After over 10 years of working with BedandBreakfast.com, our beloved colleague Janice Hurley left our office in Austin to move to Waitsfield, Vermont and be the Director of Operations at The Inn at Round Barn Farm. This BedandBreakfast.com Diamond Collection inn is already highly rated, but Janice has nothing but amazing things to say about her experience there. We wanted to learn more about the luxurious B&B and its unusual history, so we interviewed AnneMarie Defreest, the owner and innkeeper. We hope you enjoy learning about her unique B&B as much as we did!
Emily Gerson: AnneMarie, when did you open your inn?
Anne Marie DeFreest: We bought it in 1986 and opened in 1987. We’ve been doing it for over 25 years.
EG: You’ve been doing this for a long time! What do you like about your job?
AD: What I love about my job is that there are good days and there are bad days, but there are never boring days.
EG: With that said, what is it like being an innkeeper?
AD: It’s one of the only careers where you can get a glimpse into peoples’ lives in a very short time, because with a great facility, most people that come there are arriving with an expectation that they’re going to be able to relax and have a good time. You are able to interact with people who are traveling with a certain kind of mindset that makes the days really pleasurable in terms of what we provide. Our particular inn has always functioned on a philosophy that we always try to deliver more than we promise, so to watch people come and be very pleasantly surprised because our marketing materials, whether websites or brochures, usually understates the property itself. That’s a very conscious decision on our part, so it’s nice to have people say, “Wow, it’s so much more amazing than I thought it would be!”
EG: I saw that your inn has amenities like in-room fireplaces, big tubs, and other luxurious features. What made you decide to have a luxurious B&B instead of something more standard?
AD: When we first opened, we only had six rooms. The largest rooms had single-person whirlpool bathrooms and king-sized beds. Back in 1986, to open an inn renovated to have private bathrooms was not the norm. We were the first one in the valley to offer private bathrooms for everyone, let alone whirlpool tubs. What we quickly learned in the first three years is that the largest, most luxurious rooms sold first.
As we expanded, we also expanded the amenity offerings, whether steam showers (which were one of the first inns to have), gas fireplaces, jetted tubs, really great bedding, or furnishings that were unique and not cookie-cutter. We were really giving people a lodging experience or getaway experience that was more unique in style and décor but also very fitting for the architected that we were working with, which was an 1810 farmhouse. We were very committed to restoring things as well as keeping what I’m going to call ‘a sense of place’ about the building.
EG: Can you explain what you mean by "a sense of place"?
AD: There are a lot of inns that you walk into, or buildings, and you can get a sense of place, like you know where you are. If you were to walk into an 1810 farmhouse and see more modern, what I’m going to say, completely contemporary look, is not in character in when the building was built. It’s about remaining true to the history of the building.
There are a lot of inns that were built from the ground up. What they’re doing is picking the type of architecture. So when you build, you build what style architecture and you fit into a landscape. But it’s different when you are preserving a piece of history; the B&B industry is the single largest industry that has done more for historic preservation than any single industry. In our particular case, our entire property is on the National Register for Historic Places, so we were very conscious of that. When we were restoring the farmhouse into a B&B, we made sure we didn’t lose the historical significance and sense of place that somebody feels when they walk in the door. They know they’re in a farmhouse built 200 years ago that’s 16,000 square feet, and you can imagine what the farms went through.
EG: Along the same lines, why do you prefer B&Bs over hotels?
AD: You should stay at B&B instead of a hotel because each B&B is a reflection of the innkeeper’s value system and personality. If that is something that interests you, then you should stay there. There are the obvious things, such as how B&Bs are a great value. You don’t get nickeled and dimed for WiFi and afternoon snacks and services. You have a person that is hosting you who has made a conscious decision that that’s what they want to be doing for their occupation. You’re getting the best local travel and restaurants tips. There’s a personal touch and insiders opinion.
Most inns are either run by the owner or very, very dedicated staff because it’s not an easy business, nor an easy career to do well. So the energy levels have a tendency to be more filled with joy and real genuine desire to help and serve the guests. In a hotel, a lot of times it’s hit or miss depending on how well the staff is trained and how they value the jobs. The inn has a more intimate atmosphere; you can’t get away that as much at a huge hotel.
EG: That’s a great way to put it. What made you choose this town and this particular property?
AD: I’m a second-generation innkeeper. My parents bought the farm, and I came to join them about three months before they opened. We chose that particular area because we vacationed up there for years because we ski. It’s home to Sugar Bush and Mad River Glen ski areas. Because of the winter activities, such as downhill and cross country skiing, and the culture available in that area, we chose Waitsfield.
It’s also one of the most sophisticated yet underdeveloped communities in Vermont, meaning there’s no fast food restaurants. The closest McDonald’s is 38 miles away! There are also no traffic lights in town. In fact, the definition of traffic is having to wait before you can drive through the one-lane covered bridge. It’s a very special unique community; it’s very agriculturally grounded. There are a lot of microfarms here--a lot of specialty food producers. It’s quintessential Vermont. When someone uses the word Vermont, most people conjure up their own image of what Vermont means, and Waitsfield is the epitome of Vermont.
EG: How did you and your parents get started once you bought the farm? Did they already have innkeeping experience?
AD: My parents had no experience in the innkeeping industry either, but they had a retail flower shop. It helps if you can understand what it takes to run a small business, which we did. We had a small family business that has grown—my brother is now one of the largest flower growers in the world. For this Valentine’s Day, he brought over 11 million roses; he was the second largest importer of flowers brought into the U.S.! He and I are both business owners. He followed the floral industry, and I got into the hospitality industry.
I believe my training growing up in a family business that was service-based, even for retail, was the best training I could have asked for. There are many people you can hire to help you, with décor, cooking, and marketing. But as an aspiring innkeeper, it helps to really understand the demands and rewards of owning and running a small business.
EG: You mentioned that the area has great skiing. What other local activities do you recommend to your guests?
AD: We’re just 15 minutes from the original Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. There are all kinds of food and microfarm experiences that you can take advantage of. We’re one of the largest microbrew hubs in Vermont, and you can go to different microbreweries and experience that. We have a lot of great food-related things and culture-related activities. For example, at our inn we sponsor an opera festival in the month of June. We host a three-week opera festival at the inn and in the community. That’s one of the things that drew Janice to our property--us supporting music. In July, that’s the month we celebrate the great outdoors. Our area was voted to have the most scenic marathon in the U.S., even over the Big Sur marathon. It’s hosted in our valley and runs right past our inn. July is all about the visual arts. There are over 350 different art activities, like exhibits or classes or lectures. There’s so much going on.
By Emily Starbuck Crone
Photo credit: Jumping Rocks