The Lost Art of the Bed & Breakfast Resurfaces in Upstate New York BY Lee Daniels

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LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouse-facade At the top of a hill on which a country road meanders upward,‭ ‬flanked by large maple trees and acres of cornfields,‭ ‬sits a large house that is a mixture of castle and farmhouse,‭ ‬whose large,‭ ‬wraparound porch practically begs one to settle into one of its comfortable chairs with a book and a cool drink.



The front door is open,‭ ‬and as you push the screen door and enter,‭ ‬the coolness and contrast of the living room’s low light to the summer heat and sun soothe the eyes and skin.‭ ‬All is quiet and still.‭ ‬A dog barks in the distance.‭ ‬A large bird sings a melody from a tree nearby.‭ ‬You feel as if you are coming home to visit family.‭ ‬And this is not‭ ‬Kansas,‭ ‬but‭ ‬New York,‭ ‬a two-plus-hour drive from the city and a little over an hour from‭ ‬Westchester.‭

LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouse-livingroom Sandy Johnson,‭ ‬the innkeeper,‭ ‬enters from the kitchen,‭ ‬and greets you warmly,‭ ‬shows you to your rooms,‭ ‬and then leaves you to enjoy the comfort of the rooms,‭ ‬adorned with eclectic,‭ ‬old-world canopy beds and silhouette paintings,‭ ‬the inn’s large living room,‭ ‬and the spacious,‭ ‬wraparound porch bordered by majestic columns.

Throughout your stay,‭ ‬the house is more than a bed and breakfast‭; ‬it is your home,‭ ‬it feels as such.‭ ‬Johnson reappears only in the morning,‭ ‬to present guests with a lavish country breakfast on a bright,‭ ‬airy side room of the porch,‭ ‬on fresh linen,‭ ‬with a fresh flower centerpiece.‭

Johnson and her husband West came upon the opportunity to open Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast nearly by accident.‭

LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouse-bedroom “We did look at another B&B a couple of years earlier,‭ ‬but we were not‭ ‬intentionally looking for one.‭ ‬We looked several months for a house,‭ ‬and when I finally saw this,‭ ‬I knew this was the house.‭ ‬The previous owners were offering a free night’s stay for interested buyers.‭ ‬We came and stayed overnight and were hooked.‭ ‬We woke up to the smells of fresh baked bread and came downstairs to beautiful music and‭ ‬a fire going in the fireplace.‭ ‬It was so beautiful I didn't want to leave,‭” ‬explained Johnson.‭  They‭ ‬ended up‭ ‬buying the house in‭ ‬November of last year,‭ ‬and opened for business in April.‭ ‬Not having formal hotel training did not deter her Johnson,‭ ‬and she fell into her work as a fish takes to water.‭ ‬One of her passions which nicely dovetailed with her new venture was her baking skills.

A native of Schenectady,‭ ‬and then Brooklyn for the past‭ ‬30‭ ‬years,‭ ‬where she formerly ran a small baking enterprise,‭ ‬Sandy’s kitchen is where she creates the other half of her art form.

‭“‬I learned everything I know about baking from my mother.‭ ‬She always taught me to use the best‭ ‬quality ingredients available.‭ ‬My favorite memories are of the holidays when there would be numerous fresh baked cookies in the house.‭”

LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouse-Dinner table The guests at the house were enamored with‭ ‬Sandy’s cooking as much as with the comfort of the rooms,‭ ‬the living room,‭ ‬and the porch.

‭“‬Absolutely delicious,‭” ‬pronounced Amalia Sacristan,‭ ‬who was with her husband Efren from‭ ‬Colombia,‭ ‬on a visit to her daughter Dolly,‭ ‬who had just graduated from a prestigious doctoral program in‭ ‬New York.

This was high praise from a fellow chef,‭ ‬as Amalia and her husband own a restaurant in Bogotá,‭ ‬El Balcon de los Abuelos‭ (‬My Grandparents‭’ ‬Balcony‭ ‬– See Volume‭ ‬4,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬124,‭ ‬February‭ ‬19,‭ ‬2009,‭ “‬Colombia:‭ ‬Warmth and Passion‭”)‬.

The term Bed and Breakfast is believed to have first been used in the‭ ‬United Kingdom,‭ ‬where it was for centuries a popular form of lodging,‭ ‬and continues to be so to the present day,‭ ‬as in other countries throughout‭ ‬Europe.

LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouse-reading It has been a popular alternative to larger hotels and more impersonal motels for travelers in the‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬as well for several centuries,‭ ‬due to competitive pricing,‭ ‬and especially,‭ ‬that special personal touch.‭ 
However,‭ ‬the vagaries of the economy and the advent of the age of technology have made the survival and livelihood of the business more competitive.‭

“2009‭ ‬was a very bad year due to economy and weather. This year we are up‭ ‬17%‭ ‬over last year,‭ ‬but not a banner year by any measure.‭ ‬The nature of our market is about four months of intense non-stop,‭ ‬no-break work with a slow tapering off to almost no business at all for about six months,‭” ‬said Glenn Kithcart,‭ ‬innkeeper at The Bentley Inn,‭ ‬in Bay Head,‭ ‬New Jersey,‭ ‬which he and his wife Janet have run for‭ ‬the past dozen years.

LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouse-breakfast table All the hard work behind running a successful B&B,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬is part of the equation.‭ ‬The reward,‭ ‬according to Kithcart,‭ ‬is seeing the guests‭’ ‬satisfaction.‭

“Most rewarding is the great feeling I get from people who are on vacation and love the inn. They are so happy and relaxed,‭ ‬and I helped create that for them.‭”‬ ‭

Johnson shares much the same sentiment,‭ ‬and her passion for entertaining and creating a space with a special magic for guests seeking a retreat with a more personalized touch than a hotel chain matches the year-round devotion required for owners of a B&B.

LEEDANIELS_Hilltop House petunias “‬I love entertaining and making people feel at home and seeing them enjoy the whole experience that Hilltop House has to offer.‭ ‬ I also love meeting people from all around the world,‭”‬ said Johnson.
Penelope Hedges,‭ ‬a local interior designer,‭ ‬worked closely with‭ ‬Johnson to redesign the house from top to bottom before it opened for business.

‭“‬This was a truly joint venture,‭ ‬with Sandy,‭ ‬myself,‭ ‬and Andrew Ciccone Advertising,‭ ‬with the idea of creating a comfortable,‭ ‬relaxing haven for guests.‭ ‬The bedrooms were redecorated in a relaxed,‭ ‬welcoming style. ‭ ‬The colors are soft and appealing,‭ ‬just as a bedroom of that time‭ (‬the house was built in‭ ‬1909‭) ‬would be furnished,‭ ‬with antiques and luxurious,‭ ‬upholstered headboards,‭ ‬a modern touch,‭” ‬said Hedges.

LEEDANIELS_HilltopHouseBed&BrkfstSign “‬All of that aside,‭ ‬the heart of the house is Sandy,‭ ‬and it is‭ ‬her warmth and good cooking that make everyone feel welcome.‭”

As the Sacristan family was preparing to end their stay at Hilltop House,‭ ‬instead of a wave or a handshake,‭ ‬each received a warm hug from Johnson.‭ ‬And that is what true hospitality is all about.‭ 

Hilltop House Homemade Maple Syrup
1‭ ‬1/2‭ ‬cups light brown sugar3/4‭ ‬cups water1‭ ‬Tablespoon butterDash salt1/2‭ ‬teaspoon maple flavoring
Combine brown sugar,‭ ‬water,‭ ‬butter and dash salt in heavy saucepan.‭ ‬Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil.‭ ‬Remove from heat and add maple flavoring.‭ ‬Serve warm.‭ ‬Refrigerate leftover syrup.

If you go:

Getting there:

By car:‭ ‬Off‭ ‬Rte.‭ ‬44,‭ ‬at‭ ‬Amenia

By train:‭ ‬Metro North Harlem Line to Wassaic‭ ‬station‭ ‬(3‭ ‬miles from hotel‭)

Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast

43‭ ‬Depot Hill Rd,‭ Amenia,‭ ‬NY‭ ‬12501-5602‭


Millbrook Vineyards‭ & ‬Winery

26‭ ‬Wing Road

Millbrook,‭ ‬NY‭ ‬12545


Serevan Restaurant

6‭ ‬Autumn Lane on Route‭ ‬44,‭ ‬West of Route‭ ‬22

‭‬Amenia,‭ ‬NY‭ ‬12501


Bentley Inn

694‭ ‬Main Avenue

Bay Head,‭ ‬New Jersey‭ (‬NJ‭) ‬08742

Telephone:‭ ‬732-892-9589; Toll Free:‭ ‬866-423-6853

Email:‭ ‬

Daniels_Lee Lee Daniels,‭ ‬a columnist for the Westchester Herald and the Yonkers Tribune,‭ ‬lives in Pleasantville,‭ ‬New York, and is also an editor‭ ‬for ICU,‭ ‬a financial services‭ ‬research‭ ‬group in‭ ‬Ukraine.

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eHeziThe Lost Art of the Bed & Breakfast Resurfaces in Upstate New York BY Lee Daniels

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