Salisbury’s White Hart Inn Gets A Makeover
Scott and Roxanne Bok are accidental innkeepers. A decade ago, as they were looking for a new weekend house in Salisbury, CT, they learned that the venerable White Hart Inn was in financial trouble. “I thought I could help them out,” says Scott, a prominent Manhattan investment banker, who grew up in rural Michigan and exudes an earnest midwestern matter-of-factness. “One thing led to another, and we bought it,” The Boks had been spending weekend in northwestern Connecticut since 1989, and they intuitively understood that they’d become caretakers as much as owners of the White Hart, which was built as a humble inn and tavern in 1803. “People had their own ideas of what a grande dame is supposed to be, and we knew that any changes we would make might upset people,” says Roxanne. “For ten years, we just observed and let it be what it was.” Last fall, with business slow because of the economic downturn, the Boks (who are major benefactors of regional arts organizations like TriArts and Shakespeare & Company) decided it was time for a soup-to-nuts renovation and redecoration.
“It was a spur of the moment decision,” allows Scott, who knew he’d hire Matthew Patrick Smyth, a New York designer with a weekend house in nearby Sharon, who had decorated the public rooms and guest suites at their Twin Lakes Farm down the road. The Boks wanted the White Hart to be more luxurious than other mid-range hotels in the area but not as fancy as super-deluxe inns like Blantyre or The Mayflower. To create the graciousness the Boks wanted, Smyth reduced the number of rooms from 26 to 15. The third-floor is now a two-bedroom “penthouse” suite with a kitchen and a sexy stall shower in one of the dormers that overlooks the the flagpole and church steeples. “It’s great for a family or two couples,” says Smyth.
Every room has been individually decorated. “Matthew did not use the same wallpaper twice,” says Roxanne. The Boks encouraged him to shop locally, and all the mattresses came from Riley’s Furniture in Millerton, rugs came from Hammertown Barn, table lamps from Lamplighter in Great Barrington, and the windows from Herrington’s. “Philip Watson of Vintage Lighting in Great Barrington designed the new porch light fixture for us,” says Smyth, who choose a fresh, soothing palette for the bedrooms. “I didn’t want it to be too cool or too warm—I wanted it to feel right in all seasons.”
The Boks have not only changed the White Hart’s look but also its focus. “The inn used to do a lot of weddings and banquets and we have gotten out of that business,” says Scott. “We really wanted to focus on serving the locals every day of the week by expanding the restaurant.” The registration desk has been moved to the back of the front hall, which has become an airy place for cocktails or a meal in front of a woodburning fire (right.) The panelling in the once fallow Hunt Room has been re-stained and hung with plein air landscape paintings by Emily Buchanan of Cornwall. The Tap Room, with its charming Arts & Crafts wallpaper, looks as if nothing has been touched even though Smith had all the woodwork refinished and added new lighting. “We’ve kept it very accessible—there are no white tablecloths,” says Roxanne, noting that meals will now be served on the front porch for the first time. “And wherever you sit, you can order a hamburger.”
That hamburger will be made of grass-fed beef that was raised four miles away at Twin Lakes Farm, which the Boks bought a few years ago and immediately placed under a conservation easement. “We now supply our own beef, eggs, vegetables and soon we’ll have fish,” says Scott. Fish? “We have an aquaponic greenhouse and we are going to raise rainbow trout and striped bass and use the filtered water for the vegetables. There was a New York Times article about this process very recently.” At the end of May, the Boks will set up a farm stand on the White Hart’s lawn (which is also known as the Village Green though most of the land belongs to the inn) to sell their meat and vegetables. As they finished Sunday lunch on the porch last weekend with their nine-year-old daughter, Jane, they marveled at the skills of their new 28-year-old chef, David Miller, who is making nearly everything in-house, including bread and chocolates. “He can go to our greenhouse and farm to ‘shop’ for produce,” says Roxanne. “He’s talking about doing his own butchering, too.”
The Boks have heard grumblings from locals who think the White Hart has become too fancy (though the Sunday bikers in their leathers lunching there on Sunday did not seem to feel out of place.) “We put in more than we took out. I think it looks more like a 19th century inn now than it did before,” says Roxanne, noting improvements like new floors made of antique wood and wainscoting in the hallways. The Boks replaced all the mechanicals and windows and put on a new roof and added insulation where there had been none. Smyth points out that the White Hart had been on a slow, sure path to obsolescence. “I think the Boks saved it for the next 200 years,” he says.
The White Hart
15 Undermountain Road, Salisbury, CT; 860.435.0030
Weekend rates: $299 - $409
Weekday rates: $269 - $379
Penthouse: $559 weekdays; $629 weekends
Full breakfast included with all rooms
Interior photographs by John Gruen