Commanding what is surely one of the most breathtaking views of the storied James River is the Estate at Kingsmill. Stretched atop a gentle rise at the end of a winding wooded lane, the Estate is a luxe lifestyle destination set on a bluff along the shoreline of the secluded and understated Kingsmill Resort. Only open since October 2018, the Estate reimagines the Williamsburg experience as a uniquely rarefied old-meets-new encounter. Here, a refined aesthetic links arms with gracious, unstuffy hospitality to offer the ultimate bespoke getaway.
In late January, three close friends—Sharon Clohessy, Linda Francis and David Prescott—joined my fiancé, Bob Friesen, and me for 18 unforgettable hours of whatever-your-heart-desires indulgence. Crafted by Estate manager David Wandrey and his team, which includes his wife Lisa, our overnight escape transported us from our workaday worries from the moment we passed through the guardhouse. Just a few yards inside the gate, a family of deer leapt gracefully across our path before disappearing into the woods, marking the beginning of our enchanted retreat.
Our first glimpse of the 7,000 square foot Estate—stately indeed with its white painted brick and crisp black roof and trim—was accompanied by a quick intake of breath followed by a slow restorative exhale that lasted until our departure the next day. Built in the 1980s as a vacation home for the Busch family, (of Budweiser Beer and Busch Gardens fame), the mansion, known as the Pettus House, was acquired in 2017 by Escalante Golf, owners of Kingsmill Resort. Following a $3 million down-to-the-studs renovation—a partnership between Kingsmill Resort, Restoration Hardware and Guernsey Tingle Architects—what emerged was a chic, contemporary and curated take on classic design with the occasional Colonial nod.
The two-story main house is flanked by single story wings that seem to spread out in an embrace. As we pulled into the broad courtyard and slipped our car into a space next to the sleek pair of black GMC Yukon Denalis and Club Car golf carts we entered a different world. All four vehicles, along with any water sport conveyance you might fancy, are part of the Estate package.
Relaxed sophistication reigns at this Estate truly fit for a king, where David awaited our arrival just inside the expansive front entrance. There in the glittering foyer—courtesy a pair of dramatic tiered chandeliers and dozens of gold-gilt mirrors hung salon style to the soaring ceiling—he welcomed us with slender flutes of chilled Veuve Clicquot. As long, languid strands of “mares’ tails” clouds stretched across the broad expanse of sunset sky and hinted at the approaching storm that would lash the house through the late night but clear by morning, he led us on an informal tour to orient us to our home-away-from-home. A graduate of The International Butler Academy in The Netherlands, David puts the serve in “private service” with his warmth, humor and no-detail-too-small, no-request-too-demanding approach to hospitality.
Flanking the foyer to the left is the massive living room with a fireplace to match and, beyond, a hallway with a pair of powder rooms. To the right is the lounge and dining space, beyond which is the kitchen. Anchored by a 14-foot island, the expansive chef’s kitchen is made cozy by a large gas fireplace and comfy bar seating. Elsewhere, conversational groupings of chairs and sofas are clean-lined but comfy. Beyond what appears to be a wall of glass that opens up the back of this grand house, is a deep covered patio where inviting groupings of stylish stay-awhile furnishings and fire pits offer front row seats for spectacular sunrise and sunset views over the James. A heated wedge-shaped infinity pool and bubbling spa link hardscape to naturescape and reflect the ever-changing light.
The color palette throughout the Estate is an airy neutral—the walls Sherwin Williams Shoji White—offset by gleaming dark wood floors and furnishings. Large mirrors, mixed metals, crystal chandeliers—even in the bathrooms—and other substantial pendants, sconces and lamps with clean but sensuous lines reflect light throughout the home. Deep baseboards and cove molding echo the home’s generous scale. White upholstery and slipcovers inject the design language with a breezy vacation vibe that simultaneously manages to feel cozy on a chilly winter night. Curated with global undercurrents, the design language is edited, but not contrived.
On either end of the first floor are two of the home’s four bedrooms, these with 20-foot ceilings. The other pair of bedrooms opens off the second story foyer. Furnished decks ensure that second level spaces are not outdone by ground floor viewing options. All of the sleeping rooms boast from 500 to nearly 800 square feet of tailored, but cozy luxury, including fireplaces, deep closets, and ensuite marble bathrooms with pedestal soaking tubs, separate showers and water closets. Because there were two of us, Bob and I chose the largest of the bedrooms. And, though all of the rooms are deluxe and expansive, our bathroom sported what David referred to as “the car wash,” a double shower open on both sides for the ultimate flow-through experience.
Cohesive but with definite design distinctions, each of the bedrooms further pampers guests with neutral color palettes, seating areas, large flat screen TVs, and tactile fabrics and textiles, like 1,000-count bed linens, upholstered headboards, plush pillows and hand-knotted rugs. Mini vestibules with mirrors and settees serve as a buffer between the public and private spaces.
Our tour segued seamlessly into happy hour in the kitchen with its Wolf appliances, Sub-Zero fridge and 12-seat island. There Ben Borer, the resort’s executive chef, John Sexton, the vice president of food and beverage—both recent hires and a self-described package deal from Florida—and Luis Cruz, banquet manager and a 20-year Kingsmill veteran, had slipped in and were in low-key high gear preparing our impressive four-course Estate Dinner.
David is somewhat of a magician but, to my knowledge, he is not a mind-reader. A simple pre-stay form emailed in advance encouraged us to make all of our dietary and other preferences, like music, known. From my light vegan diet, obsession with cucumber sparkling water and passion for Saturday morning yoga to Bob’s taste for meat with meat sauce and a side of meat, no detail was overlooked.
Invitingly arranged on the counter next to the mesmerizing fire were the hors d’oeuvres we had requested: an inspired charcuterie board, hummus, precisely sliced crisp and colorful vegetables, toasty crostini, beer and wines. A highlight for me was sliding onto a barstool and conversationally bouncing around the culinary world with these warm and knowledgeable professionals, discussing food philosophy and their new vision for the resort eateries.
At around 7 p.m., we were invited to take our seats at the formal dining table with its view of the James. Tucked amidst David’s appealing coastal tablescape of oyster shells and other organic materials were place cards and specially printed menus. He and the culinary staff proceeded to unobtrusively ply us with course after course, each one paired with a wine more delicious than the one before.
Our Estate Dinner Menu
Amuse Bouche: Olive, tomato, basil and chili oil atop tostones
First Course: Lobster pot pies in individual copper tureens (Plant-Based Alternative: curried vegetable Pot pie). Wine: Prosecco
Second Course: Salad of little gem lettuce, dried cranberries, candied walnuts and goat cheese croquette (Plant-Based Alternative: cheese croquette) with lemon thyme white balsamic vinaigrette. Wine: DeMorgenzon DMZ Rose
Third Course: Braised short ribs; potato, parsnip and manchego puree; forest mushrooms; rainbow chard; petite vegetables; and Barolo glace (Plant-Based Alternative: braised barbecue jackfruit with edamame, lima bean, white bean and grilled corn succotash; portobello and grilled vegetable tian; and spaghetti squash). Wine: Stags Leap
Fourth Course: Vegan apple pecan crostata with bourbon salted caramel, whipped “cream” and berries. Wine: Dolce Late Harvest (my favorite pairing)
After dinner, Linda and I took a brisk three-mile walk, looping through the resort along curving lit paths, while the others took to the golf cart. We concluded our moving digestif on the deserted docks of the intimate marina, lights reflecting off the smooth surface of the water as it gently lapped against the boards. Back at the Estate, four of us gathered for a late-night dip in the 100-degree spa, the perfect counterpoint to the nip in the air.
The next morning, JoAnne Henk, a gifted and inspiring yoga instructor employed by the Resort, led Linda, Sharon and me through a combined flow and yin yoga practice with readings and expert instruction in the Estate foyer. Our hearts opened to the James with the changing patterns of clouds and light spread out in a panorama before us; the muffled murmur of Bob and David conversing in the lounge a pleasant backdrop.
Afterwards, we either showered or soaked with deluxe bath products before enjoying freshly ground and brewed coffee or tea, complete with both dairy and soy creamer, and a breakfast of sparkling yogurt parfaits, rows of colorful sliced fruits and berries, glistening lox rosettes with bagels and all the traditional toppings, and resort-made pastries. A driving tour of the resort with David as chauffeur concluded our stay.
An unforgettable experience at the Estate will set you and up to seven guests back $4,000-$6,000 per night, but that includes a dedicated chef, concierge, butler and chauffeur catering to your every whim, along with access to all resort amenities: championship golf courses, pools, the marina, fitness center, spa, members’ only restaurants and more. Oh, and David. Everyone needs David in their lives.
As it turns out, money really does buy happiness…at least for 18 hours.
Learn more about the Estate at Kingsmill: Kingsmill.com/Accommodations/The-Estate, 866-371-6732, 757-253-82337