When Ralph Waldo Emerson described the relationship between the human soul and the surrounding world by declaring, “Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul,” he might not have imagined his words becoming the decorative theme of a 21st-century luxury resort and spa in the Catskill Mountains. But this is exactly what has happened. The Emerson – a pastoral cluster of spacious rooms, event spaces, personal care services, retail shops and eateries – stands as a visual testament to the poet/philosopher’s utterances.
Nature takes the stage even more dramatically with the recent $6 million renovations of the resort’s guestrooms and public areas. The 20-acre property, situated along the corridor of Route 28 and bordered by the Esopus Creek, blends perfectly into the foothills that surround the Emerson, and the redo – headed by Rosalyn Cama of CAMA, Inc. – has opened interior spaces so that visitors can view the stunning landscape from every angle.
Marketing and sales director Tamara Murray talks about the original inn and spa built on the grounds of what was the 1840s Riseley dairy farm. A fire in 2005 prompted the construction of new restaurant and retail spaces that connect the original farmhouse with Riseley’s barn (built in 1860 and now used for the resort’s country store) and another of the farm’s original buildings, a 64-foot-tall grain silo.
“The vision was at one time this Indian/Moroccan theme,” says Murray, pointing to a few remaining decorative details, such as the 17th-century Rajasthani palace gates framing the entrance to the spa. “The rooms were very different, with canopied beds et cetera. Emily Fisher became the sole owner in about 2009, and her vision for the inn was that it should reflect its namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Renovation brought the outside in, reflecting the area and the connection to Emerson.”
The new color scheme is lighter. Every guestroom displays pastoral paintings and excerpts from “Woodnotes,” the title of one of Emerson’s poems. “As part of this whole process, several other things happened. Not only did we redo the rooms, but we renovated the old restaurant, the Phoenix, and renamed it Woodnotes Grille. The artwork in the lobby and hallway is especially commissioned for the Emerson. Our interior designer is working on a book to describe the art and artists for guests to enjoy on a self-guided tour.
“The inn used to be for adults only, which changed three years ago. We are now totally family- and dog-friendly. We even have a dedicated dog park, and the restaurant will prepare special food for guests’ dogs.”
Woodnotes Grille seats 50 diners indoors and is subtly lit with new Moooi lights. It opens onto a deck and picnic grounds next to the Esopus. The restaurant fare is billed as Catskill Creative Cooking, with locally sourced foods prepared with a twist and craft cocktails. The full bar offers cozy dining spots, too.
On the opposite side of the restaurant, there’s a greatroom with more seating under a vaulted ceiling. Murray says that the space can be used for “elopement weddings”: intimate affairs for couples who want to include guests in a casual ceremony in front of the floor-to-ceiling fireplace. Murray points up to a massive chandelier that was rescued from the Breakers Hotel in Miami and has been hanging here since the inn opened.
The full-service 6,193-square-feet Emerson Spa has undergone a total makeover, and will open in mid-June to guests with a new menu of services offering a variety of treatments. Guests can work out in the well-equipped fitness center or take advantage of the plush hair and nail salons. “The new nail salon is being expanded to accommodate groups, such as bridal parties or girlfriend getaways,” says Murray. She adds that the fitness center now offers memberships to the general public.
“A lot of people tend to think that the Emerson is only open to the guests. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We want everybody to come in and shop, or stop in for coffee, or just go into the greatroom and sit down to read a book. Have a cocktail. Emily always says she wants people to feel like it’s their clubhouse.”
Visitors and guests can meander through a toystore, women’s and men’s clothing shops, kitchen, home and garden shops and a coffee bar with indoor and outdoor seating. The property extends out along the Esopus, where people can hike or cross-country ski or play soccer. At the other end, a lodge, a smaller events room and an outdoor pavilion offer more accommodations for guests.
Probably the most unusual attraction at the Emerson is the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as such. The old Riseley silo houses the 56-foot-long optical instrument, designed by award-winning kaleidoscope artist Charles Karadimos, with its imagery-based video theater. With surround sound and a musical score by composer and drummer Gary Burke, the kaleidoscope’s main presentations play off a three-dimensional three-mirror system that creates “a precise pyramid tapering from 15 feet at the bottom to five feet at the top, which reflect a constantly evolving virtual sphere with a 50-foot radius.”
When you step into the inside of the silo, you are stepping into the kaleidoscope. Lest you think that this is mere child’s play, you might wander around the kaleidoscope shop and learn about the science and artistry of the instrument. Kaleidoscopes of all shapes, sizes, materials and designs are available to try out (with adult supervision) and purchase.
Murray ends the tour by mentioning a 20th-anniversary celebration scheduled to take place on July 9. “For 20 years we’ve been doing these kaleidoscope shows, and a whole new program is being written and designed. We’ll debut the new show with a drum circle, face-painting and other activities. And we’ll be offering kaleidoscope-themed cocktails and tidbits to eat.” Mark your calendars!
In honor of the upcoming summer season, the Emerson is now introducing the “Sizzling Summer Special” available May 31 to September 1, 2016. For more information, call (845) 688-2828 or visit https://emersonresort.com, https://woodnotesgrille.com and https://theemersonspa.com.