It’s Always a Holiday Weekend at Mepal Manor & Gedney Farm
Gedney Farm hosts lavish rural weddings.
Brad Wagstaff and Leslie Miller are the accidental wedding planners. When they arrived (separately) in the Berkshires more than thirty years ago, they were each pursuing a rural, crunchy-granola lifestyle after stints in cities. He had run a financial magazine in New York, and she had baked cookies for the concession stand at Boston’s Orson Welles Cinema. When they met, they discovered they shared an appreciation of historic architecture, an eye for beauty, and a taste for sophisticated food. When they renovated New Marlborough’s Old Inn on the Green and opened it as a B&B in 1979, they had no clear ambition. They didn’t really have a business plan when they opened the Old Inn as a restaurant in 1982 (with Michele Miller in the kitchen), creating an upscale-but-down-to-earth dining experience in 18th century rooms lit only by candlelight. (They sold the restaurant a few years ago to chef Peter Platt.) When they purchased Gedney Farm up the road in 1980, they were happy to have 80 dairy cows living in one of their two barns. “We milked them night and day for six years,” recalls Wagstaff. Then one day in the late 1980s a woman drove up to Gedney Farm and told the stunned couple: “I want to have my daughter’s wedding in your barn!” It seemed feasible, so they were suddenly and unexpectedly in the wedding business.
Now, 21 years later, Gedney Farm and Mepal Manor are a destination wedding venue that’s both rustic and luxurious. The event barn is spare enough that brides and grooms can art direct their weddings to look like catalog shoots for—take your pick—Anthropologie, J. Crew, or Ralph Lauren. “We’ve had every type of wedding imaginable,” says Miller, looking up at the rafters and then offering a stack of photo albums of weddings that all look worthy of Martha Stewart Living. “We’ve had weddings with gingham tablecloths and hay bales, and we’ve had black tie weddings with crystal chandeliers.”
Once they started having weddings, they got rid of the cows and renovated the other barn so it could function as an inn. “We toured renovated barns all over New England to get ideas,” says Wagstaff who worked with architect Robert Edson Swain on a design that managed to maintain the barn’s character and openness while still creating 16 luxurious bedrooms and suites. The downstairs rooms boast wood-burning fireplaces while the upstairs rooms have whirlpool tubs with interior skylights that look up at the original rafters. The overall effect is one of utter enchantment that puts wedding guests in the right mood.
The concept of the wedding weekend has evolved into an elaborate ritual, according to Miller and Wagstaff. “The first change was that kids did not want to do what their parents did—they did not want to get married in a hotel or country club,” says Wagstaff. “They like the idea of a farm because it was simpler, but they also wanted it fancier.” To accommodate changing mores, the couple bought neighboring Mepal Manor, a formidable 1906 house that had been both a private residence and then a boarding school. “We wanted to have more rooms for wedding guests and we also wanted to have a spa.” says Wagstaff. As Miller wryly notes: “Brides today like to get manicures and do yoga or pilates with their bridesmaids before the wedding.” Their spa is the school’s former gymnasium that architect Swain retrofitted so it feels like an exclusive Zen retreat in northern California. It is open to the public by appointment for everything from a hot stone massage ($160 for 80 minutes) and a mud wrap ($120 for 75 minutes) to a bikini wax ($30) and a blow out ($40). They rent out part of the gym during the week to Gymnastics Unlimited which offers classes and birthday parties.
The only downside to getting married at Gedney Farm is that couples are rarely able to return to celebrate their anniversaries there because the inn is invariably booked with another wedding. “We run a special Valentine’s Day promotion for them,” says Miller (left, with Wagstaff on Mepal Manor’s back terrace.) “We also have special packages from Sunday to Thursday for tourists. As everyone knows, the best time to be in the Berkshires, especially in summer, is during the week.” And for those vacationers as well as locals, there is now dinner service on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Mepal Manor.