Restoration effort aims to give new life to Seven Hills ahead of tourism season

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This story has been corrected to reflect the properties owned by Scout Hotel & Resort Management. Information supplied to The Eagle was in error.

LENOX — One of the town's oldest estates with a storied history of hosting visitors, including celebrity musicians, is undergoing a major makeover in time for the busy tourism and wedding season.

Seven Hills, originally a 1740s farmhouse expanded into a Gilded Age mansion in 1885 and a hotel in 1951, is aiming to complete a $2.2 million, top-to-bottom restoration, renovation and redesign early next month, said general manager Jamie Wolfe of Falmouth-based Scout Hotel & Resort Management, which was hired by the new owners, The Wardman Group.

Scout's portfolio includes Chatham Tides on Cape Cod, Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Va., and Ocean Gate Resort in Southport, Maine.

Wardman acquired the 27-acre property last June from owners Denis and Robin Wong last June for $4 million — $2.5 million for the real estate, including 57 guest rooms in the 18,000-square-foot mansion and two other buildings, plus $1.5 million for furniture, fixtures, equipment, hotel inventory, deposits and booking contracts.

The boutique hotel has remained open with a limited number of rooms since the renovation project started last fall.

The goal was to modernize the inn, convert it into year-round operation for the first time, but preserve its legacy and scenic setting for loyal guests who return each summer, Wolfe said. He came aboard last October after wide-ranging experience in the hospitality industry.

"We want to keep the charm of the house but bring it up to the needs of today's guests," Wolfe said. Most of the 37 rooms in the motel-style Terrace Building have been redone after many years out of service. The original Manor House has 14 guest rooms, a ballroom, music room and parlor, while the Carriage House has six additional bedrooms.

"We think the last major renovation was done in the late 1980s, and in buildings like this, you never know what you're going to run into," Wolfe stated. "But it was pretty much what we would expect, since it had been a seasonal business."

New furnishings, windows and other refurbishing details are near completion.

Starting next month, Seven Hills, on Plunkett Street adjacent to The Mount, will operate year-round with a mostly full-time staff of six to 15, depending on the season.

Renovations to attract returning guests and newcomers to the Berkshires include updated exteriors and landscaping, high-speed Wi-Fi, an enhanced swimming pool area, new furnishings and textiles, new guest bathrooms and fully renovated public spaces. Small meetings, corporate retreats and social events can be hosted in two redesigned meeting rooms and in the ballroom, with a total 5,000 square feet available.

"You can get the grandeur of a Cranwell or a Canyon Ranch wedding here for less money," Wolfe asserted. "Our service is probably more personalized and because we're not so big or corporate, we can be very flexible in what we do. We can create a more intimate environment, and if something's not working, we can change on a dime. We can be more creative in how we book things."

Weddings loom large in the business plan for the new owners and management — with 165 guests who can fill the ballroom, the inn's marketing material promises that "we host weddings up to 165, petite, elopements and same-sex marriages at Seven Hills."

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"It's huge; our goal is to book weddings every weekend from May to October and then off-season," Wolfe said. But many weddings don't book the entire inn, so reservations for guest rooms remain available, except for the Fourth of July holiday period, which is sold out.

Given the need to sell rooms and gain revenue, Wolfe acknowledged, "we have to make it all co-exist. We're in a beautiful setting, and guests leave during the day for activities, so it co-exists really well."

Off-season, he said, "we're trying to find the sweet spot in the winter so we have enough money to pay bills. However, we are realists so our goal is to grow our November and December business, because we know January and February are going to be soft months, followed by a pickup in March. It will take a couple of seasons to figure it out."

Over the next several years, Wolfe said, the aim is to rebuild the business in order to hit or exceed the Berkshire County hospitality industry average of close to 50 percent occupancy year-round, based on Smith Travel Research data.

"A lot of people don't know yet that we're a year-round business," he said. "And people are now booking much closer to their arrival date than in the past, except for long-term regulars."

Rates are currently promotional — "we want people to come back and see what we've become," he said — but the 15 percent discount on bookings for the next few months expires at the end of March. Regular posted rates range from $129 per night for an April weekend to $329 nightly on weekends in July and August.

"Many former guests are coming back," said front desk manager Barbara Darrin, who started at the inn nearly six years ago. Bookings are surging, especially in June and July, she said.

In 1885, about 140 years after the original small farmhouse was built on the Plunkett Street site, new owner Robert Chapin expanded the property into Norwood, an early Berkshire "Cottage." Blueblood Bostonian Emily Read Spencer purchased it in 1911, doubled the size, renamed it Shipton Court, and her prize pet piglet Rosie roamed the parlor, greeting guests.

After Spencer's death in 1940, the property declined and remained vacant for 11 years, until Lawrence and Sophie Howitt bought it and reopened it as the Seven Hills Inn, catering to celebrity musicians and Tanglewood guests. But the initials ES remain carved above the current inn's entrance.

Under its new ownership and management, Seven Hills has added breakfast service for guests at a slight extra charge, and bar-menu snacks, appetizers and drinks will be available in the evening. A new liquor license is pending in Boston following approval by the Lenox Select Board.

"We're not going to be a crazy bar," Wolfe said. "Locals can come in and have a cocktail on the terrace or in the parlor."

"We're excited to show off Seven Hills," he said. "It's a landmark; it's been a labor of love for all of us involved in bringing it back."

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

This story has been modified to clarify that the renovated hotel will be known as Seven Hills, and to remove the parent company's affiliation with a Nantucket hotel.


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