Buxton Hill is a de-lovely diversion
WILLIAMSTOWN - It was one of those glorious days in the Berkshires, a day where the air is crisp and the blue sky dazzling. I was standing beside a 16th-century marble baptismal font between rows of hornbeam and linden trees in a clearing that overlooks a sweeping lawn punctuated by minimalist sculptures and manicured evergreens.
“I want everything I do to the property to feel like it was here all along,’’ said Peter Davenport, the owner of Buxton Hill and my guide for a morning walk.
Davenport purchased the 40-acre property five years ago. Since then he’s been transforming the grounds, and restoring and renovating the 19th-century farmhouse and barn to create a luxury guesthouse.
Originally a 300-plus-acre farm settled in the 1870s, Buxton Hill is best known as the mid-20th-century summer residence of the songwriter Cole Porter and his wife, Linda.
“Linda Porter built the pool and pool house to lure her husband back East from Los Angeles, and back to writing for Broadway,’’ said Davenport.
The plan worked. Porter is said to have written most of “Can-Can’’ here, and much of the “Kiss Me, Kate’’ songbook. The couple used their 30-by-50-foot pool to entertain weekend guests.
Weather permitting, the pool is accessible to inn guests, as are tennis courts and over two miles of trails through conservation land that was part of the original farm. Davenport plans to turn the pool area into a formal Japanese garden with teahouse, all enclosed within a bamboo fence.
Davenport, who described himself as an “Italianate Anglophile,’’ earned an MFA in architectural design from the New School in New York, and said the degree taught him about space. “Everything I perceive is architectural,’’ he said.
“As an artist, you think about form and function. There should be a relation from one space to another. You never just arrive [in a space]. It should always be pulling you into another view.’’
He has firsthand experience with gardens and views. His mother grew up in Bermuda at the Heron’s Nest estate, which Porter sometimes visited. His paternal great-grandfather was Charles Stewart Mott, founder of General Motors and Mott’s applesauce. With the Flint, Mich., family estate, Applewood, in mind, Davenport planted Delicious, Gala, and Granny Smith apple trees in the orchard at Buxton Hill.
Guest accommodations have been meticulously renovated, with historic preservation and contemporary comforts in mind. There are three suites, each with queen-size beds, whirlpool tubs, Frette linens, and flat-screen TVs. In the farmhouse, two second-floor suites share the first-floor living space, which has a limestone fireplace, cozy couch and armchairs, kitchen, dining area, and two porches.
“There is some privacy even in common areas,’’ said Davenport. “Every room has its own feeling but is part of a greater whole.’’
If that whole feels a bit familiar, it might be because all the furniture comes from Crate and Barrel, a design decision that puts a modern twist on the concept of a country farmhouse. Other renovations reflect a historical theme: The ceiling beams are hand-hewn, and traditional stone and green colors are used on interior and exterior surfaces.
The largest suite is in the former livestock barn. The original structure was torn down and rebuilt as before, with oversized awning windows and a hayloft door, though the ceiling was raised eight inches.
The interior is one enormous open space, with an antique wide-pine floor and sliding barn doors that open to the bathroom and closet. Pacific Northwest masks from Davenport’s collection adorn the walls. The only dog-friendly unit, the barn has its own garden.
What you won’t see on the property is Porter’s elegant Tudor-style mansion, which he ordered razed after the death of his wife. Porter moved a caretaker’s cottage to the footprint of the original house, which is now Davenport’s private residence.
Another thing you won’t find at Buxton Hill are pumpkin pancakes or fresh herb omelets. “We’re merely a guest house,’’ said Davenport. “Not a B&B.’’
Of course, a continental breakfast can be arranged though Vlado Nedkov, the general manager and Davenport’s partner. Concierge services range from ordering a picnic lunch or hiring a nature guide, to scheduling massage therapy or a tour of the local Clark Art Institute or Williams College Museum of Art.
“We can arrange for everything,’’ said Davenport.
When he isn’t designing and restoring the estate, Davenport is a working actor and singer. Coincidentally, he performed the lead role in Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate’’ with the Lyric Stage Company of Boston in September. He’s also recording a CD of Porter’s music.
Strolling the estate, in jeans, scuffed shoes, and a heavy knit sweater, Davenport said, “I always had in mind sharing the privilege of the estate. I can’t pretend to be an owner of this. I’m just a caretaker of the property for the time that I own it.’’
Necee Regis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.