Fabulously hip has arrived in the sleepy town of Irvington, Va., and its name is the Hope and Glory Inn. What began life in 1890 as a schoolhouse is today an 11-room inn designated one of the "101 Best Hotels in the World" by the Tatler Cunard Travel Guide. The driving force behind the transformation is a Richmond advertising mogul, Bill Westbrook, who saw the run-down structure in 1995 and decided to make it a star. Being an advertising guy, he brought in a set designer instead of an interior decorator. He wanted, according to Coastal Living magazine, "someone who knew how to make things look great instantly," who could create "a welcoming setting that had that elusive gasp-factor . . . a wonderful, music-filled place where you could either put your feet up on the furniture or go black-tie."
For better or for worse, he has succeeded. The place is a stone knockout, a superb restoration job and the kind of interior that would have Martha Stewart in restraints because she didn't think of it first.
The floor in the main house is painted in big white and faded-green squares. There are antique ship models and folk art birdhouses and American flags used as table shirts and wall hangings. There is a white chair and ottoman combo that could comfortably accommodate a family of four for a month and insanely eclectic coffee-table books and a chess set where the pieces are all salt and pepper shakers. There are old pull toys and airplanes, grapevines and tiny white lights that lovingly encircle supporting columns. There are lamps and benches weathered within an inch of their lives. I kept expecting Julia Roberts to waltz out wearing a sundress and some sort of accent and offer me iced tea.
Instead, I kept wandering around, bumping into pull toys and wicker, wondering which room we were supposed to occupy. Sting was throbbing soulfully through a superb sound system hidden in the ceiling. There were vases of fresh-cut flowers in the reading nooks. I truly couldn't decide whether to put my feet up or go black-tie and it was making me crazy because I really just wanted to put my bags down and change the baby. There were a few guests drinking wine on an upstairs porch, but no staff. Maybe I could try calling the inn . . .
Hope and Glory is set between two churches and a cemetery, but about 100 yards off there is a gas station. I figured I'd walk over there and phone. But on the way, I walked over a fallow section of the English garden out front and immediately sank to my ankle in what I fervently hoped was very wet topsoil. "Gee, brand new sneakers, too," observed a woman with a glass of rose on the front steps. "You'd better wash that off."
Shoe in hand, I found the kitchen sink and did just that. Desperate, I spied an official-looking roll-top desk with the key in the lock and opened it. Inside was a ledger assigning us to one of the four cottages down the brick walk in back. Our little two-room house (all the cottages were once former shop buildings of the school, we found out later) had a bedroom, kitchenette/sitting room and shower. The theme was More Eclectic Than Thou.
The curtains were white-and-red dish towels held up by twine and clothespins. There was a coat stand transformed into a "tree" of about a dozen white-and-red enamel pots. A card read, "Outside would be a wonderful place to smoke." Some of the other touches included an old suitcase, a wicker trout creel, a kerosene lamp with a light bulb in it, a duck decoy, candlesticks without candles and little birch-bark tables by the bed, which contained enough pillows to suffocate a sumo wrestler. Also there were big hunks of birch tree in one corner of each room. On the other hand, there were no hangers on the hanger rack, no closet and no place to put all the pillows in the event that you actually wanted to lie down on the bed. The bathroom sink faced a window, which meant you had to turn 90 degrees right and face the toilet to see your own face. You did have, however, a nice view of the cemetery while shaving.
We were just heading out for a walk when we remembered we had forgotten our baby pack. I eyed the trout creel, very old but still serviceable. By the time my wife had started to say, "I really don't think you should . . ." I had the thing loaded with diapers, wipes and bottles and slung it over my shoulder. It actually looked quite dashing. At a Realtor's down the street we stopped to ask about restaurants. (Antiques shops and Realtors seem to be the major businesses in Irvington.) "There's the Sandpiper near here, but you really have to go to a few miles up the road to Kilmarnock to find anything else," the man there told us. "They got central sewer up there. Makes all the difference in the world."
The Sandpiper had a 40-minute wait on a Saturday evening at 7, so we ended up at a restaurant in Kilmarnock where we only had to wait half an hour, despite the presence of several empty tables. When we ordered a bottle of wine, the waitress said they would start chilling it right away. We asked if they had any pre-chilled wine. The house, the waitress said. Bring us the house, we said.
Things improved considerably the next morning. At 9, the guests all wandered into the main house for a very good breakfast: eggs, bacon, burritos, pastry, juice and coffee. Here we met Je Depew, the innkeeper, who said she didn't understand how she had missed us. She told us that the inn's owner is planning to open a restaurant and maybe some shops in the area in an effort to make Irvington more of a destination.
After breakfast we checked out and went exploring. We saw Christ Church, built in 1782 and one of the very few Colonial structures in America that has never been altered. It was erected by Robert "King" Carter, who reserved one quarter of the sanctuary for his personal tenants and servants. It's a handsomely proportioned brick building that looks very cold inside.
We saw a few antiques stores selling driftwood, duck decoys and things that looked as if they had fallen off boats. At several realty firms, we browsed photos of waterside homes that sell for about the same price as your average attack submarine. But what really thrives in this part of the world are historical markers. There are historical markers commemorating any number of old meeting houses, churches, ferries, plantations and patriots. One marked the spot from which the first woman missionary to China had left. There may even be a historical marker commemorating the first historical marker.
We got home late Sunday afternoon, the baby fast asleep and drooling copiously. We let out a sigh and sat down in our own living room, which is comfortingly free of the gasp factor. And then, not at all tempted to go black-tie, we put our feet up.
WAYS & MEANS
GETTING THERE: Irvington, Va., and the Hope and Glory are about three hours from the Beltway. Take I-95 south to U.S. 17 south to Saluda. Take Route 33 east and go about four miles to a left on Route 3 over the Rappahannock River Bridge into Whitestone. At the stop light, turn left onto Route 200 and go two miles to Irvington. Turn left on Route 634 and look for the inn on the right.
BEING THERE: The Hope and Glory Inn (1-800-497-8228, www.hopeandglory.com) offers rooms from $95 to $135. Each has a private bath and includes a full breakfast. The four cottages (where kids and pets are welcome) run from $135 to $175.
THE TRIVIA DOME
The results of "Escapes Trivia" Contest #5:
We asked where, within a five-hour drive of D.C., one could spend the night in a yurt. And no, we didn't say what a yurt is.
Michele Ruhl of Frankford, Del., receives honorary Mongolian citizenship (and, of course, a copy of The Post's "Escape Plans" getaway guide) for not only knowing from yurt, but also knowing where you could stay overnight in one of these circular domed tent or tent-like structures based on a design favored by Mongolian nomads. Yurts have proliferated across America's western states but are only beginning to be popular on this coast. Ruhl's home state of Delaware has two state parks where a group of four to five can sleep comfortably in bunk beds and a futon. You can rent a yurt in Trap Pond State Park (302-875-5153) and Lums Pond State Park (302-368-6989). You can also rent a yurt at Pennsylvania's Clear Creek State Park (1-888-PAPARKS). And, if you're part of the armed forces or Defense Department, you can stay in a yurt at the Navy Recreation Center at Solomons Island, Md. (1-800-NAVY-230). Some mentioned Falling Waters Adventure Resort in North Carolina (1-800-451-9972), which has an entire "yurt village," but -- alack! -- is more than five hours from here.
In light of last week's dearth of entries, we've decided to go easy on you with Trivia Contest #6:
Where can you see the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the country?
Deadline for Contest #6 entries is 10 a.m. Monday, April 10. Send entries by e-mail (escapist@washpost .com; put the word "Escapes Trivia" in the subject field), fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Escapes Trivia, Washington Post Travel section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Winners, chosen at random from among correct entries, will receive a copy of The Post's "Escape Plans" getaway guide, or other prizes to be announced. One entry per person per contest. Employees of The Washington Post are ineligible to win prizes. Entries become the property of The Post, which reserves the right to edit, distribute or republish them in any form, including electronically.