Blantyre Opens The Door To Be Manor-Born For The Moment
By Lisa Green
They took the private sign down.
“We want the local community to experience Blantyre,” says Christopher Brooks, the new general manager, who served as its chef for 12 years. After a hospitality stint in Nantucket, he’s back at the exquisite Scottish-inspired country manor. Owner Ann Fitzpatrick Smith and Brooks are making the rarified atmosphere more accessible to those of us who might never have given it a thought. Now it’s more likely to be a consideration.
Built in 1902, the majestic Tudor-style estate is elegant and romantic. And they may have taken away the private sign, but there is a hushed mien of privacy inside and outside the property; it’s almost as if this exquisitely decorated and outfitted mansion — the first Relais & Chateau property in the United States — is your personal country estate. From the moment you enter — a staff person at the front door waiting to greet you — the Blantyre experience begins.
The holidays are a particularly inviting time to take that in. Lunches and dinners (set up in the dining room, as if you’re in someone’s home) are open to the public, as is a traditional Sunday brunch featuring “Gilded Age cocktails.” An afternoon tea served Monday through Saturday is as formal as a traditional tea service should be.
The main house, which was modeled after a Scottish property with towers, turrets and gargoyles, was furnished in the English style, which has been enhanced with the furniture and objects that Blantyre’s owner has collected over the years. During the holidays, the manor is sumptuously decorated (all those fireplace mantels call for garlands) and a host of Santa Claus figures populate the rooms.
You don’t need to book an overnight stay to enjoy any of these services — but you might want to, since one-night stays are now available. It’s a kind of “every wish is your command” place. You want to walk the grounds in the summer? A packet of insect repellant is handed to you. You have compliments for the chef? He’s brought out to meet you. You’d like to listen to pianist Karen Tchougourian tickling the ivories while you eat? A dinner setting is arranged in the music room. Your room is prepared with a cheese tray and champagne, the new James Taylor CD, bath salts specially ordered from elizabethW Artisanal Scents. In the winter, there’s nothing quite like soaking in the hot tub in the Potting Shed spa as you look out onto a pristine white landscape.
Christopher Brooks, general manager at Blantyre.
Blantyre is also open to holiday gatherings. Groups can arrange to have their own wine tastings, conducted by the sommeliers and wine director, with a private tour of the wine cellar, which holds more than 10,000 bottles.
“Our guests are our treasures,” says Brown. Whether you’re a tourist or a local, once you’ve entered the Blantyre universe, that becomes imminently clear.
167 Blantyre Road, Lenox, MA
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The Milliner Guesthouse And Inn: Hudson In Four Rooms
Photos by Shannon Greer.
By Jamie Larson
One of the most enjoyable things about the ongoing small business renaissance in Hudson is its vast diversity of style. Each shop, guesthouse, restaurant and cultural center is a reflection of the unique style, and often caprice, of the individuals involved.
The Hudson Milliner, one of the city’s newest guesthouses, is a perfect example. At 415 Warren Street, the building, right in the center of it all, is both a beautiful expression of the honed taste and professional eyes of artist-owners Charlotta Janssen and Shannon Greer, and the strong historic aesthetics of Hudson itself.
“People come to Hudson to create exactly what they want,” says Janssen, who owns two funky Brooklyn restaurants—Chez Oskar and Lola BKLYN. “That’s what we did. We wanted to make spaces that really work, for us and our guests.”
From 2010 to 2013, Janssen and Greer toiled over every detail of a massive renovation. As a painter, Janssen fell in love with the exposed brick and old beams they uncovered after gutting both upper floors, marveling at the surviving 19th-century hardware. Greer, a photographer who also uses the rooms as sets for shoots, fixated on the natural light that pours into the spaces, formerly apartments and offices. The downstairs, now a handsome furniture store by Chris Lehrecke, was a millinery, hence the name and those of the suites: The Top Hat, Bowler, Fedora and Cloche.
“I looked at the design like a photographer, how I would shoot there,” Greer says. “Finding the right furniture is important and I’m always thinking in terms of lighting. But we also wanted to preserve the idea of Hudson. We wanted to keep the sense of place.”
It just feels like Hudson in the Milliner. The couple made bold design choices that at times border on the whimsical, but nothing is over the top. The exposed structural elements bring the feel of the small city into the room; the Hudson-sourced antiques provide guests with a personalized experience and the industrial elements and use of white add a slightly modern feel. That all may sound busy, but it’s not. Every space has been meticulously thought out and fits together like a strange, elegant puzzle.
“We tried to imagine what we would like in a bed and breakfast,” Janssen says. “We designed it for ourselves and wanted everything to be unique. Anyone coming up to Hudson wants space and sun and to be alone with their lover or family and feel comfortable.”
They said they hate the idea of going to a hotel where every room is the same, every lamp and every mirror bought by the dozen. Janssen and Greer painstakingly selected and fought over every design element. For what you get, plus location, the rates are a steal at $250 to $300 a night. But we’ll keep that between us.
For Janssen and Greer, the journey to open the Milliner was a circuitous one that started not as a business venture but a search for a country home in the area where Greer spent some of his school-age years. “We had this whole romantic notion of living in a barn,” she says, her arms wrapped around Greer’s shoulders. “But we are too urban.”
“We fell in love with Hudson,” Greer remembers of their 2010 property search. “It’s everything we liked about the country but you still have that urban feel. There’s music, art and amazing farm-to-table food.”
If, while staying at the Milliner, you feel like cooking in to take advantage of the beautifully retro kitchens, or hosting some friends for dinner, The Farm Box will deliver a fully stocked supply of locally grown goods ready for cooking right to your suite. Call it farm-to-table room service.
Janssen and Greer now live about half the week in NYC and the other half in their place off the back of the Milliner. With renovations complete, the two are now settling in. Janssen will be showing her paintings in October at the R Wells Gallery at 725 Warren; Greer is trying to shoot more and more of his work in Hudson. The couple has made a home for themselves at the Milliner and they’d be happy to have you as their guest.
“It is too big to be just our place but we fell in love with it,” says Janssen. “Now everyone can love it, too.”
The Hudson Milliner Guesthouse and Inn
415 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
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A Vintage Modern Bed and Breakfast in Williamstown
By Amy Krzanik
When a top-notch innkeeper rhapsodizes about a bed-and-breakfast other than his own, you pay attention. Ira Goldspiel, a design aficionado who runs the Inn at Kent Falls, stayed at The Guest House at Field Farm in Williamstown and he raved about experiencing authentic 1940s modernist architecture and decor in a bucolic Berkshires setting. Owned by the Trustees of Reservations, the oldest land trust in the United States, the inn was originally designed and built right after World War II as a house for Lawrence Bloedel, the onetime Williams College librarian, and his wife, Eleanor Palmedo Bloedel, who would become important art collectors and bequeath their collection to the Williams College and Whitney museums. (The Whitney received more than sixty works, including important canvases by Milton Avery, William Baziotes, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Fairfield Porter.)
“They had talked with Frank Lloyd Wright about drawing up plans for the house, but as they disagreed on several points, they went back to [a favored architect], Edwin Goodell, with whom they had worked previously,” says innkeeper Ole Retlev. The International Style house (which looks like something you might find in a Sao Paulo suburb) was turned into a bed and breakfast twenty years ago, and Retlev is vigilant about maintaining its integrity. “When we redid the kitchen floor, we used real linoleum,” he says, pointing out an Eames chair and Vladimir Kagan sofa that are original to the house as well as the bookshelves that Mr. Bloedel built himself. “All the colors of the walls are original.”
The Guest House at Field Farm attracts people who are looking for something other than a traditional bed and breakfast and has an established summer clientele drawn to the Berkshires by Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and MASS MoCA.
The six -room Field Farm is also home to an award-winning architectural “Folly” (below) designed in 1966 by Ulrich Franzen, a shingled pastiche that references Victorian architecture, silos, and propellers. It is open by appointment only from June through October. The Guest House itself will be open only through the end of November, but the rest of the 316-acre property, which is a mini sculpture park (with pieces lent back to the property by Williams) is open free all year long for hikes, picnics, and cross country skiing. As the inn has no gift shop, Retlev sends guests for a short walk up the road. “I send everyone who comes here to visit Cricket Creek Farm before they leave,” says Retlev. “So everyone stocks up on the most wonderful cheese, bread, and other goods before driving home.”
The Guest House at Field Farm
554 Sloan Road
Now - October 31: Open seven days a week
November 1 - 30: Fridays - Monday
Closed after that until April 2014
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The Barlow: A Hotel For Hudson (Finally!)
By Jamie Larson
The small city of Hudson leaves visitors wanting for little. Warren Street’s center is lined with world-class art and antique galleries, restaurants that rival Manhattan’s (or at this point, Brooklyn’s) best, bars, spas, niche boutiques, and eclectic theaters a block or two away. All that plus a richness of historic architecture and sweeping waterfront view of the Hudson River, with the Catskills beyond, makes the city almost a hallucination of urbanity plopped in the middle of the countryside. The complete package—almost.
As the city has grown into the vibrant metropolitan destination it is today, one big problem remained. There just weren’t enough places to stay. All there was when it came to itinerant bedding was a number of elegant bed and breakfasts, which filled up incredibly quickly, and an old motel and hotel whose best days were so far behind them that they are often not spoken of in polite conversation. Many years into Hudson’s resurgence, and there still wasn’t a hotel that catered to its needs and sensibility.
Until now. The Barlow Hotel, which opened this past June, has come to the rescue, and it’s about time. Situated right in the heart of Hudson’s business district at 542 Warren Street, the 16-room Barlow offers visitors all the creature comforts, style, and privacy expected of a modern boutique hotel, while incorporating the character and feel of this unique river city.
Owners Russell Gibson and Duncan Calhoun bought a home in Hudson back in 1992 after Calhoun stumbled onto it when he got lost trying to find a yard sale, and five years ago they opened their own B & B next door, the Croff House. They obviously cottoned to the hospitality trade; their experience in it and and love of the town combined to create a hotel that fits so snugly into the local tableau that one might think it has always been there.
“The B & B was really the catalyst for us to do the hotel,” Gibson says from behind his desk in the high-ceilinged lobby, a fireplace to his right, and a huge yet understated painting of the Hudson River by local artist Tony Thompson behind him. “We knew people wanted a hotel but needed the right building and location. And here we are.”
Calhoun and Gibson have taken efforts to retain the historic details of the repurposed Barlow-Osborn Building, built in 1927, including its elegant staircase with Art Deco lines. The rooms are well decorated with queen- or king-sized beds, flat-screen televisions with Direct TV service, gas fireplaces in every room, coffeemakers, refrigerators, safes, and chic bathrooms with some of the highest-end showerheads you’re likely to find in a fifty-mile radius. “What we’ve tried to do is combine the architecture and the charm of the city with the technology today’s traveler demands and the comforts they don’t get at home.” Gibson says. “Though we’re contemporary, you don’t forget you’re in Hudson.”
As comfortable as the hotel is, Gibson and Calhoun hope guests will see it as an extension of the town itself. “We’re a European-style boutique hotel,” Gibson elaborates. “We want you to experience the entire hotel and we also want you to go outside the hotel and experience Hudson.” To that end, The Barlow has partnered with dozens of local businesses to create the “Privilege Partner” program for its guests. When a guest shows their electronic room key at any of the participating shops, restaurants or spas, all within walking distance, they receive a discount.
“Duncan and I went up and down Warren Street talking with merchants and city government,” Gibson says. “The business community was very pleased we opened the hotel and the city has been very supportive along the way.”
And there’s still more to come. Some renovations are still underway, including a future gym and conference room. “We’ve noticed that the demographic of the Hudson visitor has changed as Hudson begins to be more publicized,” Gibson says. “There’s more expectation that service be of a higher quality.”
“Our weekend home morphed into our full-time home and into a new life,” says Calhoun. “We’ve watched that same pattern happen to more and more people.” Gibson and Calhoun both say they wouldn’t be surprised if some hotel guest that very night ends up being their neighbor in the near future.
The Barlow: A Hudson Hotel
542 Warren Street
Hudson, NY 12534
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The Better B&B: Stonover Farm in Lenox
Photographs by Kevin Sprague
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
“Our guests, basically, enter through the kitchen,” says Tom Werman, owner and proprietor of Stonover Farm, the luxury B&B a mere two miles from Tanglewood that he runs with his wife, Suky. “We like it that way,” he says. He’s hinting, of course, at the famous omelets he makes for guests on the inn’s impressive Aga cooker, as well as to the relaxed environment the couple works hard to provide. The farm provides its guests with “nature” in just the right amounts — broad fields for hiking, lovely mountain views, and even a waterfall that flows into a picturesque duck pond full of placid swimmers.
But back to those breakfasts. Every guest is served their choice, and Tom doesn’t take offense if it’s not one of his omelets — he’s not sharing his secret to their special goodness, anyway, although we suspect the Aga plays a role.
The Wermans aren’t the type to rest on their laurels, either (they rarely rest at all!), and this spring, after 11 summers, they recognized their rooms could use a new look. “It was time for new fabrics on the beds and throughout the rooms,” Suky says. In May, each of the farm’s suites received a fabric makeover with the help of Annie Selke of the Berkshires-based Pine Cone Hill, makers of colorful home-decorating fabrics and other home-décor products, who teamed with the Wermans to use her signature fabrics in all their guest suites.
Fabric is on the radar at Stonover — even an art exhibit (opening July 19, with a gala fundraiser for IS183) in the Stonover barn has a textile theme. (The show features 11 artists working in textiles, fiber and wearable art, including Melissa Lillie, a designer at Pine Cone Hill, whose abstract paintings have inspired Selke to replicate Lillie’s designs on gossamer fabric scarves.) Suky, who is on the IS183 board of directors, has curated the show, which will run through Labor Day weekend.
In 2002, when the Wermans left Los Angeles to open a luxury inn in the Berkshires, you might say they turned the page on a new chapter of their lives, but it’s more accurate to say they started a whole new book. Tom had been a successful music executive, producing 60 albums over the years for “hair” bands and heavy metal stars like Motley Crue, Boston, and Twisted Sister. After the music industry transformed dramatically, Tom knew big changes were ahead. “We had an active social life in L.A., and hosted lots of parties,” he says, “so this life, as innkeepers, doesn’t seem all that different from what we’d been doing for 24 years.”
“We wanted to come back east, too,” Tom says. “I’m from Massachusetts originally, and Suky is from Westchester. We were looking for a property where we could run a high-end B&B — the kind of place where every convenience is provided and every need is accommodated.” Tom checked out seven different towns but couldn’t find what the couple envisioned. “I was getting depressed, then I saw the barn here at Stonover and the for-sale sign.” That was in 2001.
The mansion at Stonover, once the Gilded Age gentleman farm of the Parsons, an old Lenox family, is a half-timber Victorian structure built in the 1890’s. By the time the Wermans arrived, the great house, outbuildings, and enormous barn all needed substantial repairs, and the surrounding ten acres were generally neglected, devoid even of flower beds.
From the start, the Wermans were as committed to preserving what was beautiful and special about Stonover as they were to making their new life, and the inn, a success. They ran into the usual roadblocks during the permitting and renovation process, resulting in minor skirmishes with planning and zoning officials — the sort that can only resolve with trust and time. Tom recalls with humor the anachronistic “uses” for the farm that came with its title. “They allowed us one barber seat, the ability to sell preserves, and to take in clothing for alterations.”
The couple accomplished their renovation in record time — a mere eight months — opening four elegant, pet-friendly suites in the main house (each has a bedroom, living room, and elegant white marble and tile bathroom), and three more in the cottage and schoolhouse in 2002. Every suite has top-flight feather pillows, comfortable guest robes, and 14-inch-thick mattresses. “If we had a motto,” Tom says, “it would be: Why sacrifice convenience for charm?”
The soft tones and rich textures of the library, living room, and other public spaces of the mansion are a far cry from the garish colors that greeted the couple in 2001. “All the wood trim had been painted wine red,” Tom says. “It was heavy and depressing.” The couple lightened and brightened every space, even acid-washing the walls in the winter dining room to remove layers of old paint and wallpaper. The farm’s former creamery now serves as the summer dining room when weather doesn’t cooperate for breakfast on the patio. The thick brick walls that once kept milk cold have been given new life with cream-colored paint and a wall of French doors that face the duck pond.
There’s plenty of convenience at Stonover, too, the other leg of Tom’s motto, in the form of enormous flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations, CD players, 250 movies, free landline phones, remote-control A/C with quiet condensers (located outside), and Wi-Fi all over the property. Finally, after a decade as committed innkeepers, Tom and Suky have dashed the notion that they’re lightweights who wouldn’t stick it out, or that they might turn Stonover, a 150-year-old icon of the Berkshires, into a Motel 6 with insensitive renovations, or ruin the peaceful neighborhood with wild rock-star parties.
The charming schoolhouse on the property pre-dates the farm (it was built in 1850), and still sports the school bell in its cupola. Heated floors, a luxurious marble bath, soaring ceilings, stellar views of the duck pond and exceptional privacy make this suite the most luxurious of all guest spaces at Stonover, and a special favorite of bridal couples. Meanwhile, the ice house found a new purpose, becoming part of the Werman’s own living quarters. “We have a 40-foot commute to work,” Tom chuckles, pointing to the entry of the inn, an addition designed by Pam Sandler of Stockbridge to bridge the ice house with the mansion. Even the chicken coop is now a 2-bedroom cottage with a fireplace, its own kitchen, and central air, making it perfect for families.
Given Tom’s longevity in the record industry, it’s not surprising that Linda Ronstadt was the first guest at the newly renovated Stonover Farm a dozen years ago. In fact, the Werman’s have hosted a higher-than-normal quotient of celebrities, thanks in part to Tom’s connections as well as the inn’s proximity to Tanglewood.
However, high-end innkeepers like Suky and Tom walk a fine line in promoting their property appropriately. While innkeepers want a steady stream of guests, travelers want to feel like they’ve “discovered” a place and can make it their own. Knowing this, Tom and Suky struggled through the early years, avoiding advertising and exploitive promotional tactics. “Then something happened,” Tom recalls. A rave review of Stonover appeared in Andrew Harper’s Hideaway, and later the inn won the publication’s Hideaway of the Year award. “Now,” Tom says, “our business is robust.”
While the enormous barn on the property no longer stores hay or shelters cows and horses, it does anchor the property as the quintessential party barn, and easily accommodates 200 for dinner. Tom and Suky hold a limited number of events here every year via special permit from the town of Lenox — most of them weddings. Fortunately, Tom says, “We’ve reached a point where the town is proud of us and thinks we’re doing a great job. We even hosted the high school prom.”
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Bascom: A Venerable and Democratic Lodge Celebrates A Diamond Jubilee
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
Visiting a stone lodge at the top of a mountain appeals to everyone, even the not-very-outdoorsy. The delicious smoke and crackle of a campfire, the bracing fresh air, or maybe just the absence of a TV and a break from the quotidian all seem to conjure happy memories and simpler times. Bascom Lodge, a quintessential mountain retreat, was designed by Pittsfield architect Joseph McArthur Vance in the rugged Craftsman-style, and built from red spruce and schist stone harvested from the mountain. It opened in 1937, one of many such lodges built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in state parks across the country during the 1930s, and is now celebrating its 75th anniversary with special activities all summer.
An army of young men ages 18 to 24 populated the CCC—- 100,000 in Massachusetts alone—improving the nation’s forests, parks, and recreational resources, building bridges and roads – basically setting a standard for park development—as one of President Roosevelt’s social programs designed to keep people working (and alive) during the Great Depression. The Corp also improved access to the summit with road improvements, and built hiking trails and lean-to shelters throughout the park.
The main lodge is one large room, with a fireplace at one end, check-in at the other, and an enclosed porch at the back, facing the breathtaking south view. The lodge’s wings, angled like welcoming arms, house the kitchen and dining room on the left, and public facilities and guest rooms on the right. Remaining guest rooms are on the second floor, above the main lodge room. It is well-used by the visiting public, including the many tired, wet, and hungry thru-hikers traveling the Appalachian Trail, which passes a few feet from the front door. Others come just for the view, or to pay their respects at the Veterans War Memorial Tower a few hundred feet away.
Various groups ran the lodge over the years, but none took much responsibility for maintaining the actual building, and weather and hard use took its toll. Fortunately, Bascom Lodge got an extensive facelift beginning in 2009 when two multi-talented brothers from North Adams by way of New York City, took it over through an ingenious program run by the state. The Dudek brothers, Peter and John, and their third partner, Brad Parsons, have updated and upgraded its spaces, increased functionality, especially in the kitchen, and decorated it all in keeping with its Craftsman roots.
“The lodge had been boarded up for two years before we got the lease,” says Peter. “We had a ten-year plan to break even, but we’ve almost gotten there in half the time.” The brothers are calm, even sanguine, when they talk about their venture, probably because they’ve experienced everything by now and survived to tell the tale — burst pipes, road-closing snow storms, whacko guests — you name it. They’re in the hospitality industry with a capital H, in an extreme environment, and they know it.
While Mount Greylock State Park is open year-round, the lodge operates seasonally from June 1 to October (the actual closing date is driven by the weather). Peter, who runs the lodge’s programs and oversees its ongoing renovation projects, is a sculptor who teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the former director of the Storefront Artists Project in Pittsfield. He’s put together a series of programs and lectures (every Wednesday evening at 6 p.m.) that are free and open to the public.
He’s also designed a special 75th-anniversary weekend on July 13 and 14, with a full schedule of family-oriented programs, beginning with a Native American tepee raising and drumming to bless the mountain (noon to 4 p.m.); a fly-casting workshop (3 to 5 p.m., and repeated on Sunday); a children’s program highlighting bugs, bones, and birds; and an evening Jazz festival. The history of the lodge itself will be featured in the program on Wednesday, July 10, with author Lauren Stevens, and the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corp will be explored on July 24. (See the full schedule of anniversary events and regular Wednesday programs at the lodge’s website.)
John Dudek, Peter’s brother and a private chef in New York City, has transformed the kitchen at the lodge, making the dining experience worthy of the view. Food is now one of the main draws, which means three meals a day, seven days a week through the season. At the same time, partner Parsons is responsible for the native alpine garden out front, as well as decorating the lodge, a process now complete except for two public bathrooms. The building can accommodate 34 overnight guests in four private rooms (simple but charming), four family rooms (with a queen bed for mom and dad, and bunk beds for the kids), and two large bunk rooms, each of which sleeps up to ten people. The rooms are simple and relatively small — more Laurence Rockefeller than Holiday Inn — but possess a rustic elegance typical of the Craftsman style. There’s Stickley furniture in every room and William Morris wallpaper above white-painted paneling. Simple white subway tile and 1930s-style marble patterned floors in the generously sized bathrooms sweep you back in time.
“It’s funny how much difference the right furniture makes,” Peter says, as he gazes around the main lodge room. “Not only does the lodge look better, but it changes people’s behavior. When we first took over the lodge, there would be thru-hikers sitting on the floor eating a three-day-old hamburger. Now, no one would think of doing that.”
The lodge continues to welcome thru-hikers, of course, along with wedding parties, Boy Scout troops, veterans groups, a steady stream of international travelers, and over the course of a season, thousands of day trippers looking to hike a bit and enjoy the view from 3,491 feet; a 360-degree visual feast of the neighboring Taconic, Hoosac, and Green Mountains, Berkshire Hills, and further out to the Catskills, Adirondacks, and White Mountains. Look down in any direction and you can easily identify local hamlets and landmarks, such as lakes Onota and Pontoosuc in Pittsfield. Granite “maps” located around the summit (there’s one just outside the west wing) help identify less-obvious landmarks. A stroll around the summit takes you past stones inscribed with passages from Hawthorne and Thoreau, too, whose words seem to have been written specifically about Mount Greylock. Indeed, the park is a natural wonder and the heart of the northern Berkshires, offering 70 miles of open field and forest hiking trails, 11-and-a half miles of Appalachian Trail, remnants of old farms, shelters and lean-tos, primitive camping, and other potential adventures.
In extreme environments, everything beautiful can easily become a hazard, making the everyday tasks associated with running a mountain lodge more complicated. John recalled the days last year following Hurricane Irene. Wind scarcely damaged a twig on the mountain, but torrential rain proved a problem. The park’s charming waterfalls gushed out onto the access road for days on end, making the drive up and down the mountain scary and treacherous. And as late as Memorial Day this year, there was still snow at the summit, which kept the roads closed until a just a few days of the official opening, robbing the brothers of the time they needed to get the lodge and restaurant open and ready for business.
The reward for being at nature’s mercy, however, is the opportunity to commune with nature in such a unique and glorious setting. John Bascom, one of the park’s earliest commissioners and the namesake of the lodge, expressed appreciation for the mountain best in his 1906 dedication of the park: “Greylock, our daily pleasure, our constant symbol, our ever-renewed inspiration, for all who have fellowship with Nature.”
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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