All-American Getaway: Twin Farms

by Darrell Hartman

Does anything beat autumn in Vermont? Not if you’re at Twin Farms, a 300-acre retreat in the hills above Woodstock.

Most of the 20 wonderful rooms here are in outlying cottages, but at the center of things is an 18th-century farmhouse and barn that once belonged to Sinclair Lewis. The Nobel Prize-winning author bought the place for his wife, the journalist Dorothy Thompson, as a wedding present in 1928.

While the Depression raged, the couple would often go to Twin Farms to write. They also turned it into a haven for their literary New York friends. Lewis was a heavy drinker, and the place surely got more raucous than it was when I recently visited it with my girlfriend. We fished in the trout pond, played tennis, took one wonderful meal after another—all of them made to specifications we’d provided in advance—and lounged in the backyard of the Orchard Cottage, the Japanese-style accommodation where we spent our two nights. It was Eden in New England. It was also, I figured, as good a time as any to read Babbitt, Lewis’s 1922 novel about a businessman living the American Dream in the prosperous city of “Zenith” but also pining vaguely for escape, perhaps to a place just like Twin Farms.

Lewis detested the American mania for newer, faster, bigger, louder. “One county of Vermont contains more beautiful residences, rich in memories of long ago, than all of the vast acreage of California,” he once said. Twin Farms got a considerable makeover when Hawaiian philanthropist Thurston Twigg-Smith and his wife turned it into an inn in the nineties, but those links to the past are still very much alive. The folksy murals, grandfather clock, and portraits of stern-looking Puritan types in the main house are classic New England, as is the cozy game room. (There’s even a lamp stand made of dice.) Rarely do you see contemporary art mingling so well with historic environs, but Twigg-Smith’s remarkable collection (which includes work by David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns) does just that. Much of the warmth and whimsy of the place is the work of the interior designer Jed Johnson, whose clients also included Andy Warhol, Pierre Bergé, the art dealer Angela Westwater, and Brooke and Daniel Neidich.

On our last morning, my girlfriend and I went into the kitchen to watch the chef make our soufflé pancakes. We left with the recipe, as well as a picnic basket full of goodies for the drive back. Despite the understatement of it all, Twin Farms is surely a more deluxe and accommodating place than it was when Lewis owned it. But you still go down miles of dirt road to get there. (The nearest airports are Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Burlington.) It’s still a quiet place to watch the leaves turn in fall and return in spring. The biggest luxury it offers—getting away—is, I’m happy to report, intact.