Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer on a Different Kind of Farm

A few weeks ago, we spent a very pleasant weekend at Shelburne Farms and Shelburne House outside of Burlington, VT.  It was still early in the season, so the population was low at the Inn.  If you go early you can enjoy dinner anywhere you'd like, delivered to your indoor table, outdoor table, brick wall, or patch of grass.  The food is hyper-local and the excellent chefs are part mad scientist, part architect, and part balloon sculptor.
The approach's first glance
The house looms in the distance
Impressive in scale
Two more curves until the entrance
Recent Vermont flooding has changed the shoreline

A game of badminton, iced tea, and my son's toy aircraft
We did play badminton.  I found a brand new set for $19, and when the lawns were all occupied with weddings, we went to the yet-unopened tennis court and thwacked the shuttlecock around... yes, you read that right.  Look it up.

Outdoor seating next to the formal dining room

Lake Champlain.  Across the water is New York
Sunset over New York State
 The following day, a trip down to the property's farm.

The immense barn's south interior face
The north interior face

Center facility connected to the west

Stables and pens
Chatty hens eradicate the caterpillars
The cock of the walk
The house tells an interesting story about sustainability.  It was simply too big to keep going, and like so many families, fell victim to opulence and top-heavy operating requirements.  For the same reason that most of the old great houses of past industrialists and barons are now deeded to historical trusts (Asheville and Newport being the obvious examples), an obsession with creating showy ostentatious holdings is the fastest method to ensuring that your offspring will be hosting large sell-a-thons.  Can you blame them?  Living in a 30,000 square foot house which requires a staff of 30 (not to mention the grounds) might be fun for the first season, but would grind a bit once most of the interesting guests left.  The others who show up are professional hangers-on who want to live like royalty and either abuse or buddy-up to the staff, sleeping late every day and snubbing out cigarettes in jade orchid pots in the windows.  After the 18-40 year old Euro-mooches, coffee-house hippies, Middle-Eastern cologne dousers, and American drop-outs finally leave several months later (will you miss their sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts on Auntie Laine's ancient velvet couch?) you confront the fact that you have spent the past winter existing in a total of five rooms.  The white and blue electrical cords of  modern devices insult the architecture and befoul the threadbare Turkmen rugs, and you decide that selling the entire thing to the town/city/state is the only remaining option.

Dinner will see the occasional blazer or jacket and tie.

Dress during dinner is hit or miss... a few jackets, several legible undershirts, and everything in between.  Breakfast will see sweatpants and tank-tops as well as a few jackets, with the usual American white socks and athletic shoes.  Focus on your dinner companions instead.

Oysters and Lemon wedges... gift from Mrs.
I took my Martini out onto the lakefront lawn, and as I passed a young gentleman who was just absorbing the interior of the main entry.  He told the woman on his arm the following (this is a direct quote):

"This is just the place that I would expect to see Chris Cox from that blog I showed you."

I considered doubling back to chat with him, but young Jr. was pulling my sleeve toward the lawn.


  1. I have always admired Shelburne Farms for its fierce dedication to local food and sustainability, all the while maintaining a sense of gentility. Great pictures.

  2. Badminton is big in our neck of the woods. We even have a badminton club and open badminton nights at the local Y.

    This looks gorgeous. My husband gets up that way quite a bit, maybe next time, I'll join him.

  3. Oh, what a wonderful place! Never been to Vermont, but would love to visit that area, especially during mid-to-late summer when the air is as thick as molasses in the South. The idea of sipping a martini on that lawn overlooking the lake sounds like heaven. :)

  4. MF: The entire enterprise is the best possible outcome for a place in its position. Unlike so many has-beens, this place somehow has endless charm.

    Patsy: Have you been to the club here in Boston? Cut-throat!

    JMW: When the breeze is from the north, the property is cooled with lake air. When the breeze comes from the south, you can smell the cows (Brown Swiss)... not a bad thing, either.


Let's keep it clean... but if you DO have to get foul, at least give it a bit of wit. Also, advertising disguised as comments will be deleted, unless it is clever.