There’s an unspoken rule that mountain inns have to be cozy. You know the image: Dark woods, earth tones, mounted deer heads.
The Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, N.C., just three hours from Charlotte, turns that notion on its head.
Cozy is not quite the right word for the inn, although it’s not wrong, either. The six-suite lodge is filled with wonderful contradictions. It’s dreamy, yet it’s crisp and sharp, too. It’s in the North Carolina high country, but the look is French-meets-Scandinavian.
Nothing is out of place, yet you’ll feel comfortable putting your feet up. Everything about the inn says, “Relax. You’re going to be taken care of.”
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And you will be. Co-owner Gaye Luaces has long been intrigued with the notions of home and hospitality. The inn and its esteemed culinary program are the culmination of a nearly lifelong dream for Gaye that began in 1968 while she was in interior design school in New York.
“The dream got tucked away while I pursued my interior design career,” Gaye says. In fact, she’s had several careers – furniture buyer for a department store, kitchen designer, design stylist, visual merchandiser.
And jewelry designer. In 1985, she turned her straightforward aesthetic toward jewelry and opened her own store in Miami. (Gaye’s custom jewelry is available at the inn, as well as in the shop she still owns in Florida.)
When she hired expert cabinetmaker Frank Luaces to build the cabinets for her shop, she got more than an exacting craftsman. She got a husband and partner in her dream. They married five years after meeting and began searching for mountain property.
Deciding to buy an inn is one thing; finding it is another. The perfectionistic couple searched for six years for the right property. Planning and construction took another eight years.
The entire time they were searching, Gaye knew what the inn should look like – uncluttered, simple, sophisticated. She believes less is more, and it shows in the unadorned inn awash in whispered shades of white, grey, taupe and cream.
Since Little Pond Farm opened in 2009, guests have responded with a collective, contented sigh. “We hear it over and over again,” says Gaye. “Our guests tell us, ‘I want to go home and throw everything away.’ They see this is a place of peacefulness. There’s not much artwork on the walls. That’s not how I live. Our intent was to build a retreat, and I think we’ve succeeded.”
Gaye also liked the idea of “taking something old and tired and bringing it to its full glory.” There was little glory – but plenty of old and tired – in the farmhouse the Luaceses discovered. “We fell in love with the setting,” Gaye laughs. “Not with the house.”
The farmhouse, built in 1900, had undergone many (bad) renovations. In fact, there was only one element that survived the meticulous transformation: the stone fireplace in the living room. Gaye and Frank left the farmhouse intact but tore out the interior from basement to rafters.
Gaye designed the interiors and chose all the paint, finishes and furniture. The process was painstaking, but it wasn’t drudgery. She traveled to France, England, Italy, New York, California and Palm Beach to buy antiques. Simplicity isn’t easy to achieve.
Gaye says guests are often surprised by their sophisticated farmhouse. “People are not expecting this,” she says. “They expect quilts and teddy bears.”
Another surprise? A top-notch culinary program with a regular rotation of guest chefs – some local and some of the celebrity variety – who lead dinnertime cooking demos for between eight and 12 people on everything from “The French Table” to Southern fare.
Little Pond Farm has an almost meditative quality about it. Guests can leave the comforts of the inn to shop in nearby Boone or Blowing Rock or take a hike. (Gaye and Frank will even pack you a gourmet picnic.) But many choose to indulge in the exquisite idleness of staying in.
Room rates, starting at $250 a night, include breakfast, afternoon sweets and early evening wine and housemade hors d’oeuvres.
Everything about the inn is light and subdued. As soon as you put your bags down, you’re likely to feel the same way. Little Pond Farm redefines what a mountain inn can be. And, in its own refined way, it’s as comforting as an old quilt.