BRATTLEBORO - I was certain we had the wrong address.
It was nearly midnight when we pulled up in front of 103 Main St., a historic building in the center of this southern Vermont city's artsy downtown. A bike store bracketed one side of the entrance, a sporting goods retailer the other. An old-fashioned barber shop and printing museum occupied the second floor. The address on the facade matched the address for the Artist's Loft Bed & Breakfast and Gallery, but where was the B&B?
Its website promised a "sweeping panorama of Wantastiquet Mountain and the unspoiled Connecticut River," yet we were parked in the heart of Brattleboro's main business district. Puzzled, we headed inside, climbing two flights to the third floor. There, we were greeted by a young woman who ushered us into a spacious private apartment.
This was the Artist's Loft, which describes itself as what "may be the most exclusive bed and breakfast in New England." The reason for this lofty claim? The Artist's Loft caters to one set of guests at a time, meaning that we had exclusive access to the place for the duration of our stay.
It took a few minutes to absorb our surroundings. The high-ceilinged apartment has only two rooms - a large bedroom and a giant common area with a sit-down table and makeshift kitchenette. But it's visually stunning. Exploding with color, the sweeping space is packed with books, furniture, art, and curios from around the world.
There are weavings from Peru, a flute from Bali, a copper prayer wheel from Nepal, puppets from the Czech Republic, feathered barrettes from Brazil, a peace pipe from Montana. A Moroccan couch, which doubles as a second bed, was piled with rainbow-hued pillows. Everywhere we looked, something else caught our eyes: a lamp made from a silver clarinet, a turtle nightlight, rocking chairs crafted from tree branches, a penguin cookie jar, a dragonfly door knocker, towel hooks designed to look like the mouths of fish, Russian nesting dolls.
On a towering bookshelf were hundreds of books, from "The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway" to "A History of Christianity" to "Good Girls Don't Eat Dessert: Women's Conflicts About Eating and Sexuality." And when morning came, we would see that stunning view. The apartment's huge rear windows overlook the lovely Connecticut River, where kayakers glide and fishermen cast their lines.
Owned for 11 years by painter William Hays and his wife, Patricia Long, who live in an adjacent apartment, the B&B is a reflection of their global travels. "For two people who don't really consider themselves to be terribly materialist, we love things," said Hays, who has an art gallery on the building's third floor. "We love things that are beautiful and expressive of the creativity of human beings around the planet."
The B&B's location is ideal. Housed in an 1861 Italianate Revival building, it's within walking distance of more than a dozen restaurants and cafes and a mishmash of art galleries, booksellers, antiques stores, museums, movie theaters, and boutique shops. It has free wireless Internet access, air conditioning, cable television, and about 200 videos.
Simple kitchen facilities include a tiny refrigerator, toaster, microwave, coffee pot, and assorted plateware. Continental breakfast - ours was orange juice, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew, croissants, blueberry scones, jam, Vermont cheddar, and dollop of brie - is an extra $20.
A few quibbles: The bathroom's location is imperfect - it's separated from the adjacent apartment by a curtain. We wish we had been told in advance about the no-credit card policy, which forced us to withdraw cash from an out-of-network ATM. And be warned: Tracks run behind the building, and those train engineers sometimes blast their horns in the middle of the night.
But our weekend at the Artist's Loft was one of the most peaceful, restful, and enjoyable getaways we've had in a long time. The apartment's colorful, creative decor is a delight; its book collection is fabulous; and the space feels very private.
By the way, that little sign near the bathroom floor that reads "Lillian's Lair"? That's in memory of Hays and Long's late springer spaniel, who loved nothing more than to curl up in front of the loo for a nap.
Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.