Sitting prettily above it all in a Brattleboro loft

by Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Correspondent
The Boston Globe, November 25, 2007
(Reprinted in the Philadelphia Enquirer, January 7, 2008)

BRATTLEBORO - I was certain we had the wrong address.

It was nearly midnight when we pulled up in front of 103 Main St., a historic building in the center of this southern Vermont city's artsy downtown. A bike store bracketed one side of the entrance, a sporting goods retailer the other. An old-fashioned barber shop and printing museum occupied the second floor. The address on the façade matched the address for the Artist's Loft Bed and Breakfast and Gallery, but where was the B&B?

Its website promised a "sweeping panorama of Wantastiquet Mountain and the unspoiled Connecticut River," yet we were parked in the heart of Brattleboro's main business distract. Puzzled, we headed inside, climbing two flights to the third floor. There, we were greeted by a young woman who ushered us into to a spacious private apartment.

This was the Artist's Loft, which described itself as what "may be the most exclusive bed and breakfast in New England." The reason for this lofty claim? The Artist's Loft caters to one set of guests at a time, meaning that we had exclusive access to the place for the duration of our stay.

It took a few minutes to absorb our surroundings. The high-ceilinged apartment has only two rooms - a large bedroom and a giant common area with a sit-down table and makeshift kitchenette. But it's visually stunning. Exploding with color, the sweeping space is packed with books, furniture, art, and curios from around the world.

There are weavings from Peru, a flute from Bali, a copper prayer wheel from Nepal, puppets from Czech Republic, feathered barrettes from Brazil, a peace pipe from Montana. A Moroccan couch, which doubles as a second bed, was piled with rainbow-hued pillows. Everywhere we looked, something else caught our eyes: a lamp made from a silver clarinet, a turtle nightlight, rocking chairs crafted from tree branches, a penguin cookie jar, a dragonfly door knocker, towel hooks designed to look like the mouths of fish, Russian nesting dolls.

On a towering bookshelf were hundreds of books, from "The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway" to "A History of Christianity" to "Good Girls Don't Eat Dessert: Women's Conflicts About Eating and Sexuality." And when morning came, we would see that stunning view. The apartment's huge rear windows overlook the lovely Connecticut River, where kayakers glide and fishermen cast their lines.

Owned for 11 years by painter William Hays and his wife, Patricia Long, who live in an adjacent apartment, the B&B is a reflection of their global travels. "For two people who don't really consider themselves to be terribly materialistic, we love things," said Hays, who has an art gallery on the building's third floor. "We love things that are beautiful and expressive of the creativity of human beings around the planet."

The B&B's location is ideal. Housed in an 1861 Italianate Revival building, it's within walking distance of more than a dozen restaurants and cafes and a mish-mash of art galleries, booksellers, antiques stores, museums, movie theaters, and boutique shops. It has free wireless Internet access, air conditioning, cable television, and about 200 videos.

Simple kitchen facilities include a tiny refrigerator, toaster, microwave, coffee pot, and assorted plateware. Continental breakfast - ours was orange juice, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew, croissants, blueberry scones, jam, Vermont cheddar, and dollop of brie - is an extra $20.

A few quibbles: The bathroom's location is imperfect - it's separated from the adjacent apartment by a curtain. [This is no longer the case. The bathroom has been renovated to be completely private and en suite. Take a look at the new layout.] We wish we had been told in advance about the no credit card policy, which forced us to withdraw cash from an out-of-network ATM. [We now accept credit cards.] And be warned: Tracks run behind the building, and those train engineers sometimes blast their horns in the middle of the night.

But our weekend at the Artist's Loft was one of the most peaceful, restful, and enjoyable getaways we've had in a long time. The apartment's colorful, creative décor is a delight; its book collection is fabulous; and the spaces very private.

By the way, that little sign near the bathroom floor that reads "Lillian's Lair"? That's in memory of Hays and Long's late Springer Spaniel, who loved nothing more than to curl up in front of the loo for a nap.

What We Liked Most:
The prime downtown location, beautiful river view, and mesmerizing collection of art and books.

What We Liked Least:
The no-credit card policy and the bathroom's awkward location.
[We were paying attention to these two criticisms. The bathroom is now entirely private and en suite. As for credit cards, we will take them but prefer not to.]

What Surprised Us:
The deafening train whistle in the dead of night

"You Know You're At The Artist's Loft When…
you're nestled in a rocking chair made of tree branches, reading "Quantum Healing" and watching kayakers paddle by.

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