SPENCER -- Counting the two in the bathroom, there were eight mirrors in our room at the Red Maple Inn. And a gilded Japanese screen of cranes and cherry blossoms, next to an exotic arrangement of dried plants in burgundy and gold. And four tall, slim lamps with tasseled shades. Even the bed skirt was fringed with beads.
In true Victorian fashion, no surface is left undecorated in this Colonial mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is replete with intense colors and rich fabrics. Pink and purple grapes spill out of a crystal bowl, sparkling leaves in autumn hues surround flickering candles in glass holders, and sequins on dried flower bouquets catch the light from shimmering chandeliers.
John Bills, who owns the inn with his wife, Shari Alexander, said the couple's goal was to make sure that anyone sitting in any of the inn's rooms would have ``something pretty to look at." They have succeeded to the point where a weekend is barely enough time to take in all the baubles and beads, glitter and glass.
We stayed in the Duck Room, which featured bisque ducks in flight on teal green wallpaper, a duck print border, brass fireplace tools fashioned with duck heads, and a duck-shaped tissue box holder. It became a bit of a game for my husband and me to find all the duck accents in the room.
The queen sleigh bed had wrought iron scrollwork in the headboard and footboard . There was a big closet, with robes, and a dresser with a small television and DVD player. The inn has more than 700 movies on DVD that guests can borrow. A brocade settee at the end of the bed faced two upholstered wing chairs and a small green velvet footstool in front of a decorative brick fireplace. An antique sewing machine served as a bedside table. We sensed that someone had fun putting this room together.
The bathroom, however, was tiny, with a shower stall and little storage space. The most disconcerting feature was a hair dryer mounted on a wall opposite the mirror and sink, so you had to drag the cord around your neck to use it.
A ``guest station" on each floor has a small refrigerator, coffee maker, and complimentary coffee, tea, and hot chocolate (though it was not clear how to heat water for the latter two beverages). Bottled water, soda, and snacks are available on an honor system fee basis. But the refrigerator did not have a working freezer, and we had to ask the innkeeper for ice.
Information sheets in each room provide background on the history of the house, breakfast, common rooms, the courtyard hot tub, and the Little Curio Case Shop. ``Shari is always buying too many treasures at auctions," reads the description , ``so feel free to bargain, it's half the fun!" After a day of scouring antiques and gift shops in the area, I ended up buying a handmade necklace and bracelet from
Each evening we selected the next day's breakfast from a menu hung on our door. Choices included omelet Florentine, smoked ham and cheese scramble, raisin bread French toast, and homemade granola, along with sausage, croissants, and muffins.
The dining room, set up with individual tables, features murals by John Celio depicting the seasons in Spencer. Along with delicious breakfasts, we enjoyed background music of blues and jazz from the 1940s.
Long before she was an innkeeper, Alexander was a chef, and she offers custom dinners by advance reservation. The week before our visit we received a menu asking us to choose appetizers and entrees. Tenderloin of beef was rich and moist, sauced with a cabernet demi -glace and accompanied by roasted potato pancakes. Jumbo shrimp stuffed with Spanish Manchego cheese and wrapped in prosciutto was a recipe Alexander picked up in Spain, she told us after the meal, when she came out of the kitchen to chat.
It's obvious that Bills and Alexander love what they do. He had a warm smile and helpful information each time we met, and she delighted in recounting the stories behind the dishes she served. For guests, that passion can turn a pleasant visit into a memorable one.
Contact Ellen Albanese at email@example.com.