Sneeze-free sleep at a New Jersey inn

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; 11:11 AM

For some of the freshest air in New Jersey, I ventured into the great indoors of the Olde Mill Inn.

Less than an hour west of (cough, cough) New York, the inn one-ups nonsmoking rooms with allergen-free spaces purged of irritants and pollutants that can block the sinuses, constrict the chest and otherwise disrupt your open- and shut-eye.

"Even if you don't have allergies, you'll get a better night's sleep," said Allan Hachey, who checked me into one of the inn's 11 Pure rooms last month.

After years of urban living, including countless Code Red days, my respiratory system deserved a holiday. Kids, we're going to Purification World.

The property in the bucolic town of Basking Ridge introduced the specially treated rooms two years ago, following an extreme Mr. Clean agenda that includes hypoallergenic encasements on the mattresses and pillows, a high-ozone shock treatment to deodorize the room and a hospital-quality air purification system. For my reading pleasure - best enjoyed in the bathtub, after you've filled it with chlorine-vapor-free water filtered through the charcoal-activated shower head - Hachey slipped me a pamphlet explaining the various processes. (A comforting word to those staying in any of the other 91 rooms: Your accommodations also receive the green touch, with energy-saving lighting, linens washed in nontoxic detergent, a live plant and more.)

When I pushed open the door to my room, I expected spartan furnishings (less surface area for mold and dust mites to alight upon) and an odor somewhere between a bar of unscented soap and the first day of spring.

Wrong and wrong.

The decor is English manor as interpreted by an American colonist, with a color palette heavy on forest greens and maroons, and artwork fixated on horses and dapper riders. A potted sprout sat on the table, overshadowed by a blooming (fake) arrangement atop the armoire and a single orchid that would win a ribbon at a botanical show if it actually photosynthesized.

Yet what struck me most was the scent. On first sniff, I got a whiff of masking tape. On deeper inhalation, I smelled hospital or, more abstractly, sanitization. To keep my nose from protesting, I unwrapped a Gilchrist & Soames oatmeal soap and waved it around like a smudge stick.

While my room's sparkling-clean air was refreshing, it had neither the taste nor the nutrients I typically require during mealtime. I took a giant gasp, then left my inner sanctum.

The hotel keeps its guests well fed with a hot breakfast served in the conservatory from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m, followed by a continental spread for later birds. In the afternoon, visitors can graze on hot cider and home-baked cookies in the lobby while contemplating the wall of photos highlighting celebrities who have filmed (James Franco), dined (Paul Newman), exercised (Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman) or attended a nephew's wedding (Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins) here. And for a meal surrounded by history, ghosts and low beams, cross the parking lot to the centuries-old Grain House, the former storehouse for a grist mill that once supplied George Washington's troops during the Revolution.

Settled into the Coppertop Pub and feeling quite tall beneath the vertically challenged ceiling, I listened to haunting anecdotes of disappearing keys and phantom knocks told by John the bartender. The most active ghost, the 15-year employee said, is supposedly a young girl in a white dress. (Why is the spook always a creepy kid in a nightgown and never a parakeet in a top hat that steals the saltines?) I chased his tales down with a pint of Coppertop Ale, brewed especially for the restaurant, and a glass of quadruple-filtered water.

When I'd had enough of the contaminated world, I returned to my bubble and burrowed under the hypoallergenic sheets. As the air filter hummed its soft lullaby, I quickly fell into the purest of sleeps.

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