The Better B&B: Stonover Farm in Lenox
Photographs by Kevin Sprague
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
“Our guests, basically, enter through the kitchen,” says Tom Werman, owner and proprietor of Stonover Farm, the luxury B&B a mere two miles from Tanglewood that he runs with his wife, Suky. “We like it that way,” he says. He’s hinting, of course, at the famous omelets he makes for guests on the inn’s impressive Aga cooker, as well as to the relaxed environment the couple works hard to provide. The farm provides its guests with “nature” in just the right amounts — broad fields for hiking, lovely mountain views, and even a waterfall that flows into a picturesque duck pond full of placid swimmers.
But back to those breakfasts. Every guest is served their choice, and Tom doesn’t take offense if it’s not one of his omelets — he’s not sharing his secret to their special goodness, anyway, although we suspect the Aga plays a role.
The Wermans aren’t the type to rest on their laurels, either (they rarely rest at all!), and this spring, after 11 summers, they recognized their rooms could use a new look. “It was time for new fabrics on the beds and throughout the rooms,” Suky says. In May, each of the farm’s suites received a fabric makeover with the help of Annie Selke of the Berkshires-based Pine Cone Hill, makers of colorful home-decorating fabrics and other home-décor products, who teamed with the Wermans to use her signature fabrics in all their guest suites.
Fabric is on the radar at Stonover — even an art exhibit (opening July 19, with a gala fundraiser for IS183) in the Stonover barn has a textile theme. (The show features 11 artists working in textiles, fiber and wearable art, including Melissa Lillie, a designer at Pine Cone Hill, whose abstract paintings have inspired Selke to replicate Lillie’s designs on gossamer fabric scarves.) Suky, who is on the IS183 board of directors, has curated the show, which will run through Labor Day weekend.
In 2002, when the Wermans left Los Angeles to open a luxury inn in the Berkshires, you might say they turned the page on a new chapter of their lives, but it’s more accurate to say they started a whole new book. Tom had been a successful music executive, producing 60 albums over the years for “hair” bands and heavy metal stars like Motley Crue, Boston, and Twisted Sister. After the music industry transformed dramatically, Tom knew big changes were ahead. “We had an active social life in L.A., and hosted lots of parties,” he says, “so this life, as innkeepers, doesn’t seem all that different from what we’d been doing for 24 years.”
“We wanted to come back east, too,” Tom says. “I’m from Massachusetts originally, and Suky is from Westchester. We were looking for a property where we could run a high-end B&B — the kind of place where every convenience is provided and every need is accommodated.” Tom checked out seven different towns but couldn’t find what the couple envisioned. “I was getting depressed, then I saw the barn here at Stonover and the for-sale sign.” That was in 2001.
The mansion at Stonover, once the Gilded Age gentleman farm of the Parsons, an old Lenox family, is a half-timber Victorian structure built in the 1890’s. By the time the Wermans arrived, the great house, outbuildings, and enormous barn all needed substantial repairs, and the surrounding ten acres were generally neglected, devoid even of flower beds.
From the start, the Wermans were as committed to preserving what was beautiful and special about Stonover as they were to making their new life, and the inn, a success. They ran into the usual roadblocks during the permitting and renovation process, resulting in minor skirmishes with planning and zoning officials — the sort that can only resolve with trust and time. Tom recalls with humor the anachronistic “uses” for the farm that came with its title. “They allowed us one barber seat, the ability to sell preserves, and to take in clothing for alterations.”
The couple accomplished their renovation in record time — a mere eight months — opening four elegant, pet-friendly suites in the main house (each has a bedroom, living room, and elegant white marble and tile bathroom), and three more in the cottage and schoolhouse in 2002. Every suite has top-flight feather pillows, comfortable guest robes, and 14-inch-thick mattresses. “If we had a motto,” Tom says, “it would be: Why sacrifice convenience for charm?”
The soft tones and rich textures of the library, living room, and other public spaces of the mansion are a far cry from the garish colors that greeted the couple in 2001. “All the wood trim had been painted wine red,” Tom says. “It was heavy and depressing.” The couple lightened and brightened every space, even acid-washing the walls in the winter dining room to remove layers of old paint and wallpaper. The farm’s former creamery now serves as the summer dining room when weather doesn’t cooperate for breakfast on the patio. The thick brick walls that once kept milk cold have been given new life with cream-colored paint and a wall of French doors that face the duck pond.
There’s plenty of convenience at Stonover, too, the other leg of Tom’s motto, in the form of enormous flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations, CD players, 250 movies, free landline phones, remote-control A/C with quiet condensers (located outside), and Wi-Fi all over the property. Finally, after a decade as committed innkeepers, Tom and Suky have dashed the notion that they’re lightweights who wouldn’t stick it out, or that they might turn Stonover, a 150-year-old icon of the Berkshires, into a Motel 6 with insensitive renovations, or ruin the peaceful neighborhood with wild rock-star parties.
The charming schoolhouse on the property pre-dates the farm (it was built in 1850), and still sports the school bell in its cupola. Heated floors, a luxurious marble bath, soaring ceilings, stellar views of the duck pond and exceptional privacy make this suite the most luxurious of all guest spaces at Stonover, and a special favorite of bridal couples. Meanwhile, the ice house found a new purpose, becoming part of the Werman’s own living quarters. “We have a 40-foot commute to work,” Tom chuckles, pointing to the entry of the inn, an addition designed by Pam Sandler of Stockbridge to bridge the ice house with the mansion. Even the chicken coop is now a 2-bedroom cottage with a fireplace, its own kitchen, and central air, making it perfect for families.
Given Tom’s longevity in the record industry, it’s not surprising that Linda Ronstadt was the first guest at the newly renovated Stonover Farm a dozen years ago. In fact, the Werman’s have hosted a higher-than-normal quotient of celebrities, thanks in part to Tom’s connections as well as the inn’s proximity to Tanglewood.
However, high-end innkeepers like Suky and Tom walk a fine line in promoting their property appropriately. While innkeepers want a steady stream of guests, travelers want to feel like they’ve “discovered” a place and can make it their own. Knowing this, Tom and Suky struggled through the early years, avoiding advertising and exploitive promotional tactics. “Then something happened,” Tom recalls. A rave review of Stonover appeared in Andrew Harper’s Hideaway, and later the inn won the publication’s Hideaway of the Year award. “Now,” Tom says, “our business is robust.”
While the enormous barn on the property no longer stores hay or shelters cows and horses, it does anchor the property as the quintessential party barn, and easily accommodates 200 for dinner. Tom and Suky hold a limited number of events here every year via special permit from the town of Lenox — most of them weddings. Fortunately, Tom says, “We’ve reached a point where the town is proud of us and thinks we’re doing a great job. We even hosted the high school prom.”