Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resort & Spa

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.

The charming center of Middleburg is in the foreground, while the 340-acre expanse of the resort lies just beyond.

The charming center of Middleburg is in the foreground, while the 340-acre expanse of the resort lies just beyond.

Like any estate out there, you first approach the resort down a long driveway, so it slowly reveals itself.

Love the ribbons on the trees leading up to the resort—

Love the ribbons on the trees leading up to the resort—

Now here's the reveal -- the front portion is designed to resemble Johnson's own home, which is just down the street in The Plains.

Now here’s the reveal — the front portion is designed to resemble Johnson’s own home, which is just down the street in The Plains.

Of course, construction vehicles are still everywhere, but here’s what the facade will eventually look like:

Correct_Entry_View

We got the red-carpet treatment upon arrival, OF COURSE.

redcarpet

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.

Even the carolers are intent on what Singh has to say, as we started our tour in the hotel's "living room." That seems to be the way many five-star hotels refer to their lobbies.

Even the carolers are intent on what Singh has to say, as we started our tour in the hotel’s “living room.” That seems to be the way many five-star hotels refer to their lobbies these days.

“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:

Living_Room

The living room is designed so you can sit and look out at the expansive terrance and lawn:

fields

 

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:

stallionbarn

 

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:

The rooms with the yellow will be pet-designated.

The rooms with the yellow will be pet-designated.

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:

The area where the green machine sits will be the outdoor dining terrace.

The area where the green machine sits will be the outdoor dining terrace.

Here’s what it will eventually look like:

Side_View_jpg

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…)

FINAL_Library

 

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.

FINAL_Billiards

 

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.

FPsalwinecolrev

The murals on the walls will depict scenes from Virginia vineyards.

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:

cookingstudio

And the after:

Final_Cooking_Studio

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:

resto

And here’s the the soon-to-be after:

FINAL_Restaurant

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:

blueprints

 

blueprint-close

I love all the colors and designs here.

Finally, we got to the ballroom, which currently looks like a huge garage.

ballroom

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!

RevisedBallroom

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.

ballroom-outside

Just beyond this terrace lies the herb garden—another future venue for intimate dinners:

herbgarden

 

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.

You can see the stables in the background; There are 22 stables, a practice ring, and miles of trails on the property.

You can see the stables in the background; There are 22 stables, a practice ring, and miles of trails on the property.

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.

ModelRoom_v1_2_

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:

infinitipool

Here’s what the finished product will look like:

Final_Spa_Courtyard

 

And, here’s a photo of the Johnson pool, taken later that afternoon:

johnsonpool

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:

cake

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:

kitchen-island

 

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:

toddgray

 

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!

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Comments

  1. Shelley says:

    Am in awe!

  2. I blog frequently and I genuinely appreciate your information.

    This article has truly peaked my interest.
    I am going to take a note of your website and keep checking for new details about once a week.
    I opted in for your Feed as well.

  3. yvette says:

    I enjoyed the Woodland Inn that was part of Mrs. Johnson’s Salamander portfolio before she sold the property. I am looking forward to visiting this property in the near future.

  4. I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your
    blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one today.

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