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Travel: Conn. Artists

Jack Smith

Not just any helicopter would do for architect Malcolm Appleton, designer of one of the cottages at Winvian, a new resort in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills. The aircraft did not necessarily have to match the upholstery, but it did have to fit in the living room, and it had to be built by a Connecticut company. “It was tough finding just the right helicopter,” confides Appleton.

Mounting the Sikorsky HH37 in the room was just the start, however. When the cottage is completed and fully wired—no one is sure when that will be—opening its door will trigger from the sound system the whump whump of rotor blades and the roar of a turbine engine. “The cockpit will be linked to a flight simulator with a projection screen,” says Appleton. “It will look and feel as if you’re actually flying. Your friends can be having drinks around the wet bar in the back while you’re piloting your helicopter over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.”

Such flights of fantasy are in abundance at Winvian, which officially opened in January. At the far end of the 113-acre property is the Treehouse, a bi-level cottage perched 35 feet off the ground among tree branches. Between the Helicopter and Treehouse stands the Secret Society cottage, a rhomboid stone pyramid that references Yale’s fraternities and looks like an ancient Egyptian tomb. Elsewhere on the grounds are 15 more cottages displaying such seemingly disparate themes as golf, music, art, horticulture, sailing, and the social lives of beavers—each of which in some way relates to Connecticut. Remarkably, the cottages, which range in size from 950 to 1,250 square feet, are as noteworthy for the craftsmanship, quality, and downright richesse of their furnishings and finish as for the quirkiness of their designs.

Winvian owners Winthrop and Margaret Smith previously have struck a balance between whimsy and sophistication at the Pitcher Inn in Warren, Vt. When a fire leveled the inn in 1993, the Smiths purchased the property and commissioned Vermont architect David Sellers to design a lodging that was out of the ordinary. When the inn reopened in 1997, says Sellers, it was definitely one of a kind. “No two rooms were alike,” he says. But all feature nods to Vermont. The various decors evoke fly-fishing, duck hunting, mountaineering, and, in what is perhaps a first in the field of interior decoration, the personae of Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur, the two Vermont-born U.S. presidents.

When the Smiths enlisted Sellers to work on Winvian, he invited 15 other New England architects—each of whom ulti­mately would design one or more of the cottages—to convene at his home in Vermont. There, before discussing concepts for the resort, Sellers regaled his guests with live music, a wine tasting, a poetry recital, and a talk on the history of architecture. “The idea was to get those creative juices flowing,” says Sellers.

Those juices may have overflowed. Among the designs the group conceived was one for the Flying Saucer cottage. “The way we envisioned it, it would have come flaming through the stratosphere before crash-landing in the forest, scorching the earth and dislodging boulders before coming to rest against a stand of trees,” says Sellers. There, the saucer would lie at an angle, the hatch open, with the lights around its circumference blinking and glowing mysteriously. “Inside,” he continues, “you would find things like Buck Rogers posters, and the bed would be hinged so that earthlings would sleep comfortably.”

The Flying Saucer eventually was rejected, but should the Smiths ever open an inn in New Jersey or New Mexico, they might want to reconsider the idea.

Winvian, 860.567.9600, www.winvian.com

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Photo by Dana Allen
Photo by Cheryl Zibisky