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“A weekend in the country, I’m delighted, oh my god,” lyricized Stephen Sondheim in his brilliant musical, A Little Night Music. Set in the early 1900s, the story easily could have taken place at Glenmere Mansion in Chester, N.Y.
Built in 1911 by Robert Goelet, heir to an immense real estate and banking fortune, this Italianate mansion rested atop a rolling hill on 3,000 acres, overlooking Glenmere Lake and less than 50 miles from New York City. It was a Gilded Age retreat, entertaining British royalty, heads of state and high society for more than 25 years.
Sold in 1940, it quickly went into disrepair until 2005 when partners Daniel DeSimone and Alan Stenberg stumbled upon the remaining unsold 150 acres and were captivated.
They installed all new electric and plumbing systems; dug 38 wells for geothermal heating and cooling; replaced 120 doors; restored original details; lime-washed the stuccoed exterior in a shade called Ointment Pink and restored all green shutters to a vivid, light blue.
“Why hold back?” Stenberg said. “Don’t ask me how much it all cost. It makes me weep.”
With the new infrastructure in place, they called in designer Scott Snyder and wow did he deliver. Goelet would feel right at home in the Gilded Age opulence and glamour of current-day Glenmere Mansion — and awestruck by the state-of-the-art modern conveniences. A beautiful marriage of Goelet’s Old World Masterpiece paintings and American contemporary artists such as Charlie Hewitt and Robert Motherwell epitomizes the restoration.
There are 18 luxurious rooms and suites, all calm and serene with fireplaces in most. All bathrooms are wrapped in pale Carrera marble from ceiling to heated floor. Snyder saved the drama and pizzazz for public rooms.
The exquisite Supper Room is my favorite, with six sets of French doors looking out on Glenmere Lake. In between the doors rest silver leaf, eglomise (reverse painted) glass panels with Tuscan hill scenes, created by local artist Staszek Kotowski. Choose your own china in the private and intimate China Room and enjoy cozy, informal comfort food in the Frog’s End Tavern.
Unparalleled personal service permeates this extraordinary property and, oh yes, there’s a spa. OMG, is there ever! I’ve seen a lot of spas in my travel writing “career,” but absolutely nothing to compare with this. In the midst of 8,000 square feet of splendor and tranquility is the jewel of the spa — the Hammam and Bathhouse, featuring an herbal steam room, a Swiss shower, a cool mist room, a dry heat sauna, a vitality pool and a warm marble “bellystone,” where a spa attaché with castile soap and a hand-made Kessa mitt will massage away your cares and dry skin as your belly warms on the stone.
Built and designed as a retreat, it is most definitely that, but there are activities also: a fitness center, a swimming pool, bocce and tennis courts, and a championship croquet court. Nearby are charming towns, antiquing, farmer’s markets and art galleries — but I promise you, you won’t want to leave. Accolades keep coming in, among them Forbes’ 20 Hottest/Coolest New Hotels for 2013 and Gayot Hotel Guide 2011’s One of the Top 10 Boutique Hotels in the World.
Again, Sondheim and his farcical story of romantic liaisons gone amok:
“We’re off on our way, what a beautiful day
For a weekend in the country … how amusing, how delightfully droll.”
Indeed it is — and it turned out fine for all.
— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.