WOODSTOCK, Conn. - The air was charged with anticipation during our visit to the Mansion at Bald Hill last month. Two young chefs, Joel Theriaque and Scott Plantier, were preparing for the opening of their fine dining restaurant in the elegant library of this architectural gem.
Theriaque and Plantier left the Harvest Restaurant in nearby Pomfret late last year to become chef-owners of this historic inn, built as a private home in the late 1890s. While they expect to host lots of weddings and other functions, Theriaque said, they will continue to emphasize the desirability of the mansion as a "country getaway."
They couldn't ask for a lovelier setting. We followed a winding, shaded driveway to an imposing, four-story mansion topped with three massive chimneys. Stone pillars flank the columned entryway. The expansive grounds feature huge shade trees, as well as gardens.
The interior features magnificent hazelwood paneling, floor-to-ceiling built-in china cabinets, and pocket doors. The 10-foot ceilings are accented by plaster cornices and crown molding. Paintings by local artists adorn the walls.
We climbed the wide, curved staircase to the Wentworth Room on the second floor. A corner room with deep windows, it looked onto the front lawn. It took us a while, but we finally deciphered the word "Linemaster" chiseled out of a hedge and then noticed the Linemaster banner on the flagpole. We learned later that Linemaster Switch Corp., a company that manufactures foot switches, owns the property, and the manufacturing facility is still located on the grounds of Bald Hill, at a discreet distance from the mansion. Our view was not unappealing, but the rooms on the back of house overlook landscaped grounds and gardens.
Our room had a king-size bed with a handsome wooden headboard and footboard, carved with a medallion and rope pattern. A matching armoire held a large flat-screen TV with a VCR/DVD player. A tray with bottled water and chocolates was on the nightstand. We found the pillow-top mattress extraordinarily comfortable. However, there was only one chair - an upholstered rocker - and unfortunately no light near it for reading.
The walls were a striking teal blue, which set off the silver and gold brocade draperies and bedding nicely. But the blue-green wall-to-wall carpet, the same throughout the inn, seemed chosen more for durability than decor.
The large, period bathroom featured an old-fashioned marble sink, a claw-foot soaking tub, and metal holders for soap and toothbrushes. It was lovely to look at, but in some ways not very user friendly. The sink bowl was badly cracked, the plug didn't work, and the mirror was so high I could just about see my chin. And the tub needed a nonskid mat.
Among the pluses were plenty of thick towels, Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries, and a coffeemaker.
We were surprised to find an information sheet on the bed that read, in part: "To honor your privacy we do not check the rooms every day. If your room needs attention, please let us know and we will take care of it while you are out." We hoped this was a vestige of the previous administration, but on returning to our rumpled room Saturday evening we regretted not asking that the room be made up.
Not surprisingly in an inn run by chefs, the breakfasts were terrific. On Saturday we helped ourselves to a hot buffet featuring poached eggs on spinach, sausage, and potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream, along with mini croissants, fresh melon, orange juice, and coffee. Sunday we enjoyed a decadently rich Bananas Foster French toast.
Our sense is that these two young entrepreneurs have poured most of their energy into launching the restaurant, and that once it is operating smoothly they will find the time to address a few glitches on the lodging side. Their desire to make guests comfortable is evident: When we asked directions to a local restaurant on Friday night, Theriaque told us how to get there - and 10 minutes later knocked on our door with the directions printed out.
In our experience, this is what makes successful innkeepers.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.