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Atop a Mystic inn -- a lovely surprise

House of 1833 in Old Mystic village was built as a banker's second home. House of 1833 in Old Mystic village was built as a banker's second home. (HANSI KALKOFEN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
Email|Print| Text size + By Sacha Pfeiffer
Globe Staff / August 19, 2007

OLD MYSTIC, Conn. -- At most inns and hotels, even the very fine ones, a room is a room is a room. Some are prettier than others. Some have nicer views. Some are more modern, more spacious, better decorated, or better designed. But in the end what you get -- a bed, a little privacy, the usual amenities -- is typically the same.

That's why we were briefly dumbstruck when we arrived at the House of 1833, a historic bed-and-breakfast in this quaint maritime community, and stepped into our room.

The inn's owners, Evan Nickles and Robert Palmer Bankel, are architecture and design aficionados who have a fondness, to put it mildly, for collecting. They collect antiques. They collect paintings. They collect china. They collect furniture. They collect knickknacks, doodads, trinkets, and tchotchkes of every kind. Then they put much of that collection in the inn, a stately, striking, all-white Greek Revival mansion they bought empty 2 1/2 years ago and filled to overflowing within three weeks.

The 14-room house is cluttered (some might say junky) and has a somewhat formal air. The Peach Room, for instance, has an Asian motif, including a 19th-century hand-carved Chinese canopy bed, and the Veranda Room, with its 19th-century Parisian bed of bronze and painted tin, is vaguely French. We expected our room to follow suit.

So we could only gape when Nickles, who took us to the Cupola Room, opened what looked like a second-floor closet door and led us up a steep staircase to a secluded bedroom that occupies the third floor. It felt like a cross between a bordello and a fairy's lair. Decorated in shades of mauve, cream, and gray, it was elegant, sensual, romantic, and mysterious, all wrapped in one. It had minimal clutter and no formal theme. On one end was an Empire mahogany highback canopy king bed with yards of billowing purple fabric descending from a vaulted ceiling. At its foot was a sitting area and wood-burning fireplace, and near that was a roomy, tiled bathroom with a modern whirlpool hot tub -- a great blend of old and new.

The focal point was the best surprise of all: Another staircase, this one leading to the square cupola that crowns the mansion's roof. Used as a snug, sun-drenched reading nook, it was part of our fabulous room.

The carpeting was worn, some of the furniture wasn't very comfortable, and the bedside lighting was too dim for easy reading. But we loved our private hideaway anyway.

Built in 1833 as the second home of a local banker named Elias Brown, the three-acre property now has a seasonal swimming pool and year-round clay tennis court. At night, lights line the crescent driveway, lending dramatic flair.

The whole house is replete with drama, in fact. The grand front porch is anchored by two-story Ionic columns. The front parlor fireplace is made of black and pink Belgian marble. The staircase woodwork has palmetto leaf carvings. The list goes on.

All five guest rooms have working fireplaces, full baths, air conditioning, and king- or queen-size beds. A few have whirlpool hot tubs and high-definition flat-screen TVs.

And then there are the dogs, Spuds and Sam, who are prone to nudging their big heads under your elbow and draping their broad bodies across your feet while you eat breakfast, which is usually an elaborate affair. Our spread included "fruit boats" of cantaloupe and grapes speared with cocktail umbrellas, chocolate-oatmeal muffins, cherry bread pudding, triple-potato hash, and a "King Louis croissant" topped with spinach-cheese souffle and pesto cream sauce with basil from the inn's garden.

Nickles and Bankel (who live in a wing of the house and also own the Emporium, an eclectic gift shop downtown, and the Fantastic Umbrella Factory, a funky gallery/restaurant/garden complex on a farm in Charlestown, R.I.) don't take shortcuts; when a guest asked for hot chocolate, they melted a chocolate bar and blended it with hot milk.

And on most afternoons, Bankel bakes chocolate chip cookies that he leaves out for guests. They're marvelous cookies, so beware: "Sometimes," Nickles cautioned, "they don't last a half-hour."

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at

If You Go

House of 1833
72 North Stonington Road
Mystic, Conn.
860-536-6325, 800-367-1833
What we liked best:
The secluded, exotic Cupola Room and elaborate breakfast.
What we liked least:
The inn's clutter and the dogs nudging our elbows at the breakfast table.
What surprised us:
That the Cupola Room connects to the mansion's rooftop cupola.
You know you're at the House of 1833 when . . .
The huge Greek Revival mansion's two-story Ionic columns come into view.
Summer $169-$350, winter $139-$250.
Mystic, Conn., is about 100 miles or about two hours from Boston. Take Interstate 95 south through Rhode Island to exit 90 in Connecticut (Mystic). Turn right at end of ramp onto Whitehall Avenue/Route 27. Follow about one mile, then veer right onto Main Street. Veer right again onto North Stonington Road. Inn will be on the right, past Old Mystic General Store, in the village of Old Mystic.

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