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For Blantyre's new owners, preservation of 'American Downton Abbey' is a top priority

Blantyre dining room

The new owners of the Blantyre mansion in Lenox hope to restore the 120-year-old Gilded Age mansion to its opulence as a world-class destination. 

LENOX — The new owners of the Gilded Age Blantyre mansion plan to emphasize historic preservation and revitalization of the luxury hotel before it reopens next September.

While the acquisition team of designer and co-developer Ken Fulk and historic property redeveloper Clark Lyda are not abandoning former owner Linda Law’s commitment to spend up to $90 million, “We aren’t the typical developers coming in,” Fulk stressed. “The investment in the property and the community will certainly be at the level of what was proposed. We’re prepared to invest that sort of money; we just want to do it in a very sensitive manner.”

In a Zoom interview from his seasonal home in Provincetown, Fulk said, “We paid a premium [$15 million] for the property because these ‘entitlements’ came with it, and we’re very grateful to the community for supporting them.”

He was referring to the Lenox zoning board’s special permits approved in July 2020 allowing for an additional hotel building with 45 additional rooms added to the 24 existing suites at the site, as well as construction of 20 residential townhouses and development of 14 estate building lots on the 110-acre site.

“Certainly, we’re prepared to make a substantial investment in Blantyre,” Fulk acknowledged. “Part of the decision to do this was that those things could happen. When and if we undertake them, we will do it in the most sensitive manner, so if we are investing that sort of money in Blantyre, we will make sure that anything we do elevates the experience at the property and doesn’t distract from it. Part of the beauty there is the vistas, the rolling lawn, the experience as if you’re in another era. If there’s a change, we will be sensitive that it adds to it and doesn’t in any way alter the essence of what first drew us there.”

For now, the priority is restoring the 120-year-old Tudor-style mansion to its opulence as a world-class destination, said Fulk, who received the California Preservation Award last year for rehabilitating a National Landmark church in San Francisco. He also designed the renovation of the 1888 Algonquin Club, a historic property in Boston’s Back Bay now known as the ‘Quin Club.

“We’re not at Blantyre to maximize dollars; we’re there to maximize the experience,” Fulk said. “Yes, there may be housing, yes, there may be additional [rooms] per the entitlement, but the goal isn’t simply to maximize profits. Yes, it’s a business; we want it to make money so it’s sustainable, and we will invest that level of money in Blantyre, but we will do it in a manner that happens on its own time frame and that is more about getting it right. We don’t want to add keys just to add keys, we don’t want to add houses just to add houses. The houses will gently fit into the environment, making them all the more special.”

Fulk, a San Francisco resident for half the year, outlined his and Lyda’s plans in response to The Eagle’s questions. Highlights follow, lightly edited for length:

Q: How did you and Clark team up to consider acquiring Blantyre?

A: Clark had written many years ago to the then-owners of Blantyre expressing interest, but that went unanswered. We reengaged, sent another letter in the middle of the pandemic, expressing our appreciation and love of the place and wondered if there was interest in putting it up for sale.

Q: Had you and Clark visited Blantyre in the past?

Ken Fulk in front of bookshelf

Ken Fulk, co-owner of Blantyre, is shown at the home of journalist and social justice activist Mary Heaton Vorse in Provincetown, which he purchased from her grandchildren. He repurposed the 1780 home as the nonprofit Provincetown Arts Society.

A: We did, and jokingly called it an “American Downton Abbey” because it’s one of the few that feels untouched. The property is relatively intact, the Manor House is intact, and it felt like it could be in need of some tender loving care, some investment, and it was a tough time for people to own hotels.

I visited Blantyre in 2020, toured around Lenox. I grew up in an historic area of Virginia, and I’m drawn to old buildings and feel very much obligated to be good stewards to them. Coming out to the Berkshires, you see so many wonderful places, but you also see ones that didn’t survive or were overly commercialized.

There’s no grand agenda [at Blantyre]; we’re fortunate enough to have the capital at our disposal to make it the finest property of its type in the country. It’s that simple. (When asked if former owner Law was involved, Fulk confirmed that while she does not have an ownership stake, she is cheering from the sidelines.)

Q: What are your priorities for the renovation during the next 10 months?

A: There are a lot of things that were not done to the house, but to me, it wants to feel like a grand house from the turn of the 20th century, but it currently doesn’t always feel like that aesthetically in some of the spaces.

Waterproofing the house, that’s an issue, so the house is healthy and ready for the next 120 years. The real goal is to upgrade the experience. We’re not looking to build a typical, traditional hotel with all the hotel trappings; we want you to feel like you’re coming to someone’s wonderful house.

That’s the real lure of Blantyre. We want to deliver the best service we possibly can at the highest level, and take good care of people, redefining what hospitality means, genuine, authentic and gracious.

Q: Can you describe some of the plans?

A: It will have beautiful bathrooms that are of the period, wonderful antiques, extraordinary fabrics. A much more apt description of what we hope to do is akin to a grand historic house in England or a chateau in France. We’ll build upon health and wellness and the culinary component with [French chef] Daniel Boulud.

Q: Describe your approach to former owner Linda Law’s expansion plan.

A: I wouldn’t say it’s off the table. Having raised this much money, we don’t want to lose entitlements; that’s part of the reason for doing this, so we hope everyone remains excited and wants to support us in that. We don’t want to go back to the drawing board, but we don’t want to slap something together. We want to perhaps pursue it in a kinder, gentler fashion.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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