A portfolio of boutique properties offers charming new lodging in Litchfield County.
Looking for a new getaway spot in the country? Lulu McPhee’s latest endeavor, the Kent Collection, offers beautifully designed rooms and suites in three unique landmark properties—the Victorian, the Firefly Inn and the Garden Cottages—within the village of Kent. As president, McPhee is the lead on the project, working with a highly experienced and professional team. Her husband, John, is providing financial and overall vision guidance. Andrew McPhee, a graduate of Parsons School of Design, has been heavily involved in the acquisition, design and marketing, while John and Lulu’s other two children, Anna and Max, are executives in the tech world and are lending their expertise to the Kent Collection website and all digital aspects. Here, insights from Lulu and John on this exciting venture.
Why go into hospitality now, and do you have any experience in it besides being a seasoned traveler?
We recognized that the Litchfield County market in general, and Kent in particular, was underserved. Many of the local inns were sold to families during the pandemic, reducing the supply of short-term lodging options in the community. As for experience, back in the 1980s, John started buying student housing when he was a student at Santa Clara University. We have a shared passion for historic preservation and adaptive reuse of older structures, and over the course of 20 years, acquired, renovated, and leased a collection of 20 houses surrounding the campus providing housing for nearly 200 students. In 2003, the collection was sold to the university.
What drew you to Kent for this project?
We have had a second home in the area for many years and are drawn to Kent because of the natural beauty of the area, the level of culture and the town’s incredible charm. Its art galleries, restaurants and shops draw visitors from all over. And Kent is home to three prestigious boarding schools; the Kent Collection will offer parents a home-away-from-home while visiting their students.
Did you acquire all the buildings and the train car at the same time?
We acquired the three properties over a period of 18 months. We knew from our experience in Santa Clara that we needed scale in order to properly support the collection. Having the five buildings on three properties allows us to have a full-time hospitality team to cater to our guests.
What attracted you and your team to the structures you chose?
Location, location, location. We chose well-sited properties in walking distance to everything the village of Kent offers. Two of the three had previously been operated as B&Bs, but were in need of substantial TLC. The Garden Cottages had been operated as retail/office buildings, and we worked with the town to rezone them from commercial to residential.
Is there a design aesthetic that runs through all the properties?
Historic with modern amenities. Beautiful color and finishes. Comfortable. Gas lanterns at each property. In the springtime, we will be planting lots of flowers—you can’t have enough flowers!
Can you talk a little bit about your furniture choices and color palette?
We always like to celebrate designers and design companies that we know and admire. Each space has big personality, and we had fun with the color palette. We used lots of color, but primarily used colors from nature—the spaces capture the optimism of green grass in the spring, deep blue skies in the summer, cozy eggplant and foliage hues in the fall. People come to Kent because the outdoor spaces are so beautiful, and we wanted the interiors to reflect that.
Did you work with an interior designer?
We worked with Melynda Mannix of Emme Design for inspiration. She helped us be more courageous with color and patterns to bring a sophisticated but playful feel to our spaces. Our project architect is Tasos Kokoris, AIA. Early in his career, Kokoris worked in the office of I.M. Pei & Partners, where he gained valuable experience on
large commercial and institutional projects, including the Jacob Javits Convention Center in NYC, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His portfolio includes many custom residential and equestrian projects, and he has an expertise in energy conservation studies, passive solar design, and the embodied energy of building materials.
What about your life/career prepared you for this new endeavor?
In many ways, we’ve been preparing for this endeavor our whole lives. Lulu is the daughter of an artist and an architect, and grew up around projects that celebrated design, color and texture. John has been in the design business for 30 years, leading the teams at Edelman Leather, Design Within Reach, Herman Miller and now Chilewich. We gravitate toward projects where we can make a space more inviting and comfortable, whether that’s through renovation, use of color or choosing the right furniture.
Who are your target guests?
We hope to attract an eclectic group of visitors—from wedding parties to Appalachian Trail hikers coming into town for provisions and a hot bath! Certainly the families of boarding school students will be glad to have local places to stay, and folks from NYC will want to stroll the galleries and shops, and spend the weekend in Kent.
Are there special amenities at the properties?
Some rooms have soaking tubs, gas fireplaces, private decks and patios, fire pits and more. And one of our cottages is an actual train car from the 1800s.
Which property did you have the most fun redesigning?
The Victorian was very fun to restore and celebrate the classic craftsmanship. Of course, the Train Car is unique, and it was a fun puzzle figuring out how to transform an 1800s baggage car into a welcoming, modern space.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Destination: Kent.