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Cottage Living in Connecticut

Amy Eckert Beaver Lodge, designed by John Carino

Photo: Amy Eckert

"When guests walk into the Pitcher Inn, they go, ’Wow!’" Smith says. "We want them to keep going ’Wow!’ the whole time they stay there and then when they come back again, to keep noticing different features, whether it’s the wainscoting, or the chandelier, or a piece of art."

It’s precisely this aesthetic Smith hopes to put to work at Winvian. In 1947, shortly before Smith was born, his parents had purchased Seth Bird’s farm outside Litchfield and given it their own first names, Winthrop and Vivian. Over the years cattle, sheep, and horses were raised on the farm, but by the time Vivian died, in 1997, the property had stood empty for many years. Smith didn’t want to sell it but had no practical use for it, either. Then his daughter Heather, who had been running the Pitcher Inn, proposed that they turn it into another inn—this time on an even grander scale.

Sellers convened a gathering of architects at his home in Vermont and developed a master plan that called for 15 architects and designers to build 18 freestanding cottages as well as expand the Seth Bird House to create common areas, dining rooms, and another guest suite. With all-inclusive rates starting at $1,450 a night, it will promise to add a whole new dimension to the concept of luxe. "In Litchfield, once again, we want to build something that provides a unique experience," says Smith. "A hotel room is a hotel room. If you’re looking for something new, something that has a little bit of adventure, you want to stay somewhere that is a story unto itself."

Creating a magical experience is rarely itself a magical experience. Inside a cottage called the Beaver Lodge, a young designer named John Carino watches anxiously as a team of four workmen carefully maneuvers a five-foot-long piece of curved glass into position atop a matching arc of river stones. They’re part of the shower stall, one of the last few remaining components to be installed in the cottage; its completion will mark a major milestone. But the glass doesn’t quite fit over the base, and after struggling for more than an hour, during which time they partially demolish the base, the workers give up and depart.

Such tribulations have not been rare at Winvian. With only a few months left before the grand opening, the project is mired in all the difficulties that can arise as a complicated project enters the home stretch. Budgets are getting broken; plans are being revised. It’s a nerve-racking state of affairs.

Nor have the neighbors always been especially welcoming about the prospect of a new commercial enterprise amid their serene estates. When the Smiths first applied for a zoning change from the town, two neighbors bitterly opposed them, as did the board of the White Memorial Foundation, a 4,000-acre preserve that abuts Winvian. But gradually the community has come to embrace the new inn. "There was a feeling that it was going to be too much for the area, but I’ve toured the place three or four times, and our feeling is, they’re doing great. It’s a top-notch development," says the foundation’s executive director, Keith Cudworth. "The clientele is not exactly going to be rowdy."

Carino’s Beaver Lodge is a rustic wooden cabin that seems to have emerged from the dreams of both beavers and beaver trappers. The exterior planks are live-edged, milled with the bark still on; the interior supporting beams consist of whole tree trunks. Above the king-size bed is a beaver lodge assembled from actual lodges found on the site that Carino meticulously took apart, pressure-washed, and put back together. The stones that make up the fireplace he handpicked from a streambed in Vermont and trucked down himself. "Twenty trips," he says. "It was very labor-intensive."

It’s entirely evident, even without seeing Carino in the lodge obsessing over it in person, that the building is the result of a passion so intense it borders on OCD. Indeed, obsessiveness is a hallmark of the whole Winvian project. Everything appears to have been done in the most difficult way possible. When I first arrived at the property that morning in January, a group of workers was taking crowbars to a just-finished stone wall attached to the main building. "It wasn’t right," explained Nijdam.

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