Rock Hall: A Wall Streeter Transforms His Weekend House Into a Bed & Breakfast
Michael Somers is The Accidental Innkeeper. A few years ago, he and his wife, Stella Flame, decided that they’d had enough of the Hamptons where they had spent summers for decades, and they started looking for a weekend house in a mellower environment. They found a woebegone stone manor house (circa 1912) on 23 lush acres in Colebrook, CT (which is bordered by Sandisfield, MA to the north and by Norfolk, CT to the west), which was designed by Addison Mizner, who built many of the best houses in Palm Beach. They were enchanted by Rock Hall’s thick stone walls and gracious, high-ceilinged rooms, and they liked its proximity to Butternut where their daughter was skiing comptetively. “It’s one of only two house that Minzer designed in New England,” says Somers, a former high-powered Wall Street bond trader. “When Wall Street imploded, they no longer needed guys like me.” And thus, last fall, Somers moved out of Manhattan and transformed his beloved weekend house into a luxurious B&B. Instead of trading bonds for a living, he makes breakfast (below.)
His wife, who has been a shopkeeper in Manhattan and an antiques dealer in Bridgehampton, is an interior designer who has a custom centerpiece business called The Artfull Boxer. When Flame originally restored and decorated the house, she never thought that paying guests would be staying in it. She decided to change as little as possible and the house has an elegant restraint; you feel like you could be at one of the Gilded Age mansions in Lenox, MA. Flame fell in love with historic elements—a walk-in wood-lined refrigerator, a cloak room (now a game room with a view of the pool) a glass-and-stone mudroom that Ralph Lauren would envy. She left every architectural element intact. “It’s a hodgepodge,” she says. “There are Corinthian columns and Moorish elements but I wanted to stay true to Mizner’s aesthetic. We had to strip down the cofferred panelled walls in the living room because they had oxidized. They are natural chestnut which is rare because of the chestnut blight.”
The house feels dignified but comforable, quirky yet classy. “It is a real house,” says Somers, noting
that the only changes they made when turning it into a B&B was buying bathrobes and flat-screen TVs for the four guest suites. Flame left most of the original bathroom fixtures and windows, and she spent hundreds of hours looking at William Morris-style Arts & Crafts wallpapers, choosing exquisite patterns that make hanging paintings seem redundant. In the master suite (aka Chamber Two), they restored the original, wrap-a-round spray shower and stripped paint from the mirrored closet doors that open to create a three-way mirror. They made improvements like rebuilding the tennis court and adding a home theater, gym and game room on the third foor where there had been seven servants’ rooms once upon a time.
Now the couple and their 14-year-old daughter live in the servants’ quarters and paying guests stay in their old bedrooms. “I do miss Chamber Two,” says Flame with a good-hearted laugh. “But this has really been an exiciting opportunity to reinvent ourselves.” Local zoning regulations dictate that they must call themselves a B&B and not an inn, and they can only serve one meal a day. “It’s really a resort-style B&B,” says Flame, pointing to the 75 foot long swimming pool and synthetic-grass tennis court, which are shared by only 8 guests at a time. (Children under 12 are not allowed unless all four guest rooms have been rented by the same family or group.) Complimentary cocktails are served by the massive fireplace during the winter and by the pool over looking the gardens in the summer, and you feel like you could be visiting some very wealthy relatives. “I think this is one of the most wonderful places in the world,” says Somers. “All my friends thought so, too, when they didn’t have to pay to stay.”
Colebrook, CT; 860.379.2230 or 917.696. 4955
Rooms: $240 - $320 a night