The parlors in the big house at the Inn at Willow Grove are just chic beyond chic, the height of elegance, beautifully and luxuriously decorated, swathed in yards of fabric in understated blacks and grays and beiges, so tasteful, so subdued, so soothing, so rich. It’s all serenity and silence. And then — pop! Hey, what’s that splash of color in the corner there?
My husband and I head over for a closer peek at the odd chair that has caught my eye. Well, would you look at that. A book chair! That’s right: The seat and back are made from the cut-off and fused-together spines of books, their titles (nope, didn’t recognize any) still visible on the orange and turquoise and red fabric of the covers. What a funny-looking thing. I don’t try to sit in it — seems sacrilegious, plus not very comfy — but it sure is a fun treat for the eyes.
“Yes, isn’t that a fun piece?” says the enthusiastic young woman who’s checked us in, exactly as though she’s been reading my thoughts. “You’ll find things like that all over.”
Right she is. There in the low-lit room next door, the lifesize mannequin of an elderly gent in a tux emerges a little creepily out of the shadows. “That’s the original butler here,” quips my husband. “They stuffed him.” Such a jokester.
On a tour of the main house guest rooms the next morning, the genial (and also enthusiastic) staffer showing us around makes sure to point out the cow paintings that grace every bathroom, bovine kissers or keisters looming mooningly over the tub. We don’t have one of those (either Elsie or a tub) in our nonetheless beautiful room in the carriage house out back, but I’m tickled enough by the oversize polka-dotted piggy bank and the supersize hourglass decorating the fireplace mantel. And the “evening sweets” that show up while we’re at dinner in the elegant Vintage restaurant — his and hers cupcakes with little blue- and pink-motif faces worked into the frosting.
Somebody here clearly has a sense of humor. And whimsy.
Which isn’t the first thing you’d expect from a stately inn on the bucolic grounds of a former plantation near Orange, Va. Pulling up outside the grand columned mansion just off Route 15, our reaction is, “Gorgeous!” Ditto for the interiors, the perfection of which is mind-blowing. Part of the pristine quality is surely due to the newness of the place — it opened to guests in October and had a “grand opening” just last month — but still. Owners David and Charlene Scibal (Charlene’s the magician behind the interior design) spent nearly two years renovating the buildings on the 37-acre estate, which dates back to 1778, and the results — have you guessed that I’m impressed yet? — are fabulous.
Our carriage house guest room is one of the smaller and less expensive ones on the estate (there are 14 total so far, in the main house and various outbuildings; pet-friendly accommodations coming!), but still just grand, with a luxurious, high-sitting king-size bed dressed in crisp white linens, a sitting area with two wing chairs before a gas fireplace (on a cool, rainy night such as the one we arrived on, even a gas fire felt great), complimentary bottles of Voss water, a wet bar and mini-fridge and a bathroom that — well, the bathroom.
Think heated floors, a large backlit mirror, a towel warmer, a “touchless” lidded trashcan (which darned if I can quite figure out), my favorite L’Occitane toiletries and a huge, doorless walk-in shower. (The last is to make the room handicapped-accessible; at check-in, we’re asked whether we want to switch to the other carriage house room, which has a soaking tub, but nah. The shower’s fantastic, though it takes a little engineering to figure out all the knobs and showerheads.)
This is luxury living, I’ll tell you. And made more so by the fact that, but for only one other couple, we are lord and lady of the manor. It’s a Sunday night, so dinner is from the pub menu, but we still get to sit in the tony restaurant in the mansion basement, listening to the jazzy background music and the whispery splash of the wall fountain. Munching on my fancy (and delicious) burger, I’m hypnotized by the tea lights winking in large glass balls suspended in the windows.
In the morning, the butler arrives with our breakfast tray. Coffee and beignets — a whole bagful of them! I’m a little puzzled by this, because a colleague who’d visited earlier had said they’d had just two beignets per person. There must be a dozen in this bag. But then I figure, well, we’re about the only ones here. Somebody’s just being practical.
Either that, or perfectly whimsical.