Estate of Grace
An Orange County Tuscan mansion in distress gets a new lease on life as a luxurious country-house hotel
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Tuscan taste: Glenmere’s renovated courtyard includes Roman columns with Tuscan capitals, and wrought-iron accents on the stairway and windows
DeSimone, who had taken a sabbatical from his practice to study at the French Culinary Institute, “found the lure of a hotel and food irresistible,” as Stenberg puts it, and decided to leave medicine. When the pair began searching for other investors, DeSimone contacted Alison Klein, a childhood friend of Stenberg’s who was living in Germany with her husband, Peter. “I wasn’t happy about it because it was like getting a family member involved,” Stenberg recalls. “Very risky and scary. But Alison said, ‘Peter’s a businessman; he knows what he’s doing.’ ”
The Kleins agreed to be partners, with two stipulations: The hotel should showcase some of their modern art collection, and the renovation should include state-of-the-art green technology. Thirty-eight wells were dug for geothermal heating and cooling. (“They’re 499 feet deep — 500 feet and we would have needed a mining permit,” notes Stenberg.) New electric and plumbing systems were installed. One hundred and twenty exterior doors and windows were replaced with energy-efficient duplicates. Interior doors with their decorative hardware were refurbished. Original details — like the crackle-glazed ceiling in the entrance, ornamental plaster, and hand-forged railings — were painstakingly restored. The stuccoed exterior was lime-washed in a shade called Ointment Pink, with shutters, once green, painted a vivid light blue. “It was a bit startling at first,” says Stenberg of the color scheme. “But it’s a folly in Chester — why hold back?”
“No holding back” seems to have been the motto. The partners paid $8.5 million for Glenmere, and the renovation reportedly cost $30 million. “More,” Stenberg says, wincing. “But don’t ask. It makes me weep.” The result is a small, luxurious hotel modeled along the lines of Wheatleigh, a much raved-over country-house hotel in the Berkshires. “We didn’t create anything new,” Stenberg cheerfully admits. “We basically lifted whatever we’ve loved in hotels on our travels. We’re all about details. The big things are a given, but it’s the details that people remember.” There are details aplenty here, ranging from big ones (Charles, the butler, is one) to ingenious, subtle lighting below the beds to guide you if you get up in the night.
The mansion’s foyer boasts decorative moldings and a painting by American artist Charlie Hewitt
The public spaces are inviting and stylish. “The idea was to decorate the way the first owners lived,” says DeSimone. “They’d have taken the Grand Tour and brought back antiques and curios from all over.” Scott Snyder, interior designer to the well-heeled in New York and Palm Beach, did a masterful job of combining vintage pieces with edgier, contemporary ones, and incorporating art from the Klein Museum by such luminaries as Motherwell, Rauschenberg and Frankenthaler. “Scott took everything three steps further than we would have done,” DeSimone says.
A photo of the estate’s lower entrance gate and rose garden, circa 1921
Charcoal walls, ornate moldings, and casually stacked books make the library warm and atmospheric. Matching English marble fireplaces anchor each end of the large living room, where diners can have a drink before dinner. If there’s nobody to play the grand piano, it can play itself. For elegant dining, there’s the stately Supper Room, with French windows and beautiful reverse-painted, silver-leaf panels (» read our review here). Paisley walls, a fireplace, and a mahogany bar create a snug mood in the more casual Frog’s End Tavern. The intimate China Room is for private dinners, where you choose your own china from among the 30 patterns that Stenberg and DeSimone have collected over the years. When it’s warm, you can dine in the courtyard, or on the terrace overlooking the lake.
Most of the 19 guest suites have fireplaces (there’s even one in the master bath in the penthouse suite), and many have terraces or balconies. Each is decorated with the same soothing, neutral palette forming a backdrop for different colorful accents. All 20 guest bathrooms are clad in pale Carrera marble, from ceiling to heated floor. “We set aside a mine’s worth of marble so that it would all match,” Stenberg says. “Then we got bids from six local companies to install it, averaged the cost, and offered each of them part of the work. They all accepted. We thought there might be rivalry and slashed tires in the parking lot, but they outdid themselves, looking over their shoulders at the competition in the next room.”