Why do I love to stay in quaint inns, out-of-the-way bed-and-breakfasts or a independent, one-of-a-kind hotel? Because it is during these overnight, weekend or extended vacation travels that I get to discover a new way of living — how others see the world and how they create their homes in it, not only for themselves but also for their paying guests.
I get to experience firsthand another person's haven and what that means to them — how they decorate and personalize their home environment, discover the treasures in their lives and what it is that is special or important to them and luxuriate in their particular hospitality.
People who decide to open an inn, or at least those who are successful at it, do it because they love to delight people's five senses and make them feel comfortable and welcome. And part of creating sensory delights and a place to relax is the ability to decorate with confidence and with a sure hand — and to go forth with the assurance that if you love it, and believe in it, your guests will appreciate its charms and return again and again.
Inns, bed-and-breakfasts and pensions reflect the personality of the owners — perhaps their sense of whimsy, family history, personal philosophy and values — which is why they are always fascinating places. Using their homes as their design studios — and a chance to try their hand at pleasing a larger audience — innkeepers can use their personal collections and antiques rather than just having them on display; they can mix periods and styles to suit their fancy, to create whimsy and bring everything out of the attic.
For guests these places are where you can try out a whole smorgasbord of home comforts. It was at a small European inn in Switzerland that I first discovered the delight of sleeping on a feather-topped bed. I found the mattress of my dreams at another hotel; the most comfortable desk chair ever at yet another. And I love trying out new soaps, shampoos and lotions — souvenirs of these trips all filled with sensory memories.
While staying at an inn or pension it is a guilty pleasure to get to inspect everything — open every drawer in your room, imagine who you will write using the stationery, peruse the library and magazine stacks, and peer into the mini-bar just to see the selection — without feeling the obligation to behave like a house guest. Hotels and inns are also terrific places to gather decorating inspiration. A weekend at the bucolic Mayflower Inn in Washington, Conn., served as the inspiration for my own guest room, the luxurious bathrooms I experienced during our travels were the incentive for undergoing our own bathroom renovation, and the amenities — soft robes, slippers, oversize towels and bath products — are what I try and duplicate whenever I host guests and when I create my own products.
While I have been extremely fortunate to stay at so many wonderful places during the course of my travels, I would like to include some of my favorites, inns and hotels that I think demonstrate great design, or incredible charm, in creating true getaway havens.
Town Square Inn in Woodstock, Ill.: Located so that it overlooks the historic town plaza, this inn served as the set for the movie "Ground Hog Day." I stayed here after a speaking engagement and found it the perfect place to unwind.
Union Gables Bed and Breakfast in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: A lovely Queen Anne style home converted to a series of personalized guest rooms and the perfect place to stay when visiting our son's college town.
Portland's White House Bed and Breakfast, Portland, Ore.: This is a historic Greek Revival house situated in a lovely old neighborhood. I stayed here during a week of HGTV shooting and felt completely at home every night.
The Reluctant Panther Inn, Manchester, Vt.: We've eaten here many times before we finally took the leap and purchased our own getaway in this lovely mountain town. Someday I'll overnight again in one of their jewel boxes of a room above the cozy restaurant.
The Sea Breeze Inn in Amagansett, N.Y.: This one is close enough to the ocean that you can hear the waves pounding the shore at night, but far enough away that you don't hear the kids on the beach.
Hotel ZaZa in Dallas, Texas: This hotel is hip and stylish, with a dose of mystery and romance thrown in for good measure. My favorite place to unwind after a full day of business.
For me, one of the most refreshing and invigorating aspects of taking a weekend off or going on a more extensive vacation is the opportunity to look at the world around me with a fresh and inquisitive eye. And inns and bed-and-breakfasts, or at least the good ones, strive to provide the comforts of home. They may not be the same comforts we know, but new ones we can learn about and appreciate.
Chris Madden is author of 16 books including the newly released "Haven: Finding the Keys to Your Personal Decorating Style," Clarkson Potter Publishers.