Finest Summer “Cottage”
Inn at Shelburne Farms
1611 Harbor Road
As I drive directly into the setting sun, the entry posts appear as two shimmering blurs. My vision clears, but the illusion of passing through the pearly gates persists.
“Welcome to Shelburne Farms,” the gatekeeper says, advising that it’s still two miles to the inn. The road snakes through parklike woods and meadows suggesting an English estate — but the herds are cows, not deer. Vermont’s largest house bursts into view as I emerge from a tunnel of maples. Multichimneyed and turreted, it’s set above lawns and against the sweep of Lake Champlain. Children play tag in formal gardens while, inside, guests gather around baronial hearths and in the velvet depths of the Main Hall and library. Others play billiards in a richly paneled game room hung with deer and buffalo heads. It’s like stepping into a Gilded Era house party.
In the 1890s, this mansion, built for Dr. W. Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, was far from New England’s only opulent summer “cottage.” Today, however, it’s the only one in which paying guests still feel as though they’ve been invited, perhaps because the transition from home to inn has come without a bill of sale. In 1972, Seward and Lila’s six great-grandchildren incorporated the estate’s 1,400 surviving acres and historic buildings as a nonprofit environmental center open to the public.
Shelburne’s real centerpiece is the five-story, tower-topped Farm Barn, larger and more imposing than the mansion. It’s here that the estate’s award-winning farmhouse cheddar cheese is produced, made from the milk of its grass-fed, purebred Brown Swiss cows. Here too, in the Children’s Farmyard, kids can milk a cow, collect eggs, brush down a donkey, and much more.
Shelburne Farms is now a public place with a visitors’ center, guided tours, special programs, and events. The inn, however, retains its unusually private feel. The 24 highly individualized rooms vary from cozy to palatial, and four cottages are sequestered by the lake, looking out to the purplish peaks of the Adirondacks beyond.
Warmth of a Family Farm
Liberty Hill Farm
511 Liberty Hill Road
Liberty Hill’s red cupola-topped barn is so picture-perfect that Vermont artist Woody Jackson has silk-screened this Rochester landmark onto T-shirts that sell well in Japan. Better yet, this is the real thing: a working family farm.
Beth and Bob Kennett milk 110 of their 240 Holsteins. Grown sons Tom and Dave help run the farm, and Tom’s 5-year-old twins, Tucker and Calvin, will start their chores this summer. Guests may help as little or as much as they wish. Children may collect eggs and hang out with the pigs, goats, and kittens.
Meals are served family-style, and Beth makes everything from scratch. On one summer evening, a dozen guests plus family sat down to roast turkey, zucchini casserole, salads fresh from the garden, pumpkin muffins, and just-picked sweet corn. After the main course, kids disappeared and adults lingered over blueberry pie with homemade raspberry ice cream.
This rambling, 1825 clapboard farmhouse has seven guestrooms that accommodate visitors in numerous ways. From rockers on the porch you can hear the gurgle of the White River, good for trout fishing as well as swimming. A portion of the farm’s 230 acres also runs straight uphill, into Green Mountain National Forest, connecting with trails for mountain biking and hiking. This valley alone once held 40 dairy farms, but Liberty Hill is now the last. As for the warmth of the “farm hospitality” extended here, it’s as prodigious as Beth’s cooking, hard to believe.
A Sense of Harmony
Guest House at Field Farm
554 Sloan Road
In Williamstown, Massachusetts, first impressions of the flat-roofed Guest House at Field Farm are underwhelming. Then you step through the front door and see Mount Greylock. The high, wide-shouldered mountain is framed in multiple picture windows, and, instead of competing, the uncluttered rooms — furnished in gleaming 1950s chrome, solid colors, and glowing wood — complement the view.
“In a lot of places you’re not allowed to sit in anything by these designers,” innkeeper Ole Retlev tells me, waving at chairs by Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner. The fluid glass-topped coffee table is by Isamu Noguchi, the couch by Vladimir Kagan, and that’s an original Eames chair.
This “modernist” house, with its many windows and decks, heated floors, and recessed lighting, was designed in 1948 by Edwin Goodell Jr. as a home for Lawrence Bloedel and his wife, Eleanor. A 1923 Williams College graduate and heir to a Pacific Northwest lumber fortune, Bloedel lived here quietly, devoting himself to collecting American art, including works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, and Marsden Hartley, and to designing and building much of the furniture in his house.
Lawrence Bloedel died in 1976; upon Eleanor’s death in 1984, their art collection was divided between New York’s Whitney Museum and the Williams College Museum of Art, which in addition acquired the sculptures positioned around the house and along the path to the swimming pool. Williams College also owns some of the paintings hanging in this house and in “The Folly,” a modernist glass-and-shingle masterpiece (formerly a guesthouse) designed by Ulrich Franzen, by the pond.
Field Farm was bequeathed to the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit conservation group whose mission is to preserve parcels of land “which possess uncommon beauty and more than refreshing power,” much as an art museum holds pictures. Now 316 acres, the Field Farm reservation includes fields and meadows, woods, marshland, and an unusual area in which streams disappear into limestone caves. Its four miles of walking trails are open to the public.
The initial plan was to raze the house. Luckily David and Judy Loomis, who had meticulously restored Williamstown’s 18th-century River Bend Farm as a bed-and-breakfast, suggested a similar use for Field Farm. And now that the 1950s are historic, the era’s architecture and craftsmanship command new respect. Guests at Field Farm understand why. The five bedrooms, some with fireplaces and decks, are furnished with the same care and detail as are the common spaces. There’s a sense of harmony, inside and out.
The Best View Around
The Claremont Hotel
22 Claremont Road
Southwest Harbor, ME
The Claremont Hotel, Mount Desert’s oldest inn, possesses the grace but not the size or formality of a grand hotel — and the Maine island’s best view.
Walking into the comfortably sized lobby, you pour a glass of ice water, ease into a wing chair by the fire or a rocker on the porch, and feel at home. Upstairs the original 35 second- and third-floor guestrooms have been reduced to 24, all with closets and baths, furnished with refinished original pieces and graceful reproductions. Rooms overlooking the tennis court cost less that those with views across the water to Acadia’s rounded mountains.
This is the view that mesmerizes guests rocking on the long veranda. It’s what you see from every table in the glass-faced dining room, and from acres of the sloping lawns on which a few people are usually dressed in white, clutching croquet mallets and pondering their next move on one of three velvety courts.
“It’s like chess on grass,” observes hotel manager John Madeira, explaining that the first week in August marks the annual Claremont Croquet Tournament but that serious competitors are almost always on hand. So too is Till Harkins, senior local croquet enthusiast, who’ll teach the game to anyone who wants to learn. His usual takers are children, who are very much at home here. Families book one of the 14 housekeeping cottages or one of six rooms in Phillips House, an annex with its own living room. Light meals are served at The Boathouse.
A number of guests arrive under sail, and although there are always newcomers, there are also always more repeat visitors, who expect traditions to be honored, such as the inn’s Thursday-night lectures on serious topics and its Saturday-night concerts, ranging from chamber music to jazz.
To underscore the residency of Daniel Sweimler, one of the area’s best-known chefs, the dining room has been named “Xanthus,” a seemingly cryptic choice — but no mystery to Claremont regulars. Xanthus Smith was a landscape artist who probably bartered his portrait of the hotel in exchange for a room back in 1885. Hanging prominently in the dining room, the painting glows with that captivating spirit that still persists.
North Woods Luxury
Blair Hill Inn
351 Lily Bay Road
In inland Maine, the most exquisite place to stay is Blair Hill Inn at Moosehead Lake. Little more than a decade ago, Dan and Ruth McLaughlin were still working for the Chicago software company where they’d met. On business trips they’d stay at B&Bs and critique them. “We were innkeepers in waiting,” Ruth likes to say. What they wanted was to create an inn from scratch.
The ad for the Lyman Blair house appeared in Preservation magazine, and Dan flew East to check it out. A few months later, the McLaughlins moved into the outsized clapboard house atop Blair Hill, with their children, Jack and Lily, and two truckloads of furniture, acquired at flea markets and auctions over a dozen years. The wonder is how perfectly the furnishings fit into this 1890s mansion, built by a man from Chicago — and how quickly the family fit into Greenville, a lumbering outpost (population 1,800).
Dan worked with local carpenter Larry Lewis to create eight luxurious guestrooms, one wall at a time. The children made friends in school, and Dan was soon coaching basketball. The couple joined local choirs. Then in a Maine Public Television fundraiser, they won a performance by a string quartet and invited the entire town. That marked the beginning of a summer concert series.
On this particular Friday evening, the dining room is filled with area residents as well as inn guests. Couples sip drinks on the veranda, with its view of Moosehead Lake and the sun setting over Moose Mountain.
Chef Scott Johnson has outdone himself again, from the lobster and corn beignets through five courses to the goat-cheese cake and rhubarb-
berry coulis. In the kitchen, Jack’s washing dishes and Lily’s prepping. Ruth is greeting and seating, while Dan’s mixing and pouring drinks.
After dinner a log flickers in the fireplace of guestroom #3, and the lake shimmers in the moonlight. Blair Hill is yet another of those places that stay with you — not just because of luxuries large and small, or the food, or the view. There’s a sense of place here, and a depth of hospitality into which all guests may tap.