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The Olde Rhinebeck Inn Offers A Two-For-One Innkeeper Deal

Photo courtesy of the Olde Rhinebeck Inn.

By Lisa Green

When she started reading, Jonna Paolella couldn’t have cared less about Amelia Bedelia or Pippi Longstocking. She was obsessed with Country Inns and Back Roads, by Norman T. Simpson.

“I’ve known since age seven that I wanted to be an innkeeper,” she says.

There aren’t many kids who dream of a career at such a tender age — and then go on to fulfill that dream. But Paolella did, by establishing the Olde Rhinebeck Inn in Dutchess County. At the time, she was the youngest innkeeper in America.

That motivation didn’t come out of thin air. Her mother had turned their home in Park Slope (Brooklyn) into a bed and breakfast. Paolella’s favorite book, which included bits about historic lodgings in the Hudson Valley, led her to Rhinebeck 18 years ago, when she opened the bed and breakfast in a house that dates back to 1738. (You can feel its age in its unplumbed walls, listing floors and steep stairway, but the amenities are about as modern as you can get.)

Dining room, photo courtesy of the Olde Rhinebeck Inn.

Paolella clearly loves the innkeeper life. You can tell it by the conversation she keeps. Talking a mile a minute, she tells guests about the history of the house, its many additions, and changes she’s brought to it over the years, interspersed with her musings about Airbnb’s effects on the hospitality industry and which of the restaurants at the nearby CIA are the best.

But as anyone who’s ever stayed at a B&B has observed, this innkeeping thing is rough, basically a 24/7 proposition with little, if any, time off. You really have to be devoted to the business to be so tied into it.

And that’s a bit of a problem for Paolella, who suffers from wanderlust just about as much as many of her guests. And besides that, getting away is essential to avoid burnout in an industry where innkeepers hang on an average of 5 to 7 years. She knew what she was getting into, but she also knew that sharing the responsibilities didn’t make her seem incapable of handling the business.

Innkeepers Cindy Curnan and Jonna Paolella.

Enter Cindy Curnan, who had owned The Gables in Rhinebeck, but sold it to move to Hawaii. She’s a wanderluster, too, but she was ready to return to where she grew up. She was looking to open another Hudson Valley B&B, and initial plans were to do it with Paolella backing her. But when a discussion about the financial and time commitments involved turned into a seven-hour conversation (with both of their husbands included), the result was a partnership of the Olde Rhinebeck Inn.

There is a Byzantine web of connections between Curnan, the house and Paolella. Curnan actually lived there as a teenager; her mother owned the house — not as an inn but antiques store, for a while — and she lived across the road from the inn when Paolella moved in. Neighbors kept telling Paolella that she needed to meet Curnan; they both owned inns and were so much alike.

The original stairway is extremely steep with narrow treads. “Best to scale it sort of sideways,” Curnan advises.

“I saw activity going on and just walked over to introduce myself,” says Curnan. A BFF was born.

The women have crafted out the ideal job sharing arrangement and — what do you know — a balanced life, by the sharing the duties. So now Paolella can take a lengthy vacation (or, at this point, take the time she needs to help her aging mother) and Curnan will not miss enjoying the perks of being a first-time grandmother. They can finally experience all the culture, restaurants and historic properties they prescribe for their guests. And they can spend some quality time with their husbands.

“There’s a real benefit to be had to sharing the resources and burdens of this business,” Paolella says. “I had another property, a vacation rental, and I knew it was just too much for one person. Our arrangement allows us to have a better quality of life, better marriages. The nice thing is, we have a schedule, but we have flexibility and the built-in trust that we can be away and the place won’t fall apart. And Cindy is a clone of me, so we really work well together.”

The Spirited Dove room. Photo courtesy of the Olde Rhinebeck Inn.

Indeed. They practically finish each other’s sentences. They’re a lovely portrait of women’s friendship, too. Recently, while Curnan took a few weeks off, Paolella surprised her by creating a loft bedroom above the dining room so Curnan would have a place to stay when she’s on duty (Paolella and her husband live at the inn).

And what a welcoming destination they’ve created. Spacious rooms filled with antiques, but updated with fancy showers and flat screen tv’s so embedded in the old walls you barely even notice them. There’s an “amenity plate” of homemade cookies, fruit and chocolates to greet guests in their room, and a pond to reflect upon from the porch. A gourmet breakfast is included, of course, with organic milk and eggs (courtesy of their own hormone-free hens) and, best of all, the lively chatter between innkeepers and guests. The inn is just three-and-a-half miles from Rhinebeck’s main street and close to Hyde Park (and many other historic properties), Walkway Over the Hudson, the Dutchess County fairgrounds, and Bard and Vassar colleges.

“They say you shouldn’t go into business with your friends,” Paolella says, “and we do have a business agreement. But it works for us.”

Which brings comfort all around, to innkeepers and guests alike.

Olde Rhinebeck Inn
340 Wurtemburg Rd., Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 871-1745

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/25/16 at 11:45 AM •Permalink

Hotel Tivoli And Its Restaurant Bring An Artistic Vision To Town

By Jamie Larson

Since its opening a little over a year ago, Hotel Tivoli has been adding a rich vibrancy to the happening, yet slightly hidden, scene growing in its namesake village, Tivoli, New York. The walls lined with art created by the hotel’s notable owners Brice and Helen Marden, the high-style furniture and the beautiful bones of the historic building merge to create an atmosphere as unique as the village and the Mardens themselves. 

Yet, despite the abundance of image and form on display throughout the ground floor dining and bar room, it’s never overwhelming. The ability to treat guests to such a complex visual experience, while also fostering the feeling of comfort and ease, represents the Mardens’ balance of vision with expertise.

“It’s the flavor and taste of the owners,” says assistant general manager Janett Pabon. “There’s a sense of generosity. It’s almost like stepping into their home. There’s a sense of care that’s been put in.”

Brice and Helen Marden are superstars of the modern art world. While the subject and styles of their work varies, Brice Marden’s minimalist work focusing on elegant, purposeful lines has cemented his place in the arena. Their success has allowed the couple, who have one of their homes in Tivoli, to create a hotel and restaurant that is suited to their specific tastes. They also own the Golden Rock Inn on the Caribbean island of Nevis and have a home on the island of Hydra, Greece. It’s nice to know that those with the ability to be anywhere in the world still appreciate the beauty and idyllic charm of Tivoli and the surrounds. That’s probably why, despite its sophistication, Hotel Tivoli still feels so rooted to the region.

That connectivity resonates most clearly in the food served by Chef Devon Gilroy at The Corner. With a rigorous dedication to seasonality, the restaurant serves dishes that remind us of the beauty of the region. While these self-imposed rules create challenges during the winter, the kitchen embraces them, turning out stellar dishes: Arctic char crudo with beets and cress; hand-cut pappardelle with fennel and pork sausage, garlic, chilis and cured tomatoes; Kinderhook Farm lamb rack and merguez with parsnip and blood orange.

“We face some challenges with seasonality but we’ve stuck to our high standard of quality,” Pabon says. “In the city you can go to the market and meet the farmers. Here you can be at the farm. That’s really what the Hudson Valley is about. When things come in season we get really excited.”

Also, like everything else in the Hotel, the food is a work of art, presented elegantly on unique ceramics by Tivoli Tile Works. It’s thoughtful design details like these that begin to accumulate during a visit or stay here, and contribute to that transported feeling.

Pabon says every aspect of the hotel was created with intentionality and a focus on comfort. Nowhere is that more clear than the serene rooms which, again, feel true to the history of the building while embracing bold yet unobtrusive design elements.

“The whole intent was to be open for the community. This place has always been a cornerstone,” Pabon says. “We’re really happy to be here and to share it with people.”

One subtle aspect to the Hotel — that you may not notice at first but feels truly significant once you do — is that while there are countless artworks throughout the establishment, there are no labels, no titles, no names. The art is to be experienced individually as elements of the hotel rather than specimens in a gallery. Hanging tagless, the pieces shrug off all context other than what the guest brings to them and encourage a more personal and ephemeral experience. 

“We want you to just enjoy the art and have a moment. This is a place for you to contemplate,” Pabon says. “You can sit down and have a conversation and be heard. It’s about simplicity and ease, the aesthetic of a fine line.”

The trend of boutique hotels has exploded in the region over the past couple of years. People want to stay someplace that resonates with the reasons they’ve come here in the first place — but they also have come to expect a high level of comfort and unique style. Striking that balance between being familiar enough to be comfortable and original enough to be exciting is no easy feat. What’s so interesting about Hotel Tivoli is how sharply the owners have honed that edge. It’s a testament to the Mardens’ vision that they’ve been able to pull off something so original, yet approachable, with such confidence.

Hotel Tivoli and The Corner
53 Broadway, Tivoli NY
Sun. – Thurs., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Fri.– Sat., 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Brunch Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 03/14/16 at 11:37 AM •Permalink

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
(413) 637-3556

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/13/15 at 01:40 PM •Permalink

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
(917) 930-4302

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/18/15 at 09:52 PM •Permalink

A Vintage Modern Bed and Breakfast in Williamstown

By Amy Krzanik

2When 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.)

interior “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.”

roomThe 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. foll2 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
Williamstown, MA
Now - October 31: Open seven days a week
November 1 - 30: Fridays - Monday
Closed after that until April 2014

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/14/13 at 10:26 AM •Permalink

The Barlow: A Hotel For Hudson (Finally!)

By Jamie Larson

Barlow13 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. 

Barlow Front 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.

Barlow 6 “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. bar “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.

barl “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
(518) 828-2100


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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/26/13 at 09:19 AM •Permalink

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.
stone2The 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. 

stone5In 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.

stone3From 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?”

stone4The 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.

stoneover9The 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.

barnHowever, 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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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 07/15/13 at 01:32 PM •Permalink

Bascom: A Venerable and Democratic Lodge Celebrates A Diamond Jubilee

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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.

CCCAn 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.

Bascom1Various 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.

teepee3He’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.) 

diningJohn 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.” 

bascom8The 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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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 06/18/13 at 09:52 AM •Permalink

The Briarcliff Motel: Not Just Another Roadside Attraction

Rural Intelligence Road TripsLondoners 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.

Rural Intelligence Road TripsTheir 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.

Rural Intelligence Road Trips

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.

Rural Intelligence Road Trips

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.”

Rural Intelligence Road Trips
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, 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.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsTheir 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.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsBut 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.

Rural Intelligence Road TripsAlas, 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.

Rural Intelligence Road Trips“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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Posted by Bess Hochstein on 10/16/12 at 12:30 PM •Permalink

Counterintuitive Chic: A New Palette at the Red Lion Inn

Rural Intelligence Road Trips“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.

Rural Intelligence Road TripsFitzpatrick—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.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsAs 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.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsFitzpatrick, 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.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsOne 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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Posted by Dan Shaw on 08/14/12 at 04:14 PM •Permalink