the traffic from Lime Rock Park race track (“It’s more the drivers and crews than the fans who stay with us,” notes Loftus) as well as parents from the nearby Berkshire, Hotchkiss and Salisbury prep schools. They also do weddings (under a tent on the lawn or in their ballroom), family reunions and corporate retreats. “It’s especially nice for weddings because everyone staying here is a guest and at least 80 or so people don’t have to worry about drinking and driving,” says Shariff. They learned to accept that their inn itself was not the raison d’être for guests to visit but making them feel welcome and comfortable was paramount. “We’re not a four-star inn, but we get five-star ratings,” says Shariff.
Now, after ten years, they are ready to move on, and they have just put the inn on the market at $4,795,000. Is this a good time to sell with the nearby White Hart Inn and Troutbeck Inn & Conference Center also for sale? “Yes, we think we have a really successful formula that new owners can take over and improve upon if they want to,” says Shariff, who wants to spend more time with his two school-age sons whom he’s raising with his husband, Kevin Vetter.
Meanwhile, the inn is almost fully booked through the end of 2011, and they promise not to disappoint any brides or their employees by closing down. “A lot of innkeepers think it’s all about them but we know better,” says Shariff, who says they are willing to stay on as consultants to new owners. “We have been good stewards of the Wake Robin and we are ready to hand it over and make sure it is in good hands for many years to come.
Wake Robin Inn
106 Sharon Rd (Rte. 41), Lakeville, CT;860.435.2000
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Whimsical, Winsome Winvian Now Cooks
By Kathryn Matthews
“Ninety-five percent of our guests never leave the property—until they head home,” says Maggie Smith (below), owner of Winvian, a private resort tucked amid the rolling Litchfield Hills in northwest Connecticut.
Famously discreet, Winvian reflects the spirit of its former owners—Winthrop Smith, a founding partner of Merrill Lynch, and his wife Vivian—who, in 1948, bought the 113-acre Morris, CT estate, which included the pre-revolutionary “Seth Bird House,” a well-appointed, three-story 1775 farmhouse. Combining their first names, they christened it Winvian, and when their son Win, Jr. inherited the property, he and his then-wife, Maggie, decided to expand the original farmhouse and add 18 cottages to the property. It was a six-year undertaking that, in the fall of 2006, begat “Winvian,” the high-end destination getaway. Although Win Jr. is no longer involved, Winvian remains a family-run affair with Maggie now its sole proprietor; daughter Heather is managing director, and son Win, III is sales and marketing director.
Like its sister property, The Pitcher Inn in Warren, Vermont, Winvian is a quirky, luxurious, boutique hotel to which no fewer than 15 architects have contributed. Little wonder one of the most popular activities at Winvian is checking out the whimsical, free-standing cottages that pepper the property. They range from 950 to 1,250 square-feet and each has a theme—Stone Cottage (right), Beaver Lodge, Industry, Helicopter. Some are relatively subdued—the “Artist’s Cottage,” a 1920s-style bungalow with vibrant yellow-and-chartreuse interior, is rich in decorative detail—stained glass windows, a ceramic shard-sculpted fireplace. Adjoining the living room is a sitting area, where a sketchbook and a blank French easel with watercolors and oil paints invite guests to express themselves. This is Winvian’s version of restraint.
Other cottages are more over-the-top—the two-level, “Treehouse Cottage” (left) is suspended between three trees 35 feet above the ground. A spiral staircase leads to a funky, modern interior with a bedroom, fireplace, Jacuzzi, walk-in steam shower, and fully-stocked wet bar.
In addition to ogling the cottages, there is plenty to do—a games room for pool, tabletop shuffleboard and foosball—and outdoor games, including croquet, badminton, horseshoes, bocce, and tennis—as well as a spa and indoor games, such as pool and foosball. Winvian borders the White Memorial Foundation, a 4,000-acre nature preserve with 35 miles of trails—ideal for hiking and biking in summer, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter—to which guests have free and direct access.
Another on-site diversion, introduced earlier this month, promises to further inspire guests’ tendency to stay put. In fact, the new Cooking School at Winvian is likely to also attract area residents to this Relais & Château property. Its focus: the fundamentals of classic French cooking. Think lobster bisque, an herb and spinach omelet, a warm lentil salad, coq au vin.
Located in the Gordon Brown House, a renovated barn, the 550-square-foot teaching kitchen is outfitted with spanking new Viking appliances. During a recent session, as a tomato fondue bubbled on the stove, executive chef Chris Eddy (right, rolling pasta) showed students how to hand crank freshly made pasta dough through an Imperia pasta machine and how to blanch basil. Classes are intimate—12 students, maximum—and geared toward couples and small groups. Three main programs are offered: a two-hour, hands-on class on weekends throughout the year; a three-day class (Thursday-Saturday) on select weeks; and an “intensive” program, held on six consecutive Wednesdays, twice a year (March-April and November-December). For all three, students have the option of coming for the day or staying overnight at Winvian, where rooms range from $400 to $800 per night (breakfast included).
In addition to the fundamentals of French cuisine, “I also want students to understand how to use seasonal and local ingredients as much as possible,” says Eddy, who arrived at Winvian in 2006 with a high French culinary pedigree. An alumnus of the French Culinary Institute, he has worked—as a sous chef—in the kitchens of Daniel Boulud (Daniel and Café Boulud in NYC and Palm Beach) and Alain Ducasse (Mix in Las Vegas). Under Eddy’s guidance, Winvian garnered a AAA Five Diamond Award last fall for its farm-to-table-inspired menu. The restaurant, which seats 40 - 50, includes a main dining room, private dining room, patio and terrace. It is open to the public, though it is recommended that reservations be made a week or two in advance. Eddy’s three-course prix fixe menu ($90 per person) showcases the best of the season: marinated green-and-white asaparagus and and proscuitto drizzled with 25-year-old balsamic, house-made squid-ink-and-saffron nochette, warm roasted pigeon, roasted local lamb chop with raita.
Eddy’s passion for food starts with the seed—not surprising for a chef who declares food activist Michael Pollan his “hero,” and who has become an advocate of sustainable, organic gardening practices. He also oversees Winvian’s garden, a three-quarter acre plot, planted with herbs and a range of common vegetables, including cabbage, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peas and carrots. From late spring through December, Eddy uses what’s harvested from the garden in his classes.
The new cooking school is a coup for Eddy, who says: “By exposing people through our restaurant or the cooking school to the food we do here, I hope to help them understand—and taste—the difference that sustainable, locally grown food makes on your plate—and for the planet.”
155 Alain White Road, Morris, CT
A la carte, from $650/night for two, including breakfast, plus tax and gratuities.
Inclusive, from $1,250 for two, including all meals, plus snacks, afternoon tea, cocktails and room service, plus tax and gratuities.
The Cooking School at Winvian
*Prices are per person and include aprons, knives, equipment, and recipes.
Classic Classes: $150
2-hour pasta or pastry class
Offered on weekends throughout the year
3-day class (15 hours instruction): $1,100 + tax
Overnight rooms (a la carte): $400 to $800 per night, excluding tax and service charge
Offered on select weeks during the year
6-week intensive program (48 hours instruction): $2,400 + tax
Overnight rooms (a la carte): $400 to $800 per night, excluding tax and service charge
Offered twice a year (April-May and November-December)
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Act III for Ragamont House: Now a B&B and Chic Caterer
Finally, Pete Hathaway has figured out what his landmark mansion on Salisbury’s Main Street was destined to be: A party house. When Rural Intelligence checked in with Hathaway a little more than a year ago— A ‘Step-Down’ House in Salisbury That’s A Cut Above—he was turning Ragamont House, his one-time über-fancy antiques shop, into a plush halfway house for recovering addicts. He worked hard to fill the beds and provide a supportive atmosphere, but it was very draining. “I liked the men and I liked the work we were doing, but I did not like being on call 24/7,” he says. “It was a very big responsibility.”
Having gotten used to having strangers under his roof and not wanting to lose his gifted chef, Bruce Young, Hathaway hatched the idea of making his home not only a B&B but also a one-of-a-kind catering facility for small dinner parties, weddings, or large cocktail parties. And it happens to be ideally situated for a reception after a funeral at one of the two churches that are within walking distance of Ragamont, which is rambling but cozy. “This house swallows people,” he says. “It’s very easy to have 150 people here.”
Since it was originally decorated as Hathaway’s private residence, it is very homey in the grandest manner. The bedrooms are sumptuously and comfortably decorated. “I think the feeling you get is like staying in a great English country house,” says Hathaway, who used to visit such estates often when he worked for Sotheby’s. “Guests can have cocktails in the living room and read or watch TV by the fire in the library. We have it all running very smoothly. I get up early and buy the newspapers and put out the breakfast which includes homemade granola and homemade bagels” Homemade bagels? “Yes, that’s Bruce. He likes to make everything himself.” Bruce is Hathaway’s secret weapon—an unflappable chef who is as happy making gallons of chile as puff pastry canapes or lobster tails floating in aspic. “We can really do any sort of party,” says Hathaway, who is planning to have smaller dinners in the summer on his covered porch with its big fireplace and weddings under a marquee in the garden.
Amazingly, Hathaway finds it easy to watch guests drink wine and cocktails under his once alcohol-free roof. “I go to an AA meeting every morning,” he says. “I know I will never touch a drop again.” His innate ebullience makes him well-suited for his new role. “I’m like the butler here,” he says. “All my life I thought that would be the perfect job for me.”
Ragamont House Bed & Breakfast
8 Main Street, Salisbury, CT; 860-596-0555
Introductory room rates: $200 and $250, double occupancy.
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Kinderhook Farm: A Fantasy Vacation Destination
When she was five-years-old, Renee Iacone Clearman’s family planned to go to a farm for a vacation. “I was delirious!,” she recalls. “I packed all my clothes into grocery bags. Then my father got sick, so we couldn’t go.”
Decades passed. Then in 2001, Renee, an artist who shows at the John Davis Gallery in Hudson, and her husband Steve Clearman, a money manager, bought a country place in Ghent. “Just down the road, there was a beautiful 1200-acre farm. We learned that it might go on the market, so Steve began to think about how he could buy it.” The place had been neglected, so there were acres of overgrown brush, miles of broken fences, and buildings in various stages of decay. Clearly if steps weren’t taken promptly, the land would soon be irretrievably overgrown. According to Renee, “Steve wanted to preserve it as open space.”
The most efficient way to do that, of course, would be to keep on farming. So Steve called an old friend, lawyer-turned-farmer Lee Ranney, who, with his artist wife, Georgia, had been raising cattle in West Virginia. Steve asked the Ranneys to come up to Columbia County to take a look.
Soon, the Clearmans and the Ranneys were partners in Kinderhook Farm. Lee and Georgia moved into the 18th-century farmhouse on the property and took charge of the mending, planting, repairing, and acquiring livestock. “Our dream was to preserve the beauty of the open land by planting grasses, so we could eventually produce high-quality lamb and beef.”
Ten years hence, that dream has become a reality. Kinderhook Farm meats are highly regarded by top butchers and chefs, both locally and in New York City. In addition to the farm’s contribution to the beauty of the countryside, the property has also evolved into a multi-faceted community asset. The Clearmans and the Ranneys have offered their neighbors space on the property for a community garden, and the charming Kinderhook Farm Store is a popular source of top-notch eggs, chicken, lamb, and beef. Neighbors are welcome to hike through the pastures, and during summer, aspiring farmers stay on the property in the “intern house,” while serving paid internships. Parents bring their little ones to visit the chickens and to say hi to Ginny, the donkey, and her bff, Oreo, a barn cat.
All was thus running smoothly, when a year or two ago, it occurred to Renee that this idyllic, peaceable kingdom would be the perfect setting for the kind of farm-stay vacation she’d dreamed of so long ago.
This summer they will welcome their first guests. Perhaps it is because she has never actually gone on farm stay vacation or maybe its the fact that her dream had the better part of a lifetime to ferment; in any event, Renee Clearman’s version of a farm stay is, safe to say, in a class by itself. To begin, guests (and there is just one party of them on the property at any given time) get a private barn-turned-guesthouse to call their own. The newly renovated, open-plan space (only the bathroom is completely separated by floor-to-ceiling walls and a door) is cleverly designed to maximize views of both the hundreds of acres of rolling meadow outside and the wonderful volume of space within. Furnished by Renee with an artist’s touch, the result is like something out of—no other word for it—a dream.
Most farms specializing in stays operate like b&b’s, where guests and farmers gather around a common breakfast table. Not here. At Kinderhook Farm, guests cook for themselves in their own well-appointed kitchen. This arrangement is ideal for families with small children, and no less so for couples seeking solitude in a beautiful setting—a place to read, write, paint, or just be still, the better to observe—or, if they like, participate in—the life of the farm.
Despite an appearance of serenity, farms teem with life, from cock’s crow in the morning to the sheep returning to their barn at night. Guests also have their own kitchen garden, where they are free to pick their dinner—produce and eggs are included in the price of the rental. For stellar organic meat, the farm store is just a short stroll from the guest barn.
Food, yes, broadband, no. The barn has no t.v., no telephone, no internet, though cell service (depending on provider) is generally good. For those determined to keep in touch, there are plenty of internet cafés, as well as art galleries, restaurants, a world-class auction house, antiques stores, even a first-rate nightclub in nearby Hudson, just 15 minutes away. Kinderhook Farm’s one concession to connectivity: the management thoughtfully provides a radio.
Rates: $285/night, 2 night minimum; $1800/week, eggs and vegetables included
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Simmons’ Way: An Inn in the Heart of Millerton
From the veranda of Simmons’ Way Village Inn on Main Street, Jay and Marty Reynolds may have the best view of Millerton—literally and figuratively. As in-town innkeepers, they take the pulse of the tourist trade every morning when they serve eggs or pancakes to the guests at their 9 bedroom inn. While merchants and elected officials from neighboring towns scratch their heads trying to understand why Millerton has become a hot spot and how to duplicate its success, Jay Reynolds has a three word explanation: The Rail Trail. “There were several factors that led to Millerton’s Tipping Point,” he says, citing the arrival of Harney Tea‘s wholesale and retail operations. “But it’s the Rail Trail that has really made us a destination.”
When the Reynolds (right) moved 90 minutes north eight years ago from White Plains, NY, where they’d been moonlighting by running a philanthropic bed-and-breakfast (the proceeds benefited P.E.O. International, a women’s service organization) as well as working full-time jobs, they felt that Millerton was on the rise as more and more New Yorkers sought solace in rural surroundings. “It was just after 9/11,” recalls Marty, who had been downsized from her corporate job. “The inn was in perfect shape and all decorated. We could buy it and run it as is.”
Jay remembers taking into account Millerton’s proximity not only to New York City but also to Lime Rock race track and a slew of boarding schools (Hotchkiss, Indian Mountain, Kildonan, Millbrook, Salisbury) that would bring a steady stream of visitors. “There seemed to be a solid economic base for an inn, and it was clear that many New Yorkers were fed up with the Hamptons,” he says. Certainly, there’s nothing Hamptons-esque about Simmons’ Way. It has a quirky homespun charm. Once a private home, the 19th century house was converted to an inn some 20 years ago by then owners Bob & Carol Sadlon, who run The Moviehouse across the street.
“We’re an inn with the soul of a bed and breakfast,” says Jay. The couple cook breakfast for guests themselves in the kitchen that they share with No. 9 Restaurant. “That was the deal we made with Tim and Taryn when they rented the restaurant space from us,” says Marty. “We had to be able to cook breakfast there. We clean up after ourselves, and they leave the kitchen clean for us in the morning.” Leasing their restaurant space to No. 9 has been a boon. “Our guests love being able walk down to have dinner in a really fine restaurant,” says Jay, who understands that location is everything with real estate. “Why Millerton?” he says, asking the question that he is always asked. “It has great appeal because it is a friendly, walkable, shoppable town.”
Simmons’ Way Village Inn
53 Main Street; 518.789.6235
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It’s A Wonderful Life (Again) at the Falls Village Inn
Last week, Christmas came early to Falls Village, CT, with the reopening of the Falls Village Inn, which dates back to 1834. For the past four years, the inn had been dark (after a brief interlude as an ill-conceived German restaurant) and the town (population 1,200) had been holding its breath, hoping that someone would come along and resuscitate it. Everybody seemed to share a similar vision: They wanted a down-to-earth New England tavern where anyone—firemen, weekenders, families with children—would feel welcome and where you could put up your out-of-town relatives for the night. But the asking price was ridiculous: $1.2 million. It seemed like the inn might stay dark forever, but then the bank foreclosed, the price kept dropping, and some starry-eyed buyers came along. What the buyers—Colin Chambers and Susan Sweetapple—didn’t know was that a Fairy Godmother who lived a stone’s throw from the inn would come along to help them make magic.
Chambers and Sweetapple had never intended to become innkeepers and restaurateurs. They were weekenders who had fallen in love with northwestern Connecticut through their connections to the Lime Rock Park race track, and they were looking to buy a house. “One day, our real estate agent Elyse Harney Morris drove us up to the inn but I didn’t want to get out of the car,” recalls Chambers, an advertising executive whose clients include Lime Rock. But Harney knew that Sweetapple, who worked for a national hotel chain, just might see the potential in the historic but woebegone inn. “We didn’t immediately bite, but we couldn’t get it out of our minds,” says Sweetapple. “We could tell this was a special place and a special town.”
But they had no idea just how important the inn was to the town’s collective consciousness. “As soon as we closed on the inn last April, people started knocking on the door, asking us when we were opening and offering us advice about what to serve,” says Sweetapple. “We thought we could open quietly, and leave quietly if we failed. We realized that would be impossible. People in the town cared too much.” The new owners started a Facebook page and had hundreds of friends within days. When they asked what people wanted on the menu, they got 50 responses, including several pleas to serve grass-fed burgers from Whippoorwill Farm in Salisbury, which is owned by Robin and Allen Cockerline, who had lived in Falls Village for many years.
And then one day in June, the world renowned interior designer Bunny Williams, who has been spending weekends in Falls Village for more than 30 years, showed up on the inn’s sloping front porch. “She stuck out her hand and said, ‘I’m Bunny Williams and I want to help you decorate the inn’,” recalls Chambers, who had no idea who she was. “I quickly Googled her and I couldn’t believe it. We were not her typical clients. We had no budget.” And then Williams made the couple an offer they couldn’t refuse: She would make this a pro bono project.
Why did Williams offer to work for free? “Falls Village needed this inn,” says Williams, whose much photographed house and garden (see: An Affair with A House) is just 100 yards from the inn. “Falls Village needed a soul, a reason for people to visit. I thought the least I could do is to volunteer myself. I had always thought about buying the inn myself, but I had too much on my plate. I thought, I will show Colin and Susan how to do this right. I’m not sure they knew what they were in for. They were very surprised when I said they were going to have to move some doors upstairs because there were no walls big enough for king size beds.”
“Bunny said we had to have king-size beds—California kings,” says Chambers, who was much more surprised when she personally demonstrated how to make those beds last weekend. (The linens she specified were not yet on the beds for these photos.) “At hotels where I’ve worked, they taught us to make beds very tight with everything tucked in,” says Sweetapple. “But Bunny showed us how she makes her beds at home, so you just lift up the covers and slip in.” The owners learned that Williams has opinions about everything when it comes to hospitality (although this is her first hotel-and-restaurant project.) “As she says, ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’,” says Chambers. “For instance, she insisted that we rebuld the front steps outside. I thought the old stone steps were kind of charming, but she felt they were not welcoming and she was absolutely right.”
Now entering the inn is like coming home. There are coat hooks in the front hall that make it feel like an elegant, Bunny Williams-style mud room. There are garlands on the front staircase that lead to the four completed bedrooms—two are suites with trundle beds for kids—that feel like guest rooms you might find at Williams’ own house. Williams had local help to execute her vision: Pete Rich, a house stager, hunted for old furniture at places like Johnson’s in Millerton and would email Williams photos for approval, while Robin Cockerline, the illustrator and co-owner of Whippoorwill Farm, shopped for rugs, linens, sconces and dishes for the restaurant. “Joan Osofsky of Hammertown was very generous,” says Williams. “She allowed us to buy everything at cost.”
The 40-seat Tap Room was packed on the opening weekend. “We want this to be a casual, comfortable place where you can always get a hamburger,” says Chambers, noting that guests can choose between a conventional burger ($10) or the Whippoorwill grass-fed burger ($15) The menu is exactly what the Facebook fans wanted (and Williams decreed no “drizzling” on any of the plates): Chicken Wings ($10), Shepherd’s Pie ($17), Chicken Pot Pie ($15). Last Sunday, the lunch specials included chef Jose Lalvay’s fish tacos ($12) and more than one guest requested it be made a menu staple. For dessert, there is coconut, chocolate and lemon cake from Jason Young’s Sweet William’s Bakery, which started out around the corner in Falls Village before moving to Salisbury.
While Chambers and Sweetapple get accustomed to being innkeepers, Williams continues to guide them and plot how she will decorate the main dining room and porch that overlooks the town green, which are set to open in the spring.“It’s been fun to work on a tight budget—you can’t buy good taste,” says Williams. “The real miracle is going to be when we’re finished!” It’s impossible for the owners to recall how they planned to tackle this project before Williams stepped in. “Bunny is our super-hero,” says Chambers.
The Falls Village Inn
33 Railroad Street, Falls Village, CT; 860.824.0033
Rooms: $199 to $279
Tap Room Hours:
Thursday & Friday 4 - 10 p.m. (kitchen open 5 - 9 p.m.)
Saturday & Sunday noon - 10 p.m.
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Berkshire B&Bs Offer Free Rooms for Vets
The Birchwood Inn, Lenox MA
Veterans Day is one of the few Federal holidays that has not been moved to a Monday, which means a lot of us will not be going to work on Thursday, November 11. If you’re a veteran, you can have a free mini-vacation in the Berkshires courtesy of eleven B&Bs that are offering rooms at no charge to vets on Wednesday, November 10. The B&B for Vets program was launched last year in West Virginia, and now some 800 inns in 49 states are participating in the program. “We are proud that so many of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau member inns and B&Bs [such as the Inn at Stockbridge, right] are taking part in this fantastic program,” says Laurie Klefos, president and CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. “I believe this is a great way for Berkshire County to show its support for our veterans and hope to continue and grow this as a Berkshire tradition.”
Berkshire Visitor Bureau Members Participating in B&Bs for Vets:
Apple Tree Inn, Lenox: 413.637.1477
Applegate Inn, Lee: 800.691.9012
Birchwood Inn, Lenox: 800,524.1646
Christine’s B&B and Tearoom, Great Barrington: 800.536.1186
Devonfield Inn, Lee: 800.664.0880
Federal House Inn, South Lee: 800.243.1834
Mount Greylock Inn, Adams: 413.743.2665
Ramblewood Inn, Sheffield: 413.298.3337
The Inn at Stockbridge, Stockbridge: 413.298.3337 (photo right)
The Rookwood Inn, Lenox: 800.223.9750
Whistler’s Inn, Lenox: 413.637.0975