Well. I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to be invited to Sheila Johnson’s holiday party over the weekend, which included a tour of the still-under-construction Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, which is due to open next August. And like anything the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and billionaire entrepreneur has done in her life, she’s thinking BIG.
Like any estate out there, you first approach the resort down a long driveway, so it slowly reveals itself.
Of course, construction vehicles are still everywhere, but here’s what the facade will eventually look like:
We got the red-carpet treatment upon arrival, OF COURSE.
And once we had sated ourselves with either hot chocolate or cider, the hour-plus tour began. Our guide happened to be the man in charge, Vijay Singh, the vice president of operations, whom Johnson plucked from the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
“It’s about giving you a sense a place, that you are in somebody’s home,” he said, reinforcing Johnson’s intent that the resort resemble her own home. Here is what the living room will look like when it’s finished:
The living room is designed so you can sit and look out at the expansive terrance and lawn:
See that little red-roofed structure in the distance? That’s an 1800’s-era stallion barn, which will become a small private-dining outpost. Can you imagine a cozy winter dinner in this space, which will only have about 13 tables? Here’s a closer look:
One can also see the main hotel from the terrace, where the rooms on the bottom floors are designed to be pet-friendly. That means besides your horses, which can be stabled here, you can also bring your hounds:
Out in the fields here, there will be firepits and seating areas for after-dinner conversation, and beyond the tree line, Johnson is building obstacle courses and zip wires for corporate team-building retreats (she thinks of everything).
Here, looking the other way, is the corridor that leads down to the restaurant:
Here’s what it will eventually look like:
Moving back inside, Singh took us through more of the public spaces of the hotel, such as the library, stocked with current and historic books, plus an array of board games (here, I’m just going to show the renderings, because construction photos can get a bit redundant…)
The billiards room, with flat-panel TV’s, a billiard table (naturally), and conversation areas. This room is especially suited for renting out by groups who are here for conventions or meetings, Singh says.
And finally, the wine room. This is where restaurant guests will begin, if it’s not a destination in itself. The resort intends to stock “an extensive collection of Virginia wines—it’s amazing how far we have come in Virginia with these wines,” Singh says.
Those here for dinner will then walk through a long corridor to the restaurant, passing by a cooking studio on the way, where celebrity chefs (such as Todd Gray of Equinox, who is also overseeing the creation of the resort’s kitchens and menus) will present classes, and where people can gather for an intimate chef’s-kitchen-like dinner.
Here’s the before:
And the after:
But the real show-stopper is the restaurant, a 110-seat equestrian-themed, farm-to-table steakhouse concept, featuring Virginia Piedmont cuisine, with views all around.
Even the before picture is inspiring:
And here’s the the soon-to-be after:
Singh took us everywhere throughout the resort, pointing out the large kitchens, a private dining room here, a reception area there. Indeed, there’s a lot on the blueprints, which we spotted in a room off the tour path:
Finally, we got to the ballroom, which currently looks like a huge garage.
And here’s what it will look like soon. Matt Owen, Salamander’s head of communications, tells me that the month of October, 2013, is already booked for weddings here!
I imagine the real draw will be the outside, though. The large event spaces have their own entrance here, so the hotel will remain intimate for the guests.
Here is the terrace just outside the ballroom. There are structural elements built into the sloped roof with the dormers so tents can be set up over the terrace for big parties and weddings.
Just beyond this terrace lies the herb garden—another future venue for intimate dinners:
And, beyond the stone wall, the larger vegetable garden. A big focus of the spa is wellness, and guests can actually choose what they eat from the garden, and it will be prepared for them.
So, we’ve been going everywhere so far except the rooms! Here is a model room, to give you an idea of what they will look like.
I recently wrote a story on Mrs. Johnson for DC Magazine, in which she told me that her own photography (as you see in the corner above) will hang throughout the hotel. And you will also be able to buy her gorgeous scarves at the resort, which are imprinted with her photography. Proceeds help homeless women who play on her Street Soccer USA team, the Lady Salamanders.
There are 168 rooms, including 17 suites. Every room has a private balcony with two chairs, a cocktail table (because who wouldn’t go out there without cocktails?!), and expansive views. Standard room rates range between $425 and $575, and more for suites. Special packages are also available once the resort opens.
Finally, we went to the spa, which includes an outdoor pool and cabana area that—you guessed it—resembles the one in the Johnson home.
Here’s a peek of the infinity pool:
Here’s what the finished product will look like:
And, here’s a photo of the Johnson pool, taken later that afternoon:
You can see even more similarity in the Architectural Digest spread on her home, decorated by Tom Pheasant. I’m linking to it here because I don’t have permission to repost the photographs (check out image #10!).
There aren’t any renderings of the spa, but the description suffices: 14 treatment rooms, either with outdoor access through French doors, or with a gas fireplace inside. There are two “treehouse treatment rooms” with views of the woods and stream. There’s a couples treatment room, and of course, an indoor pool, whirlpool, exercise facility and “movement studios.”
When the tour ended, we all went back to Johnson’s home for a holiday party, where the centerpiece was this magnificent gingerbread version of the resort:
It was made by Salamander Market’s pastry chef, Jason Reaves. One of the party’s highlights was getting a personal tour of the kitchens by Todd Gray — the home’s kitchen works amazingly well as a catering kitchen, in this case for a party of 400:
And here is the chef behind it all, flanked by Reaves on the right and Vaughan Skaggs, Salamander’s chef de cuisine, on the left:
I’m hoping to see Todd again tonight, as Jim and I are headed to Equinox for the Winter Solstice dinner. In the meantime, I will check out with a video of Sheila Johnson, talking about the Salamander project in her own words. Lots to look forward to!