A Victorian house, an inn, two cottages and a railroad car.
Put them all together and you have The Kent Collection, a group of overnight accommodations that are bringing more people into the center of Kent in western Litchfield County.
Lulu and John McPhee didn’t set out to become innkeepers when they bought the train car and the two cottages that served as retail shops at the old Kent rail station.
But after buying and renovating the former Starbuck Inn and the Victorian across North Main Street, the McPhees have gone all in on offering luxury overnight stays in a variety of settings.
“Just look for the gas lanterns,” said assistant innkeeper Joe Hicks.
The cottages, originally intended as Airbnb stays, “definitely needed to be updated, even if we were going to keep them as businesses, but we had them rezoned for residential use and refurbishing all of them,” Lulu McPhee said. “So that’s where it started. And then the Victorian came for sale.”
The five-bedroom house, built in 1890, sleeps 12. It’s been completely renovated, keeping 19th-century furnishings, including detailed hinges on the high doors. “Who knew hardware could be so sexy?” McPhee said.
“So all of a sudden we had three cottages and a Victorian and we kind of jokingly said, Well, listen, if the Starbuck Inn across the street comes for sale, let us know,” McPhee said. “And a few days later, it was for sale.”
They renamed the inn The Firefly Inn and updated that, too. Altogether, their properties have about 40 beds.
“So it got us to a point where we could hire a staff, a team,” McPhee said. “So we have the two innkeepers, a facilities manager and a housekeeper. And so it just kind of all happened organically, I guess, just because they became available and we just decided, ‘Well, while we’re doing it, we’ll make a collection of places to stay.’”
The Victorian opened in January and the Garden Cottages in March. The Firefly Inn opened to a full house on June 1 and the railroad car had its first guests last week.
The original plan was a minimum two-night stay on weekends, but McPhee said, “I think we’re going to allow one-night stays over the summer just to get people to know that we’re here.”
On the Firefly’s first weekend, “we had guests that were here for graduation, so half the house was filled with a Thursday-Friday night group, and then there was a wedding nearby, so the other group came Friday and Saturday night,” McPhee said.
“It was kind of nice because it wasn’t totally full all those nights together,” she said. “And The Victorian was full and the two cottages were taken. So every property was taken.”
The Firefly Inn guests were treated to live piano music for breakfast, too. McPhee said the graduates’ parents told her, “Where were you four years ago? We’ve had no place to stay and now it’s graduation weekend.”
The McPhees, who live in Fairfield County, “have a place that we’ve been coming to in New Milford,” Lulu McPhee said. “Because we’re up on the weekends and stuff, we were very familiar with Kent and knew that there was a need for something for people to stay.”
Weekday overnight rates range from $350 for each of the two rooms in The Firefly Inn — they can be converted into a two-bedroom suite for families — to $950 for a bunkhouse with a loft that sleeps six. Weekend rates are $50 higher.
The Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington can run well above $2,000 a night, according to its website.
The town has just 3,000 residents, but McPhee said there are several opportunities to attract out-of-town guests. Three boarding schools will need places for parents to stay when they’re visiting, moving in and out. “That was a no-brainer,” she said.
“Then we knew that there needs to be overflow for people who are doing weddings (at) smaller venues that don’t have enough rooms for all the wedding guests,” she said.
“But what’s been interesting is that it’s a lot of people who have smaller homes and they have family coming or friends coming, and they’re thrilled because then there’s a nice place for their guests to stay,” she said.
One person told McPhee they were thinking of adding a room or guest cottage to their home because they don’t have space for all their adult children.
“And then locally for the real estate people, they’ve been having people stay with us during the week when they’re showing … homes or properties,” she said.
What will take longer will be drawing people from New York City, but that will come too, McPhee said. “It’s just getting the word in to people who want to come up for a weekend stay because they can be coming from anywhere. … People didn’t think of Kent as a place to come and stay.”
In addition to the gas lamps that let passers-by know the properties are all one piece, there is a unifying decorative touch inside The Kent Collection. The walls behind the headboards are all covered with Chilewich textured fabric. John McPhee is CEO of the company.
Other surprises are a claw-foot bathtub and a Victorian-era bridal dress framed and hanging on the wall of the wedding suite. There’s a four-poster bed in the Victoria and Albert Room, along with a private deck.
One room is completely handicapped-accessible. And, Hicks said, “any tub in The Victorian gets a rubber ducky.”
John McPhee’s business is design, Lulu McPhee said. “My dad was an architect. I grew up in design, so it’s kind of a comfortable world for us, although this is the first time we’ve done hospitality,” she said.
They bought the cottages in 2020, but COVID-19 and supply chain issues delayed things. “We started in on The Victorian, which needed extensive renovation,” McPhee said.
“It’s all new HVAC, all new electrical, (removing) years of shellacking on doors and hardware to bring it back to its intended beauty,” she said. “Everything just took longer. And we wanted to do everything right, so we did it as fast as we could but it didn’t go very fast.”
There is still work to be done, including installing more gas lanterns. “We thought it was a nice way to bring the properties together as the collection, and so it’s just an aesthetic touch that we thought was nice,” McPhee said.
The reception from Kent residents has been positive, she said. “The town has been very excited because it really is good for everybody,” she said. “And it’s a very supportive community here in Kent, which has been really nice.
“You walk into the stores and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m so excited. I got a tour the other day. It looks great,’” she said.
Phil Fox, a realtor with William Pitt Sotheby’s, called The Victorian “nothing short of stunning. … I have literally invited and paid for probably six or seven nights for clients and friends now to stay there.”
He also arranged a showing for more than 100 Litchfield County real estate agents. “We did a regional meeting and did it so the realtors could tour and see what we could provide for our clients when they’re coming up here,” he said. “So that was kind of nice.”
Fox, who’s also on the board of the Kent Chamber of Commerce, said The Kent Collection “can do nothing but bring people to the town because it’s right in the heart of Main Street.”
“Restaurants, shopping, arts are all within walking distance,” he said. “You don’t even have to get in a car. You can have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and not have to worry about a car. You can walk back to your hotel.”
Fox said the accommodations were needed in the area. “It’s drawing from not just Kent, but it’s drawing from neighboring towns like Warren, as well as Sherman and Sharon,” he said. “There’s nothing of that quality there.”
The McPhees also are getting involved in the community, becoming involved in local events, Fox said.
“They are supporting it, giving back,” he said.
Ed Stannard can be reached at [email protected].