This Lewisburg B&B allows visitors the rare opportunity to stay in a Carleton Varney-decorated home.
In recent years, historic Lewisburg has added an assemblage of boutique inns and bed and breakfasts to its already alluring collection of restaurants, galleries, and special events. The overnight accommodations available here are as charming and unique as everything else in this little arts enclave. Case in point: Maison Marcel.
Less than a mile from downtown, the gracious estate sits comfortably back from the road, its six anterior columns visible above a shroud of mature boxwoods. This is the Maison Marcel manor, owned and operated by Debbie Porter and Arthur Forgette.
If those names ring a bell, it may be because The French Goat, the couple’s downtown Lewisburg bistro serving classic French fare, is a destination unto itself. In fact, each reservation also comes with a generous dining credit for The French Goat.
In 2016, Porter and Forgette began casually looking for the perfect property to turn into a B&B. A year later, they had found the perfect spot atop Caldwell Hill on the east end of town. They were enthralled by the impeccable estate, adjacent cottage, and surrounding acreage. They called the seller and humbly submitted a bid.
“We said, ‘Listen. We’re not insulting you. Here’s a number. If you ever want to sell it, that’s all we can do. It’s our top number,’” Porter says. “Two days later, he’s like, ‘Okay.’”
The clapboard house was originally built in 1920 for John North Caldwell, but the home’s modern history took a unique turn nearly 75 years later when the Summers family purchased it. In the mid-1990s, the house was taken down to the studs and rebuilt—at which point renowned interior designer Carleton Varney was brought in to dress the rooms to the nines. And that’s just what he did.
Varney is the protégé of Dorothy Draper, the acclaimed interior designer called upon to revamp The Greenbrier Resort after World War II. “The only man that can outspend an unlimited budget,” Forgette says. That Varney, considered one of America’s greatest living interior designers, decorated a private home in Lewisburg from rooftop to floors is extraordinary. That Debbie and Arthur have made the home available to guests is downright lucky.
Even luckier, the new proprietors were able to have the manor available for reservations within two short months of purchase because of their commitment to leaving much of Varney’s handiwork intact, while still adding their own flair for fine art and antique pieces.
A black lacquer stair railing is crowned with crystal globes. The stairs and sitting rooms are covered in lush, hand-loomed, 100-percent wool rugs in daring shades of gold, red, and blue. “If I had to live here full-time it might be a lot for me, but for the experience—it’s amazing,” Porter says. “I think if this isn’t even your jam, it’s a cozy place to spend the night.”
Each room features a fireplace, but the most noteworthy decor is found in the front den: the entire Summers family tree is commemorated on hand-painted tiles by French pottery manufacturer Henriot Quimper. “It’s just crazy, the detail,” Forgette says.
The dining room alone is a marvel of preservation. The furniture dates to the 1800s. But even more intriguing is the elegant floral wallpaper found here. It is original to the home—rare in a century-old structure. The paper was in disrepair 25 years ago when Varney came on the scene, but he so loved the design that he commissioned an artist to copy the pattern over damaged portions. Varney finished the room with Draper’s trademark blue-sky ceiling.
Guests can choose between two impeccably appointed rooms: The Caldwell or The Greenbrier. A third room, The Summers, is available when guests book the entire manor. The bathrooms have been updated with luxurious marble and ultramodern showers while still maintaining Varney’s distinctive fingerprint.
Breakfasts in the light-drenched sunroom include a petit dejeuner of fresh-baked croissants, yogurt, granola, and the like. Not all the manor’s magic is found indoors, though. No stay at Maison Marcel is complete without an evening glass of wine in the gazebo.
written by Sarah Elkins
photographed by Nikki Bowman