By Bob Deakin
Visitors coming back to Kent this summer will notice a new place to stay on Main Street, just north of all the shops and restaurants. Formerly the Chaucer House, the Starbuck Inn opened on Memorial Day with newly renovated space and a bit more to come. The owners, the Starbuck family are excited to provide another unique place to stay in town.
“What this business really boils down to is providing a good bed and providing a good breakfast and we don’t compromise on either one,” Mr. Starbuck said, simplifying the new venture. “It’s an interest Betsy and I have both had-of providing a place where people can come and be comfortable and visit with friends and family.”
They closed on the building in early March and have nearly completed the renovation of the building in just three months. All that remains to be built are two guestrooms above the garage and an innkeeper’s quarters below, bringing the total to seven. Trish Namm, of Kent, handled interior design duties.
Formerly the Chaucer House, it was run by Mike and Mary James for about five years. The previous owners, Alan and Brenda Hodgson, who hailed from Kent, England, named it after English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. Kent’s Albert Edwards, built the structure in 1948.
The Starbuck’s have taken a page from the Hodgsons’ tribute by naming each of the guestrooms after a noted poet. The idea gained further currency from Mr. and Mrs. Starbucks’ families, who each had great reverence for poetry. One chamber is named the Lord Tennyson room, in honor of the English poet.
“It’s for fun as well. If you’re staying in the Lord Tennyson room I don’t know whether he visits you in the night or not,” Mr. Starbuck joked. Other rooms are named for the English poet Emily Bronte, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, Carl Sandburg and Henry David Thoreau.
The rooms feature concentric walls, built with privacy in mind, and king or queen size beds with frette linens and towels. The building encompasses about 3,000 square feet and the addition should bring it to about 4,200.
Each room features private baths, cable TV and Internet connections, and a two-zone central air-conditioning system was recently installed along with new -electrical and plumbing systems.
Laurel Wolfe is manager of the inn, technically a bed and breakfast, and brings a host of talents along with her. She has been tending the gardens on the property for many years and ran the Chaucer House on weekends for the last couple years of its existence. She met Mr. Starbuck last fall when he was considering purchasing the property and he offered her the opportunity to manage his new business this spring.
“For me it’s all about comfort and hospitality,” she said. “The English have a great term called ‘running a house,’ whether it’s your own or something like this. You are running a house and you extend the same hospitality to these people that you would in your own home.”
She explained that her goal, as well as the owners’, is to be known as a destination for visitors to rest, eat well, and to feel as if, in a sense, they have come home.
“Some of us were lucky enough to have experienced that when we were kids – coming home and your mom making cookies or supper or whatever it may be, and that’s becoming a lost art,” Ms. Wolfe said. “As time goes by, especially this day in age, I think these things become more important.
The Starbucks will probably market the business to attract out-of-town visitors but a vacancy sign will be displayed should anyone need a place to stay on short notice.
Herb and flower gardens dot the property and Ms. Wolfe will plant an English walking garden next season. She uses the herbs in her culinary creations and decorates the interior with the flowers. Next year will see an expansion of the gardens to include tomatoes, squashes, lettuces and numerous berries. An outdoor patio for the guests overlooks the rear of the property.
For now, the Starbuck Inn will offer the traditional services of a B&B, but in the future, it may become a destination for weddings or small gatherings, given the expansive yard and multiple gardens in the rear.
Guests expecting a continental breakfast will be disappointed.
“I do an enormous breakfast and it’s different every day,” Mg. Wolfe said.
Local farm fresh eggs with chives from the garden, homemade, home fries with bacon and sausage, pancakes, pastries and yogurt and fruit parfaits might be on the menu on any given morning.
Borrowing from English bed and breakfast tradition, high tea is served at 4 in the afternoon. Legend has it that the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) complained of a lack of energy in the afternoons and instituted a “high tea,” featuring light fare such as cram-pets, scones, crust-less sandwiches and pates to keep her going’ until dinner. The emphasis was on conversation and presentation, a tradition Ms. Wolfe will continue with her array of cookies, breads, pastries or whatever is appropriate for the time of year, the guests or even the weather.
The Starbucks both have significant ties to the Kent School. Mrs. Starbuck is the chaplain at the school and he is an alumnus, as is his brother and father. The couple was recently married.
She is originally from Short Hills, N.J., and he was born in Rochester, N.Y. Mr. and Mrs. Starbuck have lived in various places throughout the country in recent years and now intend to make their home in Kent.
“I’m delighted that our lives went in this direction,” Mrs. Starbuck, who recently began a Doctor of Ministry program at Princeton University, said. She has been an Episcopal minister for 10 years and the chaplain at the school for the past two. Her time has been split between her duties at the Kent School, the work at Princeton and a medical mission team she formed five years ago that travels to Honduras.
The couple plans to include the community in the business as time progresses, particularly with displays by local artists.
Mr. Starbuck, who also owns Starbuck & Co., a real estate investment and project management company in town, considered making an offer on the business five years ago and finally decided to go ahead last year.
“I was taken by the land, the size of it, and the house and the potential, but the timing wasn’t right.” he said. “We’ve just been blown away by how the place looks, Laurel and everything, and it ties in with what I do for a living.”
In Season (May through Nov. 15) weekend rates are $175-$250 per night and $125-$210 midweek. Off-season weekends are $125-$210, and $100-$150.