In Barnard—a small, pastoral town in central Vermont—as well as the towns that immediately surround it, Twin Farms is a legend and a mystery. Last year, Twin Farms was voted by Zagat as the number-one best small hotel in the United States and, for the past 15 years, by Forbes (formerly Mobil) as the only five-star hotel in Vermont. Living less than 15 miles from the historic farms that had been beautifully transformed into a luxury hotel defying categorization, I knew of its existence, had known of very few people who had stayed there, and never imagined I would ever see the fabled place. As with many guests, my first stay at Twin Farms coordinated with a special personal event: a wedding anniversary. Passing through its renowned gate on a quiet country road, we, like all guests, expected much. The opportunity to experience the mythic place was ours, and having soon been touched by the quiet, elegant authenticity of all Twin Farms has to offer, the revelation of its mystery began to unfold and, by our immediately letting go of all expectations, expanded larger than we had anticipated. To stay at Twin Farms is an opportunity to let go, absorb its many treasures, be inspired, and respond to the unique pleasures that one can only find in Vermont and in the way that only Twin Farms offers it.
Adhering to our mission in Pastoral to present the work of individuals, organizations, and businesses who are contributing positively to Vermont, its residents, and its visitors, we wished to present one of the state’s most exceptional experiences. Twin Farms provides guests with incomparable opportunities: to stay in exceptionally designed cottages and suites, each installed with artwork from major modern artists; savor food made from the finest fresh, local ingredients provided by some of Vermont’s outstanding food sources; taste exceptional wines from an extensive wine cellar; and experience the natural beauty and outdoor recreation that are synonymous with Vermont.
Guests at Twin Farms, which is flawlessly managed by Michael Beardsley, have the benefit of experiencing the highest quality of all they come in contact with during their visit. The comfort and ease with which Twin Farms imparts its thoughtful offerings ultimately encourages well-being. Twin Farms’ effect is significant to more than just those who choose to stay there—its impact on the awareness of Vermont as a special, unspoiled place and its contributions to a local community as a result of visitors traveling to Barnard and its environs is considerable.
Once a country residence for Nobel Prize–winning writer Sinclair Lewis and journalist Dorothy Thompson, Twin Farms—named for the identical farmhouses on the property—was legendary for the sophisticated entertaining the couple enjoyed lavishing on their numerous and notable guests. Years later, the property was purchased by Thurston Twigg-Smith as a second home for his family. In 1993 Twigg-Smith expanded Twin Farms to become a romantic country getaway, a sophisticated escape steeped in history and charm that many returning guests have affectionately adopted as their own second home.
The famous modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley, who, at the end of his life, practiced landscape design from Vermont, planned most of the gardens and grounds at Twin Farms. The effect he created is an uncomplicated natural landscape that is overlaid with the order and practicality indicative of a refined country estate and consists of buildings, pleasure and working gardens, natural places, and recreational areas. The landscape is an unexpected mix of conscious design and natural evolution. Rather than create formal gardens, which one might associate with high-end country resorts, Kiley designed the gardens and grounds to be informal, to allow the natural order of the seasons and the evolution of nature to prevail. Paths are cut and maintained throughout the property, allowing walkers and hikers easy access to view hundreds of acres of hills, meadows, and woodlands, and the wildlife that inhabit them.
Twin Farms offers guests a chance to step away from the familiar and to experience the dream of a sophisticated country life. Guests can choose to stay in suites located in the Main House, Lodge, or Farmhouse or in one of ten private cottages with names such as Log Cabin, Woods, Orchard, or Meadow that are located out of sight of one another on the property. “Cottage” is a bit of a misnomer; these freestanding buildings are much larger than the word conveys. The cottages, designed by architects Alan Wanzenberg or Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, bear a resemblance to a variety of American or, more specifically, early New England domestic architecture. But what all suites and cottages have in common are distinctive, exceptional interior designs. Most of the interiors of the cottages and Main House rooms and suites were designed by Jed Johnson, long known as one of the leading interior designers in the world. After Johnson’s death in 1996, another leader in interior design, Thad Hayes, created the interiors for three cottages, including the Aviary, a modern, glass-walled, two-story building tucked tight amongst thickly clustered trees.
As comfortable as they are inspiring, each interior design is a blend of informality, elegance, and whimsy. Fine art, folk art, and objects from around the world are integrated thematically in each interior. Entering the Woods is like stepping into a refined Tuscan country house. The Barn captures the serenity and understated elegance of traditional Swedish interiors. The Meadow, with its painted, vaulted ceiling and objects and furnishings reminiscent of a decorative Moroccan tent, is perhaps one of the more dramatic and surprising interiors to be found anywhere in Vermont. Entering the rustic Log Cabin is like entering a past century, yet it is so luxurious, who would wish to leave? The Studio, spacious and contemporary, with an atmosphere imagined of an artist’s studio, showcases original artwork by Frank Stella, Jim Dine, and David Hockney.
Partnerships with Vermont food producers and craftsmen are prevalent at Twin Farms. Foraged food is often supplied to the kitchen by Nova Kim and Les Hook of Albany, Vermont (see Pastoral 4), furniture on the outdoor terrace of the Main House was designed and made by Bridgewater’s Charles Shackleton Furniture (see Pastoral 6), jigsaw puzzles by Norwich’s Stave Puzzles are available in the Game Room and in every guest accommodation, and wine and drinks are served in glass by Windsor and Quechee’s Simon Pearce (see Pastoral 9). These important partnerships exhibit the very best of what is found or made in Vermont.
Twin Farms is unique among resorts in Vermont, and perhaps in the entire United States. It is set apart from others because of the vision of its founder, Thurston Twigg-Smith, and interior designer, Jed Johnson. Twigg-Smith desired to create a place that incorporated all his personal prerequisites for the experiences and amenities important to staying at the ideal luxury small hotel. Well traveled and acquainted with the best resorts and the finest hotels in the world, he brought his experiences and taste to the creation of Twin Farms in Barnard. Twigg-Smith considered the creation of Twin Farms a hobby, a place of dreams, not a business. The distinction is significant. He gave virtual free rein to Johnson for the interiors. Johnson’s release from the usual design and budgetary constraints commonly encountered in his field allowed him to create some of his most imaginative interiors, which incorporate whimsical themes in strikingly beautiful and commodious spaces. Whatever Johnson needed, Twigg-Smith supported. The results of this rare kind of creative process are what guests discover and indulge in upon visiting Twin Farms today.
Twin Farms provides opportunities for well-being on a number of levels through active and passive pursuits, from seasonal outdoor sports to immersion in a furo, a very warm pool of water in which to practice a Japanese-style ritual of bathing designed for relaxation. The furo at Twin Farms is housed in a wonderful building of wood and glass that encloses the sunken bathing pool and the steam that constantly lingers in the air. All of the suites and cottages have luxurious bathtubs, and several of the cottages have spectacular hot tubs in private outdoor spaces for relaxing in the cool air. Exercise and spa facilities provide additional opportunities for staying fit and feeling good.
Guests at Twin Farms have access to in-season sports such as walking and hiking, fly-fishing, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing (Twin Farms has its own ski hill with several trails), and many more. The activities, of course, provide guests with an opportunity to exercise and to breathe the clean, fresh mountain air. Each day, the contrasts between vigorous exercise and contented relaxation, or immersion in hot water and cooling off in the open air, are punctuated by three delicious meals made from the choicest local ingredients. Throughout the day, these endeavors—no matter how ambitious or peaceful—combine to build health and well-being.
One of the most engaging surprises is to discover the amazing collection of art formed by the Twigg-Smiths. The list of prominent twentieth-century artists whose work is beautifully installed in the rooms of the Main House, Pub, suites, and cottages is truly impressive: Milton Avery, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, Berenice Abbott, Sean Scully, Cy Twombly, Nam Jun Paik, Donald Sultan, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Frank Stella, Jim Dine, and Deborah Butterfield—to name a handful. Folk art and artwork by unknown eighteenth- or nineteenth-century artists are also exhibited to their best advantage. Art books are easily in reach everywhere. And remarkable collections of utilitarian pottery and decorative ceramics are carefully integrated into the overall design of the rooms.
It is the sensitive, often whimsical integration of artwork, objects, and furnishings that create an impressive visual and mindful experience. The exceptional private collection of modern art, folk art, and decorative arts is highly accessible because of its comfortable presentation, which feels more like a view of a good friend’s passion in his familiar, beloved home. Twin Farms is an art-lover’s paradise. It is extraordinary that such a significant assemblage of artwork exists in Vermont. If it were not a private collection, Twin Farms could well be considered Vermont’s contemporary and folk art museum.
Beginning each evening at seven o’clock, drinks and hors d’oeuvres are served in the Main House. Promptly at eight o’clock, in a custom unique to Twin Farms, guests are invited to be seated in the main dining room. Blazing fireplaces are situated at each end of the vaulted-ceiling, candlelit room, and each couple or party is ushered to their table. Over the next few hours, a five-course meal is unhurriedly served, each accompanied by a wine that is paired specifically to complement it. The atmosphere is relaxed and warm, the courses perfectly proportioned. The tastes that the chefs and wine steward create for each course are sublime, and each presentation is a truly elegant arrangement.
Observing the other side of dining—that is, where the meals are prepared and who prepares them—provides insight into why the food at Twin Farms is exceptional. Trained at the New England Culinary Institute, in Montpelier, Vermont, executive chef Ted Ask plans menus based on ingredients that are available that season on that very day, and absolutely everything is cooked from scratch. The majority of suppliers to Twin Farms are among the best food producers in Vermont; a significant portion of ingredients comes from Fable Farm just down the road, and many ingredients are grown and picked fresh from a garden one hundred yards from the resort’s kitchen. Ask, who has been cooking at Twin Farms for twelve years, accommodated me one evening as I, from a few corners of the kitchen, photographed the process of cooking and plating dinners for eight couples.
At first I found the kitchen to be quiet, but the chefs were preparing to begin the meal, straightening pots and pans, and making sure all surfaces were pristine. Wine manager Eric Reichenbach organized wine glasses and bottles. Selecting the best choices from a 26,000-bottle wine cellar, Reichenbach responds to the menus in pairing appropriate wines for each course. I watched him decant some impressive bottles of California cabernet sauvignon, timed to breathe for two and a half hours before being served with roasted strip loin beef with summer corn purée, the main course that evening. Chef Ask set to work cutting fresh herbs and assembling canapés—pepperoni with beet relish—while chef tournant Narin Phanthakhot made garden vegetable fritters with aioli. These beautiful offerings were plated and brought to guests with their drinks.
I was expecting a lot of activity, heat, commotion, and tension, but the kitchen was very calm. At precisely eight o’clock, as the guests were invited into the dining room to be seated, the sequence of steps among this highly dexterous staff commenced. The chefs began to prepare fresh produce, the sound of sharp knives could be heard cutting crisp vegetables, a few pans were placed on the stove, and the scent of stock and herbs could be smelled in the air. And the activity accelerated. The kitchen quickly became filled with beautiful aromas from the scallops that had been smoked, freshly diced scallions and cucumbers, simmering wild mushrooms, and sautéed baby spinach. The passionate concentration with which the chefs worked, and the skill in the way they moved, soon shifted, and their attention was turned to arranging the first course on plates. Reichenbach uncorked champagne to accompany it. Ask and Phanthakhot meticulously arranged each plate with the results of their cooking, while two servers watched patiently and attentively on the opposite side of the plating counter. As the arrangements on the plates were completed, the servers gently took them and disappeared into the dining room. The kitchen was then cleaned and prepared for the next course.
Freshness is critical to Chef Ask’s cuisine, and he is uncompromising in his selection of ingredients. “We live in the best place in the entire country when it comes to growing and finding great local food. We try to time everything so that the ingredients for each course have been picked, cleaned, prepared, and cooked right before we serve it.” From partnerships developed between Twin Farms and Vermont’s best independent sources for ingredients, the meals created at Twin Farms highlight the connectivity between many contemporary artisans intent on providing unmatched dining experiences to those who appreciate the value of fine, healthy, great-tasting food.
At the end of the evening, a server returning from the dining room called out to Chef Ask: “A gentleman who is here for a few days with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday asked me to pass on to you, Chef, that the meal tonight was the best he has tasted—in 80 years!”
Common among most active individuals is the desire and need for respite, to get away from work or responsibilities, and maybe even to indulge oneself. Twin Farms offers some of the finest experiences a guest can find, but more important to this luxurious place is the inclusiveness of the total experience in restoring personal well-being through a kaleidoscope of beautifully designed interior and outdoor spaces; inspiring contemporary, folk, utilitarian, and decorative art; clean air and the vitality that comes from outdoor exercise and relaxation; and exquisite food and wine.
—Glenn Suokko, 2010