WESTPORT, Conn. - We arrived as the sun's slanting rays reflected puffy clouds in tidal pools where egrets patiently stalked their evening meal. Driving across the flag-festooned Saugatuck River Bridge from downtown Westport's shopping district, it was hard to believe a a luxurious hotel stood inside the austere industrial brick building on the opposite shore.
The Inn at National Hall's three-story Italianate structure, built in 1873, was originally home to a bank, the local newspaper, and the town's meeting hall. In its various incarnations, the building housed a lumber business, a commercial sailing business (a fleet was berthed on the river, shipping local onions to New York and beyond), Westport's first high school, various theatrical productions, the Connecticut State Police, and a furniture store.
In the 1980s the building was included in the National Register of Historic Places and soon after the process was begun to transform it into a 15-room boutique hotel.
We entered the almost-empty corporate space and learned the actual lobby is on the third floor. When the elevator arrived we encountered the inn's true ambience: The interior is a convincing trompe l'oeil painting of a cozy home library, complete with framed photos that rest against the books, and a smoldering cigarette.
Around a corner from the check-in desk, the Drawing Room and Board Room were designed to re-create the old world elegance of a European manor house with soaring ceiling, cherry paneling, an antique crystal chandelier, elaborate carved fireplace mantel, and a fruitwood dining table that seats 16 guests. Whimsical maps, painted on the walls, depict imaginary worlds such as the KiKi Islands and the Benjamin Sea.
The whimsy continues throughout the hotel where each accommodation is designed around a theme, such as the Butterfly Room and the Turkistan Suite. Our second floor Watermelon Room has several watermelon paintings, wooden fruit, a needlepoint pillow, and a trompe l'oeil on the bathroom wall complete with fork and scattered seeds.
Cool pastel-green walls and a king-size, four-poster bed with sage and white coverlets are soothing antidotes to the plethora of fruit. Above the bed, a plaid green corolla swoops and drapes around each post. Lying down and looking up we discovered subtle white clouds painted on the sky-blue coffered ceiling.
This corner room has windows with two views. One set faced the street, where morning traffic crossing the bridge disturbs the illusion of sleeping in a rural country manor. The other looks across the idyllic Saugatuck River.
The bathroom is a marvel and pretty much fulfills our requirements for The Perfect Bathroom. The walk-in marble shower has a glass door, a bench, and a strong stream of water. A separate tub, surrounded by mirrors, a limestone floor, and pale tan walls is like an altar to bathing. The sink has its own room with vanity, towels, and lighted makeup mirror. Plush Turkish towels made us feel like the lord and lady of the manor.
Other amenities include a mini-bar filled with complimentary nonalcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, a morning newspaper delivered to the door, and a TV, VCR, DVD player, and music system hidden in an armoire.
Our only complaint involves over-eager staff that entered the room about 6:30 p.m. With the TV blaring we didn't hear a knock. The staff also didn't hear our calls - once we realized they were in the hall near the bathroom - to "wait!" We were - ahem - underdressed to receive visitors, which resulted in some awkward moments. The two men mumbled something about "turn-down service" and hustled out. Our bad: not placing the "do not disturb" sign on the door. Their bad: entering a room after a cursory knock. Perhaps a phone call would be a better way to inquire about turn-down service?
A continental breakfast is served in the Drawing Room until the fashionably late morning hour of 10:30. A nicer-than-usual self-serve selection of croissants, dark raisin bread, granola, yogurt, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh cut fruit is available along with coffee, decaf, tea, and juice. Tablecloths are placed on the small coffee tables set among intimate groupings of small couches and upholstered armchairs.
It's easy to cross the street and have a fine dinner overlooking the river at the Italian restaurant Napoli sul Fiume (Naples by the River). Traditional dishes such as rigatoni Bolognese and fusilli alla puttanesca are available, as well as their signature dish, scallopine di vitello Napoli, featuring veal with asparagus, crab, and fontina cheese in a cognac sauce.
The inn's manager, Marco Degl'Innocenti, explained that there used to be a restaurant in the first floor of the hotel (where a bank is now). New owners purchased the hotel last December, and they hope to eventually operate a restaurant again.
"We're working to fix up and bring back the splendor that this place deserves," said Degli'Innocenti.
We're not sure how much more splendid it can get. But if you upgrade the Watermelon Room bathroom, Mr. Degl'Innocenti, can we please have the old one?
Necee Regis, a freelance writer in Boston and Miami Beach, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.