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Decor and cuisine on a hilltop in Greenwich

Henkelmann restaurant Connecticut
(Paul Johnson / Bloomberg News)
Email|Print| Text size + By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / February 18, 2007

GREENWICH, Conn. -- Not far from Interstate 95, a two-lane road winds past stately homes in the Belle Haven neighborhood. At the crest of a hill, on a 3 -acre property, the Homestead Inn stands like a festive cake. The original 18th-century farmhouse was enhanced in 1859 in an Italianate Gothic style, complete with a squat, square cupola and decorative brackets under the eaves.

The latest incarnation of this lovely structure came in 1997, when Thomas Henkelmann and his wife Theresa opened the Homestead Inn and its restaurant, which shares its name with the owner. The inn and restaurant are a perfect marriage of comfort and fine cuisine, as exemplified by Thomas -- a classically trained chef who has worked in France, Switzerland, and his native Germany -- and Theresa -- an interior designer who had her own firm in New York for many years.

Theresa designed all 18 rooms in the inn. Her knowledge of furniture and fabrics and her eye for detail helped to create imaginative spaces that combine traditional decorating sensibilities with whimsy and a sense of humor.

"I consider myself a visual artist. I create an atmosphere. I always love to be surprised, and I don't like all the surprises up front," said Theresa.

I chose a room in what the innkeepers call a "guest chamber" in the Carriage House, a building separate from the main inn. The reason was that I wanted a bathtub and the older building -- which is known as the Manor House -- cannot accommodate the needed plumbing. The showers in the Manor House are stunning, however, some with decorative cement tiles made with marble dust patterns designed by French artist Denis Colomb.

Guest Chamber 115 has warm, mustard yellow walls, white double-louvered doors, a queen-size bed with an elaborate carved French oak headboard, and a matching carved armoire that hides the TV.

Bright landscapes and a still life -- real paintings, not reproductions -- enliven the walls, along with a wide-rimmed mirror with subtle images of Chinese peasant scenes. The room is large enough to accommodate a round glass table, and two chairs with carved eagle head armrests and seats covered in a soft Donghia fabric.

The bed's quilted coverlet is white with scalloped edges; the sham and pillows are a loose geometric weave in ivory, moss, and salmon. White-checked Fili D'oro linens are 100 percent cotton and 1,000 percent luxurious.

An oriental carpet rests on large terra cotta tiles that extend into the spacious bathroom. On a cold winter afternoon, I was delighted to discover the tiles could be heated via a thermostat.

The bathroom is a study in white, with counter-to-ceiling mirrors, small louvered shutters on the windows, and the same mustard-yellow walls. A stainless steel tray holds Bulgari bath products, as well as an elaborate cut-glass stemware looking like a festive, oversize parfait glass.

The overall effect is one of lush Colonialism with a contemporary edge, though this is not the case in other guest chambers, each of which has its own distinct style.

Thomas Henkelmann, the restaurant, accounts for 80 percent of the inn's business, according to Theresa. After tasting the food, I can see why.

"The food here is like being in France. There are no hints of fusion. It's contemporary French cuisine, light and pure in its essence," she said .

An untimely migraine thwarted my attempt to dine in the restaurant, though my room service meal was delivered with a flourish and an attention to detail not seen in many dining rooms.

In the morning, restored to full health, I breakfasted in the dining room. The interior is set up like a rustic yet playful retreat in the woods, perhaps referring to Thomas's roots, in the Black Forest near Alsace. The formal quality of the all-white linens is offset by colorful hand-blown goblet lamps, and by decorative 12-inch plates (in many different patterns) made specifically for the restaurant.

Breakfast is not included in the price of the room, but it is worth the addition to your bill. My poached egg with a potato pancake was perfection, and the coffee was strong and good. There wasn't anything else I needed, except perhaps a few more days to indulge in luxury.

Contact Necee Regis, a freelance writer in Boston and Miami Beach, at neceeregis@yahoo.com.

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