Inns & Hotels

Check In: The Gallery Inn

San Juan, Puerto Rico
03.21.2013 | by: Meghan

An original co-founder of designtripper (who left to renovate and run this), Kelly recently got back from Puerto Rico, where she and her family stayed in a series of noteworthy places–an artist’s apartment and courtyard in Viejo, a remote house in lush Culebra, and finally, the storied Gallery Inn on their way out of town.  Set in a 300-year-old colonial mansion in Old San Juan, this 22-room hotel is 23,000 square feet of old black-and-white tiles, stone floors, grand archways, hidden gardens and trickling fountains. Equestrian enthusiast owners Manuco and Jan–the latter also an esteemed local artist–have decorated with interesting layers of photos of horses, textiles, screen-printing, statues and art.

We particularly love the disclaimer on their site: “We would never want to see our place turn into the bland, cookie-cutter sort. We must warn you! Our inn is over 300 years old, and we feel that the essence of authenticity and beauty is of utmost importance and value to our concept. We do not have any elevators, and never will. If you cannot take staircases, this might not be the hotel for you. Our exotic birds are absolutely precious to look at, but they will occasionally screech. If you feel this would bother you significantly, we might not be your best choice. Also, we are not secluded from the local population, so if you are the kind of traveler who wants to feel “protected” from the locals, you should not come.”

They should also add that if you’re open to beautiful, eccentric spaces full of character, charm, and yes, beautiful, imperfect flaws, then you’ll probably love it here. Major bonuses: the best rooftop deck in town and this cool beach house a few blocks away, where you can do your own bbq-ing and hang out seaside.

 [Photos by Kelly Flamos, except mask image by William Bay Photography via flickr and dining room via Uncommon Caribbean]

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Check In: Sextantio Albergo Diffuso

01.30.2013 | by: Meghan

I first heard about this series of cave hotels from my Italian friend Patrizio, who thought I would love the “diffused hotel” concept: hotel rooms spread across a small medieval hilltop village that maintain their original character (rough stone walls, uneven floors, and old-as-dirt wooden furniture). The mission is to preserve not only the landscape and original architecture of the towns they’ve settled in, but also the history and local tradition–from the craft to the cuisine of the region.

And while Sextantio’s entire concept is pretty special–using tourism to save towns that would otherwise fall into decline– it’s the bit about traditional craft I find particularly inspiring. I didn’t realize, until I spotted photos of the beautiful loom work on Remodelista, that the hotel is so fiercely dedicated to supporting local craft. For instance, linens and coverlets are handmade by ladies who have always made textiles–in a town that has produced textiles for hundreds of years. They’re made with new materials using ancient techniques, often replicated from old drawings and archival photographs. I wish we saw more of this kind of beautiful creative thinking in the hotel industry.

Check In: Mast Farm Inn

Banner Elk, North Carolina
01.09.2013 | by: Meghan

The week before Christmas we had to go to a wedding in Florida. Not great timing, but we loaded up the car and made the most of it with a road trip through the Smoky Mountains (we flew back). One of the most outstanding highlights was the historic Mast Farm Inn. A restored farm inn that dates back to the early 1800s, the place was decorated with antiques, quilts, old farm tools and a countrified array of awesome folk art and crafts. The Loom House, named for Aunt Josie Mast who turned it into a loom house for her coverlets and rugs (some of which are in the Smithsonian), is the oldest log cabin in North Carolina.

We stayed in the old post-and-beam Woodwork Shop with its tin roof, Vermont casting stove and rock terrace. This place is amazing for families. Farm animals, a sprawling organic garden that feeds the restaurant, and impeccable service. Our littlest guy became very sick during our stay, and the staff could not have been more accommodating and doting. They brought dinner (farm-fresh roast chicken, heritage farms pork chop and shaved brussels sprouts) to our room, and made special dishes for our picky eater at breakfast the next morning (what child does not like french toast made with potato and raisin-cinnamon bread with caramelized fruit, egg custard and heavy cream… topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar?). Custom designed with our names dropped into each dish’s description, the menu was such a fun treat for our six-year-old to read. It was pouring rain when we were there, but we can’t wait to make it back during better weather–and health–to take advantage of the beautiful property and all the nearby hiking trails.

Check In: Shaker Village Inn

Harrodsburg, Kentucky
11.21.2012 | by: Meghan

It’s common knowledge that the Shakers had a  dedication to craft and commitment to quality, but while visiting the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, where you can bed down and spend a day or two wandering the pastoral landscape and absorbing their agrarian, communal lifestyle,  something occurred to me: the Shakers were like the original hipsters (without booze and sex, of course). Despite the whole celibacy thing, the Shakers are a pretty hip lot by modern standards. They dry herbs, jam, can, craft, carry worn leather bags of their own design, and even make their own shoes!

Anyone interested in simple Shaker architecture and traditional handcraft methods will flip to explore these beautiful grounds, where the Shaker devotion to the marriage of form and function is a natural extension of their honest, hardworking ideals. Messy with the business of creating–fabric scraps, worn leather, spools of colorful thread, baskets spilling wool–the workshops are perhaps the best testament to their credo, “Beauty is in utility.” I’m still in awe. The East Family Sisters Shop, with walls covered in tapestry, cross stitch and fabric, is dedicated to preparing wool, spinning yarn and working on some of the earliest American looms, while the men’s workshop turns out handmade brooms of endless variety: large brooms, buddy brooms, whisk brooms, pot scrubbers, tailor’s brushes, and cake testers. To this day, they’re still one of the largest producers of handmade brooms in the country; you can buy them at the shop. At the Cooper’s shop, the woodworker makes handsome-looking wooden vessels, including buckets, barrels and butter churners. And in the three-storied Centre Family House, the village’s impressive living museum where herb sacks hang on beds to protect the straw mattresses from insects, basketmaking and tanning/cobbling workshops are set up for demonstration, and to admire the old, beautiful tools and original (aesthetically pleasing) results of their labor. I’d know plenty of people who’d buy those leather uppers today.

It’s a good thing there’s an inn with 70 rooms spread across the grounds–above the restaurant and in old washhouses and sex-separated dormitories–because it would be a mad rush to to take it all in during an afternoon viewing. I was so disappointed when the inn was booked solid in October, but the unintentional silver lining: it was all but deserted at the end of November. We had the place to ourselves, and fall lasts longer in the Bluegrass State, so there were still brightly colored leaves in trees and a 10-degree bump in the weather. My six-year-old and I spent two days obsessing over the giant old wooden looms, carding wool, riding in horse-drawn carriages, petting the animals, feeding the ducks, smelling herbs in the medicinal garden, and touring some of the most beautiful old buildings I have ever seen. And because we stayed the night, our pace was slow and unhurried, leaving time to climb atop old farm equipment, linger in the sun-dappled lanes crisscrossing the rolling property, hop up on the wooden swing overlooking a pasture with two white horses, and take a short walk out to the crumbling cemetery at the edge of the village. We ate meals in the Treasury Building restaurant, and at night, after the last bit of sunlight dropped beneath the hills, we read books and played board games in our no-frills Shaker-style room, its white walls marked only by painted trim and peg rails. I think we did the Shakers proud (full disclosure: I may or may not have donned a woven bonnet on occasion).

Check In: The Gladstone

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
11.14.2012 | by: Meghan

I’ve been to Toronto a few times in the last couple months, working on some projects and making a 24-hour run just to eat dinner in a different city. Sometimes a girl needs a change of scenery. Plus it’s only four hours from Detroit, and time flies when you’re reading magazines and knitting in the passenger seat (because your husband doesn’t think you’re a good driver). It’s like being on a flight with more leg room and no strangers.

During one of those quick visits, I nabbed a last-minute room at the Gladstone. I had stayed at the Drake before, but had only admired the Gladstone’s hulking brick building from the curb of West Queen West. Inside, art exhibits and makeshift galleries descend on public spaces and hallways, and each room is decorated by a different local artist. Considering the high-octane color palettes of many of the rooms, I was tickled with my room assignment, the dialed-back (soothing even?) Chinoiserie Room by Millie Chen. Subtle and not-so-subtle chinoiserie–decorative art based on mostly European imitations of Asian motifs–is layered and juxtaposed with abandon, and even though Millie’s approach is ironic, creating a kind of “Oriental folly” (her words, not mine) and poking fun at the “postmodern condition by replacing the true elements of chinoiserie with contemporary global references,” the room is as adorable as it is clever. Especially that wallpaper with monkey leopards, Baluch tigers, women in Victorian mourning gowns, dancing tourists and monkeys with saws. It makes me want to write a haiku.

Check In: Boonville Hotel

Boonville, California
10.26.2012 | by: Meghan

In a recent story I wrote for the Guardian– 10 characterful hotels and B&Bs in the US — I tapped a contributor to guide me to an interesting spot in Northern California. Gemma and Andrew Ingalls have been to the Boonville Hotel three times, and Gemma assures me it is a tremendously lovely and worthy spot. Described as “a modern roadhouse,” the 15-room Boonville Hotel is situated two hours away from San Francisco in Anderson Valley, a laid-back wine region in Mendocino County known for bucking the posh pretences of Napa. Stay in one of their simply appointed rooms or spread out in a suite or standalone bungalow nestled in the garden, some of which have linen sofas, porches and hammocks. The cozy in-house farm-to-table restaurant is a destination in its own right (reservations-only). A recent menu, which changes daily, included prosciutto and melon, roast fig, local goat’s cheese, baked halibut, and late summer vegetable gratin, pea shoots and Pernod cream. While you’re in the area, make sure to taste the pinot noirs that the region is known for, take a hike through the Redwoods, and drive along the craggy mystical coast. It’s a real-deal family run affair, and relatives own the nearby Philo Apple Farm, responsible for more than 80 varieties on 30 beautiful acres and boasting a b&b/cottages/cooking classes on site. They also own the Farmhouse Mercantile downtown. Gemma and Andrew sent over some photographs of the hotel and the surrounding landscape, the latter a heart-stopping farm-meets-coastline combination of redwoods, rugged rocky cliffs over ocean, farmland, vineyards, orchard. Not sure it gets much better.

 

Check In: The Bivouac

Masham, England
07.11.2012 | by: Meghan

I was recently introduced to The Common Pursuit–a new-ish visual compendium of places to stay–after they plucked a bunch of locations from designtripper, including Honor & Folly, for their well-designed, photos-only site. They also featured a couple places I had never seen before, the most impressive a creative woodland retreat in Yorkshire. Tucked into the 20,000-acre Swinton Estate, The Bivouac is dotted with creative, rustic shacks constructed with traditional round-wood timber framing techniques, a few yurts, and some old farm buildings, which have been restored and now house the reception, shop, camping barn and cafe.  Windy Smithy wood stoves, antique rocking chairs, well-worn and handcrafted everything create a snug, outdoorsy-hipster-approved interior with activities to match: wild food foraging, falconry, bread-making workshops, mountain biking and even forrest school (build a den in the woods!). I say this with utmost admiration: this place is a magazine spread in waiting. Kinfolk? Unless Anthropologie gets to it first.

Check In: Metropole Hotel

Hanoi, Vietnam
07.05.2012 | by: Meghan

The summer before I had my first child, I spent a month in Vietnam. Carrying our few belongings on our backs, my best childhood friend and I stayed in an unremarkable string of $15-per-night hotels and guesthouses. We paid little attention to where we slept, spending most of our efforts exploring colorful streets whirring with motorbikes and searching out the best bowls of pho and banh mi stands. In Ho Chi Minh City, we stayed in a small family-run joint, where I spotted a bug the size of a raven crawling up our bedroom wall. During a three-day kayaking tour through Halong Bay, we fell asleep to the sounds of howling monkeys–on a tiny island, in a primitive hut, on a thin mat on the ground, mosquito netting but no bedding. It was that kind of trip.

But it was the heat in Hanoi that broke us. It was 115 degrees–plus a soggy, sweltering humidity–and I had a full-body heat rash. We booked the first air-conditioned room we could find; I no longer remember the name of the generic mid-rise. It didn’t matter. Later (after changing out of our sweat-drenched clothing), we stumbled across the Metropole–Hanoi’s most historic hotel, tucked away behind the beautiful Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Just beyond the most frantic part of the Old Quarter, the French colonial hotel sits regally on a quiet, tree-lined street, barely removed from the fruit sellers in conical hats, locals crowding sidewalks on tiny plastic stools, kids jumping rope on hot pavement, and rickshaw drivers hollering for customers. To this day, I regret not staying in the place where Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon, and Graham Greene reportedly penned parts of The Quiet American, which I was toting around in my backpack. Instead, we grabbed a Vietnamese coffee in the wood-paneled bar with white marble tile and big, leafy plants before heading back into the heat. I’d go back for that hour alone. It’s that kind of place.

Revisit: Boulevard Leopold

Antwerp, Belgium
05.16.2012 | by: Meghan

Every year, Netherlands-based contributor Ben Lambers finds a reason to visit his favorite haunt in Belgium, the Boulevard Leopold. He recently got back from a work trip to Antwerp and couldn’t resist taking more photos of this impeccably outfitted 19th-century building in the Jewish district–and its endless, creative vignettes played across every available bookcase, mantle and tabletop. “It changed owners a few years ago,” he says. “But luckily, they didn’t change the atmosphere.”

Check In: The Pig

Brockenhurst, England
05.09.2012 | by: Meghan

It’s not just that I love the idea of relaxing country house hotels (I do–especially when they’re covered in climbing wisteria), I’m also drawn to thoughtful, self-sustaining food-focused experiences that immerse you in your surroundings. Planted squarely in the middle of the New Forest in Hampshire, The Pig hotel is both. In fact, the owners refer to it as a “restaurant with rooms.” The chefs and on-site forager source 80 percent of the ingredients from their local woods and nearby beaches;  long walks wind through the gardens, greenhouse and forest; and there’s an onsite pig farm and chickens. You can even borrow a pair of Hunter wellies for the occasion.

Check In: Häringe Slott

Landfjärden, Sweden
05.01.2012 | by: Meghan


I am not sure I’ve ever seen a hotel so beautiful, so tastefully glamorous–with splendid (and equally sordid) historical stories to match. The talented husband-wife photo team,
Andrew and Gemma Hart Ingalls (also behind the blog, the Epicures), sent over these photos of Häringe Slott, a stunning 17th-century baroque castle-cum-palatial hotel  40 miles outside Stockholm in a nature reserve. Historic lore suggests that Viking Sote first claimed the Häringe Peninsula as his property in the 11th century. Since then, according to the hotel’s site, “common denominators for all of the owners have been megalomania, extreme wealth, crazy investments, excessive spending, glamour, decadence, scandals and partying.” It has passed through the hands of kings, counts and a few strong-willed, unconventional lasses, who operated illegitimate bars, orphanages and other gender inappropriate endeavors. At one point, all the furnishings were sold by one owner, only to be researched and re-purchased by another one years later.

Beyond interiors spun of pure decadence and grandeur, the property is also home to Sweden’s first outdoor pool with a slide from the second floor bathroom, a bowling alley, underground tunnels, and limestone statues of Nordic gods. These days, it’s owned by the Ljungberg family and part of the exclusive c/o hotels chain.

Andrew and Gemma spent their days meandering the various labyrinths, nooks, crannies and wide-open spaces. “We would wander up to the second floor of the main building to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee (served all day) in one of the many drawing rooms, or walk out on one of the many well marked trails, past horse farms and swimming spots and fields of wildflowers. We even found ourselves sampling the ripe plums and pears from the espalier–trained fruit trees that peppered the property.”


[All photos by Andrew and Gemma Hart Ingalls]

Check In: Hotel The Exchange

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
04.18.2012 | by: Meghan

I have stayed at (and been thoroughly wooed by) the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam, so I understand the excitement behind creative genius/hotelier Suzanne Oxenaar’s latest project: a working experiment designed by fashion students and grads from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. It’s inspiring to see such a fantastically conceptual idea carried out on such a large scale. The idea is to treat–or “dress”–each of the 62 rooms like a fashion model. In Suzanne’s signature approach to design–both unapologetically gutsy and equally refined–no aesthetic is too conceptual or daring. Fabrics drape from the ceiling or cover entire walls in undulating folds and pleats, while hand-braided trimmings hang like the fringe of oversized epaulettes in a room dedicated entirely the ornamental shoulder piece. There’s an over-the-top Marie Antionette room and another based on the Emperor’s New Clothes fairytale, where nothing is what it seems. Custom fabrics are specially designed in collaboration with the Audax Textielmuseum, and Kvadrat gave students free reign of their archives in Denmark. There’s even a sewing machine in the lobby if guests are so inclined. The Exchange’s three buildings (one which dates back to the 17th century) sit across the street from the stock exchange–a detail that explains the naming conventions, including the restaurant and fashion shop, Stock and OPTIONS!, respectively.

[All photos by Mirjam Bleeker]

Round-Up: Unsuspecting Business Hotels

04.12.2012 | by: Meghan

When I was editing the design magazine in Chicago (but living in Detroit), I had to travel back to Chicago every few months and stay for a day or two. I always stayed in the same old frumpy hotel: The Whitehall Hotel, which used to be a private club back in the ’50s. We had trade with a bunch of hotels downtown, and the Whitehall—by almost all measures—was the least fancy, the least hip. The folks responsible for booking my reservation were always questioning my request: “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather stay [insert sterile modern box with a bustling business center and windowless gym lined with rows of treadmills]?” Nope. I’ll take the worn brick façade, faded green awnings, and painfully slow elevators (that can hold only two people and a small piece of rolling luggage at a time) any day of the week. The rooms are predominately innocuous—from the tacky, quilt-like bedspreads to the ubiquitous hotel art hanging on the nude-colored walls. I admit, most of the décor choices are not in good taste—and there might even be a plastic plant in the lobby. But still…in its own dated, slightly daggy way (I say this with the greatest affection), the old gal has character. And it certainly isn’t sterile.

In the name of comfort over bells, whistles and business centers (doesn’t everyone have an iPhone these days anyway? And do people still fax stuff?), I’ve rounded up the ultimate designtripper list of unsuspecting business hotels. Of course, they aren’t business hotels by definition (and you won’t earn any “points” staying here), but they do a quietly impressive job of catering to business travelers with thoughtful, inconspicuous perks.

From left: original Whitehall Club logo; Porches (photo via); Lute SuitesOlde Bell InnThe Greenbrier

[Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The Marriott Rewards® Credit Card from Chase]

Stay: Tenuta di Spannocchia

Sienna, Italy
04.03.2012 | by: Meghan

There’s been a steady stream of journalists and photographers coming through Detroit lately, many of whom, like the Montreal-based travel writer Alexandra Redgrave (assignment: local craft for enRoute magazine), either stop or stay at Honor & Folly. It’s been great fun. After arriving from the airport (without her luggage), Alex and I grab a quick drink at Sugar House downstairs, and she gives me a recent copy of the magazine. Inside, I immediately spot a story she wrote about Tuscan farm estates, including Tenuta di Spannocchia–a gorgeous sprawl of a place with lemon trees, climbing ivy, crumbling farmhouses and animals.

“Spannocchia is rustic,” she tells me. “You’re not staying on a farm that was set up at the same time as the hotel to add to the overall bucolic experience; you’re visiting a working farm that has existed in some form or another for centuries. The spaces are sparse, with very simple furnishings but also a few unexpectedly ornate details.” Details that make you realize there’s something special at work. You know the type. A hand-painted porcelain sink covered in pink roses and a ceiling stamped with old family crests.

According to her story, the owner Randall Stratton has been running the 1,100-acre property for the last 20 years with his wife, Francesca, whose grandfather bought the land in 1925 to use as a writer’s retreat. Creative visitors have been leaving their mark on the property ever since–from a painter who is recreating Spannocchia’s entire history on the granary’s walls to an architecture student who helped rehab a guesthouse that previously sat abandoned for at least 30 years. My favorite quote from the owner, also an architect by training: “We’re not really restoring the property,” says Randall. “We’ve just adapted it to the modern world. I think it’s a monument to a way of life that has almost disappeared.”

The Details
To stay at Tenuta di Spannocchia, you have to be a member of the Spannocchia Foundation (it’s $45 a person or more, depending on membership level). Once that’s ironed out, you can rent one of the guesthouses, starting at about $1000 a week in low season. Or an individual room in the b&b for $113 a night.

[Photos from top: Danilo Scarpati (top two), via Tenuta di Spannocchia, Alexandra Redgrave, Danilo Scarpati, Alexandra Redgrave (last two)]