A retro motel sign, tucked into a roadside pocket of trees and grasses, comes up around a bend in a peaceful Upstate New York hamlet. You’ll likely miss the turn, but the extra stretch is more a scenic route than an inconvenience. Once you’ve pulled into the parking lot, you will have entered another era–a hybrid one, rather–made up of Wes Anderson-inspired aesthetic elements, splashes of indie art, and contemporary conveniences. The Starlite Motel in Kerhonkson is a newly-modernized mid-century lodge, a place for quiet retreat and thoughtful design with the great outdoors at your fingertips. Take it all in from the comfort of your room’s back deck or lace up a pair of boots for a long hike on one of nearby Minnewaska State Park’s many trails–though if you choose to stay in the room for the duration of your stay, no one could blame you. Here, we chat with The Starlite Motel co-owners Adriana Farmiga and Alix Umen for an inside look at the property’s transformation, its most requested room type, and more.
Tell us about the property and its evolution.
For starters, we believe in the power of love and community. The property of the Starlite Motel is intended to amplify both these ideals; it is intimate yet open, and allows visitors to feel connected to a larger sense of purpose even while getting away from it all. The property is in direct dialogue with the remarkable nature that surrounds it. The previous owners took very good care of the property, and that was the main condition when ownership changed over to our hands. We loved the retro elements that were part of the property: the ‘Motel’ sign (hello, Schitt’s Creek), the 50’s era neon road sign, the glass bricks, et cetera. Using what spoke to us, we aimed to update the motel to make it a cozy, warm environment, complete with modern amenities for our guests. We’ve traveled around a bit and had a sense of what would be meaningful in terms of this combination. So, we made a decision to exclude TVs from the rooms and instead offer high speed Wi-Fi as an alternative should anyone need to stay plugged in.
We dove into the renovation to preserve the original footprint while updating materials with an eye or a goal of creating [our definition of a] boutique motel and an oasis of hospitality, our motto and mantra. All the decisions about renovation, from the floors to the custom formulated bio-alchemy bath products, were taken very seriously. We are choosing to work with practicing artists and craftsfolk, cultural practitioners, and chefs who have a relationship to the area and are excited to build a unique and personalized program of art, food, and hospitality at the property.
The Starlite Motel is within 10 minutes of Minnewaska State Park and its scenic glacial mountaintop lakes, hiking, apple orchards, scenic overlooks and forest bathing. The motel is positioned between two reservoirs–the Ashokan and Rondout (we have a boat guests can use on the Rondout!) and it’s just under two hours from New York City. It is a desirable destination for a road trip into the country, but is also a beloved site in the local community.
Our health protocols are in strict compliance with the CDC and local guidelines, and we feel fortunate to have the kind of layout to allow guests to have a contactless check-in and checkout. We have been letting rooms sit for 72 hours on either end of a guest’s stay to ensure everyone’s health and safety. We’re even providing a complimentary locally made, essential oil-infused sanitizer in each room.
What’s the most requested room type at Starlite? What makes it so special?
All of the King rooms since they all have spacious back decks!
What is the usual rate for that room?
$299/night on the weekend $250/night during the week.
You mentioned that you have a few more rooms that are slated to open soon; can you share a bit about those?
We are just about to open four Queen rooms, one of which has a custom-tiled ADA accessible bathroom, two beds and an adjoining room.
Please share some details on the pet-friendly programming at the motel.
We love pets! We are allowing dogs and have even had a cat stay with us. We charge a normal pet cleaning fee of $75.
Can you share a bit about the Canteen and other offerings and experiences on property?
We were serving complimentary breakfast in our Canteen until March. It’s closed now due to COVID space limitations, but we look forward to reopening at some point! We also have a couple of outdoor grills and provide all the tools necessary for grilling, as well as a large fire pit for larger food events and collaborations (or just a bonfire). We offer a s’mores kit, too, that comes with our custom Starlite Motel chocolate bar, [which is] very good. The best thing that happened in the pivot in the late spring/early summer is that we met the Baba food truck owners, and we just went bananas over them and their food. We share a similar sensibility and community/world view, so that has been a rewarding collaboration. They have been onsite on Friday and Saturday evenings and every other Sunday for brunch. We are planning more food events in the future.
As for art, we [recently participated in] Upstate Art Weekend, where we were joined by at least a dozen or more venues (including Storm King and Art Omi) in the Hudson Valley to safely show art in a context that is truly special and unique.
What are some of your personal favorite drinking and dining experiences in the area?
Westwind Orchard, Arrowood Farm/Brewery, Stonehills Farm, Rough Cuts, Hash, Pizza: Ollie’s in High Falls, Lola’s in Kingston, Hotel Kinsley for a fancy outing, Kingston Bread, Masa Midtown, Top Taste, Ruby Mae’s, Alleyway and Fortune’s Ice Cream, and wow, we can just go on and on–honestly, we live in such a bounty of farms and fresh food. We would be remiss to not mention our favorite CSAs: Long Season Farm and Acorn Hill (best goat cheese in the world).
Tell us a few fun insider facts about the Starlite Motel.
A few independent films have shot on location at the motel, most notably The Stuff, which served as inspiration for Stranger Things. All this to say that the property is unassuming yet charming, and set up for any visitor to feel welcome. We’ve both lived in the area for about 20 years and have insights into what would be exciting for guests, from food and drink, to outdoor activities. We will be screening The Stuff outdoors at some point. Deborah Granik’s first film Down to the Bone shot on location here as well, and we have been getting a steady stream of requests for film and photo shoots. The previous owner was a female cab driver in New York City for years and operated an ice cream shop in the East Village.