February 10, 2020
An Elegant Upstate New York Gem Enters the 21st century
The ambitious restoration of Tarrytown House Estates, by Knibb Design, involved refurbishing two mansions from the 1800s.
From its hilltop perch overlooking the Hudson River, Westchester’s historic Tarrytown House Estate has lived many lives. Initially built in 1840 by J.S. Cronise, the elegant 214-room resort-style hotel, just 25 minutes from Manhattan, was initially a palatial residence for New World aristocracy, before its later transformation into the country’s first hotel and conference space. The Estate, a Gilded-Age jewel set on a lush, 26-acre plot near Lyndhurst Castle, Sunnyside—the former home of Washington Irving—and the Rockefellers’ Kykuit estate, has long held regional historical and architectural significance. Recently, under the leadership of Marc Gordon, former president of Morgans Hotel Group and current CEO of the Rubicon Group, it received a $15 million property-wide upgrade, refurbishing and redesigning interiors with cosmopolitan glamour while retaining much of the structures’ traditional exteriors.
“The intent is to see how you can affect a room or space with the greatest impact with a minimal amount of construction or heavy demolition,” says Sean Knibb of Los Angeles–based Knibb Design, who led renovation efforts and is known for marrying historic architecture with contemporary sensibilities. Knibb is also responsible for updating Austin’s beloved The Line Hotel with a celebrated “neo-Brutalist refresh.”
History was at the forefront of the upgrade and influenced much of the overall concept for the redesign. Purchased in 1921 by Mary Duke Biddle of North Carolina’s famous Duke Tobacco family—at the time one of America’s richest women—who transformed the space into a resort, Tarrytown House was then acquired in 1964 by the former newsman and early boutique hotelier Robert Schwartz, who used the lavish facility to attract luminaries such as Margaret Mead and Judith Crist. Honoring this legacy of hospitality, the ambitious restoration of Tarrytown House Estates involved refurbishing two mansions from the 1800s—the Biddle Mansion, and the Georgian-style King Mansion, named for railroad magnate Thomas King, a former resident. King Mansion, the oldest building at Tarrytown House Estate, was given a new lobby, outdoor lounge, and garden area. Among its most striking additions is a series of vibrant custom Joan Miró–inspired ceiling murals running through rooms, entryways, and the newly opened Goosefeather restaurant.
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At the latter, which launched last September, celebrity chef and Michelin Guide favorite Dale Talde serves a fresh take on Cantonese classics. The space is intimate and retains original floors and support structures, but features updates in the form of unique design flourishes, like a portrait of Bruce Lee as a colonial general, and a black-and-white picture of Yankees baseball legend Rich “Goose” Gossage. The restaurant offers four separate dining areas, including a coffee nook within the former library, as well as an outdoor terrace and lounge, complete with fire pits, that overlook the garden.
Adjacent to Goosefeather is an intimate nine-seat bar and a lounge-style indoor atrium connecting the hotel lobby, now outfitted with French doors, to the restaurant itself. Walking up the original wooden staircases, ten guest rooms are available, each carefully curated with custom furniture and artwork, antique furnishings, and Victorian headboards and updated bathrooms with granite countertops. The master suite boasts a full terrace and sweeping views of the Hudson. “It was important for us to aim for a motif that merges old-world charm with contemporary design,” says Gordon. “We harnessed our efforts to repurpose as much as possible from the historic mansions,” he adds, noting that the original wooden floors were discovered “under the dusty old carpets.”
Accessible via hidden entrance, the property’s subterranean former restaurant, located in the nearby Biddle Mansion, has been transformed into Cellar 49, a classic bar, dining, and lounge space with the feel of a bootlegger’s speakeasy. Guests entering the stone mansion through the Biddle lobby can climb the original wrought-iron stairway to rooms and meeting spaces that have been refinished in a soothing tonal gray with neutral fabric and paint choices. In the smaller conference rooms, walls are lined with custom toile wallpaper—look closely and you’ll notice that it pictures skateboards and wine glasses—and gilded antique mirrors and the original fireplaces. The Biddle Mansion includes nine conference rooms and event spaces in total, including the famed Mary Duke Ballroom.
The estate’s original carriage house, a short walking distance from Biddle Mansion, now features several meeting rooms and pre-function spaces, some of which are wrapped in humorous paint-by-numbers horse wallpaper, another cheeky design choice by Knibb.
In the spirit of modernization, state-of-the-art athletic facilities have now been added, including a fitness center, indoor pool, outdoor pool, tennis, and sports courts. The cumulative effect is one of merging the old with the new, east with west, luxury with accessibility—bringing this elegant, historic design gem into the 21st century.
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