Rich history and modern luxury reside in perfect harmony at GrayBarns on the Silvermine River, a sprawling, quiet hideaway perched on a pond side bluff in Norwalk, Connecticut. What was once a 17th century stagecoach stop-turned-speakeasy is now an impeccably-appointed collection of suites, apartments, gastronomic experiences, and more, offering a striking evolution of its tenure as a country inn from 1960 to 2009. Today, GrayBarns is a favorite amongst city dwellers looking for a getaway within reach thanks to its proximity to the New York Metro area (located about an hour northeast of Manhattan), seamlessly nodding to its past at every turn. We spoke with co-owner Nikki Glazer for an inside look at the Pinterest darling that is this contemporary inn.
Tell us more about the story behind GrayBarns and how it’s changed over the years.
What has always been interesting to us is the extensive history that is tied to both the area and the property itself. It dates all the way back to the 17th century, when the area was once popular as a village meeting place, and GrayBarns served as an artist outpost and stagecoach stop. Structurally, what is now GrayBarns began as a small textile factory at the turn of the 19th century. It became a speakeasy during the 1920s before legitimizing itself after the end of Prohibition. The property thrived throughout the 1960s as a classic country inn, with visits from the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, and Lauren Bacall.
Today, GrayBarns is made up of an Inn, Tavern, Millhouse, and Mercantile, offering our guests a full 360-degree experience on property. What was originally the tavern now houses the Inn and has been renovated back to its stately structure of classic influence, with ample porches and tall columns, situated on a bluff overlooking Guthrie Pond. The Inn boasts six beautiful king suites each featuring a spacious bedroom, living area, and full-size bath with soaking tub.
Across the street from the Inn, you will find our Mercantile, a newly renovated country store; a great spot to pop-over for coffee or shop the look with GrayGoods . The second floor of the Mercantile houses the Mercantile Apartments, three studio apartments available for long term stays ideal for a lingering residency or a country pied-à-terre.
The Tavern at GrayBarns sits adjacent to Guthrie Pond. New windows in the Bar Room and expansive Dining Room (complete with original fireplace) make for an incredible vantage point of the water and a warm and intimate dining experience. The Tavern also has a wine room, private dining room, kitchen garden, and outdoor patio and courtyard.
What’s the most requested room at GrayBarns and what makes it so special?
Our guests love the Addison room, which overlooks the communal green space behind the Inn and the willow tree. The high ceiling adorned with driftwood chandeliers gives the space a romantic and dramatic feel. We like to refer to it as the “honeymoon suite.”
What is the usual rate for that room?
$650 on weekdays and $800 on weekends.
Can you tell us more about GrayGoods and the Mercantile Apartments?
GrayGoods was born as a result of the amount of requests we received from guests and locals who wanted to “shop the look” and take our unique design experience home with them. In response, we put together a line of home and lifestyle products that are featured throughout the property. During the pandemic, it was a great way to still interact with our community near and far. We upped our online presence by redesigning the site, offering masks for sale (we worked with local women who were out of sewing work due to the pandemic). We continue to source additional products that feel harmonious with our brand experience, but always keep favorites such as our Frette fluffy robe and more.
Additionally, we have added the Mercantile Apartments, our three studio apartments located above the Mercantile, to our offering. These are ideal for the person looking for multiple “homes” but that are affordable and offer the amenities and access to the larger property. That said, the Mercantile Apartments are designed with high-end appliances and finishes such as Gaggenau cook-tops and convection ovens as well as Smeg refrigerators. They provide an elevated lifestyle but at an economic price point appealing to those looking for a longer stay solution.
Let’s talk about the amazing food offerings at GrayBarns, from breakfast to patio/booth dining at the Tavern. How has it been to adapt to or work around the setbacks that COVID-19 has imposed?
The Tavern’s menu is well-known for offering elegant comfort food that draws on seasonal ingredients from local farms and purveyors. Recently, we took a look at some immediate changes we could make in the design of the Tavern to adapt to COVID-19 protocols and cater to the comfort of our guests. In an effort to maintain an elevated dining experience, we crafted a glass booth concept for the Bar Room that allows for the same beautiful open atmosphere with views of Guthrie Pond, but creates distinct dining areas that are social distancing-friendly. The booths create an intimate feel for our guests but allow us to keep our current floor plan without having to remove tables. Throughout the property, we have used glass to modernize the historical feel of reclaimed barn wood and beams, so it felt like a harmonious addition that complimented the existing design, but is distinctly utilitarian and designed for a new normal.
Outside, we enclosed the patio with a canvas awning to make it a weather-proof dining area. Under six cherry trees, our courtyard was an under utilized space before COVID-19, essentially a common area between the Tavern and the Inn. It has now been converted into a beautiful, intimate al fresco dining experience that guests come from all over to enjoy.
In your opinion, what makes GrayBarns such an ideal staycation for guests coming from NYC, especially during these times?
Proximity is always top of mind. A weekend trip to the Hudson Valley or the Hamptons can be upwards of three hours drive, whereas GrayBarns is just an hour from downtown Manhattan. During these times, space and low population density are some things that we think about a lot too. Our property is in a quaint little enclave that isn’t nearly as densely populated as some of the typical vacation spots in New England–most of our VIP guests love that they can fly under the radar here. The sheer size and luxury of our suites (each being between 750 and 950 square feet) is always impressive to guests as well as the offerings around the property that ensure they never have to leave during their stay.
Lastly, can you share a few fun insider facts about the GrayBarns and the history of the land beyond what we already know?
I always find it fascinating that GrayBarns was a speakeasy during prohibition and the artists who founded the Silvermine Artist Guild nearby used to have what they called “The Knockers Club” where they would “knock” (or chat) about each other’s work. Our rooms are all named after a particular founding artist. Additionally, the era of old Hollywood that the property was a part of is exciting as well. Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy had their honeymoon here and we even found among the historic archives a thank you postcard that Lauren Bacall had sent. It is fun to see all the different eras that the property was immersed in, each adding another layer to its uniqueness.