Dorothée Walliser took exactly 10 minutes to decide that she wanted to buy the DeWitt Oak Hill. The two-floor inn, built in 1865, sits on the banks of the Catskills Creek in Oak Hill, a hamlet of less than 300 people within the Town of Durham in rural Greene County. At first, Walliser’s business partner, Diane Ormrod, thought it was a crazy idea. What was one woman going to do with a 4,500-square-foot building with 16 rooms?
But the answer came to the pair in no time: They would renovate the DeWitt into a bed-and-breakfast and use it as a working showroom for their antiques and art business, French & Scouser. (The business’s name indicates its proprietors’ national origins: “French” is for Walliser, who is originally from Paris; “Scouser” is an affectionate term for people who hail from Liverpool, England, where Ormrod was born and raised).
So in 2014, the two women, who met as colleagues in New York City’s publishing world, bought the DeWitt together. Ormrod had always wanted to have a bed-and-breakfast. “I even had a book called So You Want to Be an Innkeeper,” she recalls. “But I never expected it to happen this way, doing it with a friend.”
Walliser and Ormrod’s first challenge was making the DeWitt livable. “We had to have all new plumbing installed and electricity completely rewired,” Ormrod explains. “A new well pump and filtering system,” Walliser adds. The inn also needed a central cooling and heating system, insulation, and doors either installed or replaced for every room.
Walliser’s sister, an architect, flew in from Paris to help redesign the floor plan to split the inn’s original nine upstairs rooms into four bedrooms with bathrooms, plus a first-floor living space and office for Walliser. Local artist friends designed the inn’s four guest rooms, which are quirkily numbered 46, 47, 48, and 49 according to the porcelain room numbers Walliser found on Etsy, all of which came from an old hotel in France. (Vintage doors and doorknobs came from Albany Architectural Salvage. )
For room 46, New Orleans-born artist Morris Ardoin used tree branches, the French and Scouser inventory, and his own artwork to create a room that feels both elegant and artistic. In Room 47, Brooklyn-based artist and creative director Stephen Ellwood used white curtains, a reading chair, and a writing desk to create a working retreat. The romantically elegant Room 48, aka the “Joyce DeWitt Suite,” designed by choreographer Steve Willis, was inspired by the actress Joyce DeWitt from the TV show Three’s Company (which ran from 1977 to 1984). Martha Stewart magazine’s former senior garden editor, Todd Carr, gave Room 49 a boys’ summer camp feeling, complete with fly-fishing rods, huting scenes, and Rip Van Winkle references.
Since the DeWitt’s opening in June 2015, it’s rapidly become a popular getaway. According to one Trip Advisor review, the inn is the Hudson Valley’s “most Instagrammable, Pinterest-able” bed-and-breakfast. Part of the DeWitt’s charm is its unique aesthetic style, combining midcentury modern, primitive, Art Deco, classic Hollywood, 1970s glam, and 19th-century aesthetics to create a sensation of comfort, culture, wit, and casual elegance.
“We both have the same philosophy,” says Ormrod. “We don’t like perfection. We like things to look and feel a little bit lived in, and that’s very European, like old country homes.”
Walliser adds, “We mix all different kinds of styles, and it’s totally eclectic, but it works.”
Ninety-five percent of everything in the inn is for sale, and “guests walk out with things,” as Walliser puts it. Notable items include an 1852 butcher block, a coffee table made with local black walnut and hand-hewn Brazilian steel legs (designed by Ormrod and Walliser), a roll-up desk, and a 19tth-century ice chest. Items range from $5 salt & pepper shakers to a midcentury chrome-and-glass Milo Baughman shelf unit priced at over $5,000, but guests won’t find price tags anywhere. “Our ultimate goal is to have an iPad in the reception area with our website available on it, so people can take a quick look and see how much it is,” says Ormrod. Meanwhile, “They can just ask us.”
The inn’s renowned communal breakfasts are made with produce grown on regional farms, eggs from down the street, and meats from Heather Ridge Farm. “We try and use as much of the local goods as we can,” says Ormrod. The menu includes Nutella-stuffed French toast with strawberries macerated in lemon and rosewater; old-fashioned blueberry grunt cake from a recipe by local celebrity chef George Weld, who owns the Egg in Brooklyn; peasant bread with avocado and feta; smoked salmon and poached eggs; frittatas; homemade granola and yogurt; and jams made with fruit that’s handpicked by Walliser and Ormrod throughout the year.
This spring the DeWitt was newly landscaped, gaining a pea gravel patio, a fire pit, beds of perennials, and a small kitchen garden—all of which make it more amenable to weddings and other events. The inn’s second-floor art gallery is already exhibiting work by local artists, but Ormrod and Walliser want to expand their public offerings. “Our long-term goal is to have workshops, events, pop-up dinners, and retreats,” Ormrod says.