Destination Hotels: The Inn At Irwin Gardens
Where: Columbus, Indiana; 812-376-3663, irwingardens.com
Rate: $250 per night
We recommend: late spring, to see the garden in full glory
IN THE MODERNIST architecture mecca of Columbus, this traditional estate in the heart of downtown magnificently counterbalances the city’s contemporary landscape. Past the wrought-iron gate and up the limestone steps, guests are welcomed into the stately foyer, lined in dark woods and ornate embellishments. It was originally built in 1864 as a modest Victorian manor and later renovated into a Edwardian estate of distinguished splendor. Today, the inn remains in nearly the same condition as it was 100 years ago.
The first order of business is a necessary tour that meanders through ceremonial sitting rooms and lavishly decorated dining areas, all expertly described by the passionately knowledgeable caretaker. After historic tidbits and design details are rattled off at a dizzying pace, you might want a comfortable spot to catch your thoughts. Your reward awaits not in the handsome library lined with books and a magnificent fireplace—though do make a point to return for the early-evening wine hour—but rather in the formal gardens that lie just beyond the library’s leaded-glass windows, which are adorned with celestial scenes. Here on the terrace, relaxation sets in and the home’s grandeur and charm come into view.
Fashioned after uncovered ruins at Pompeii, the opulent gardens are dressed with wisteria-wrapped pergolas, fountains, marble busts, and all the regal trappings found in a ceremonial lawn. The landscaping ultimately gives rise to an enchanting tea house overlooking the property.
The manor’s five rooms and suites, all with high ceilings and original furnishings, provide a comfortably quaint stay. True to form, breakfast arrives on elegant china and likely features farm-fresh produce grown in the property’s greenhouse, which guests are welcome to tour. Living like the 1 percent at the turn of the last century within the confines of a historically preserved home, one might find it rather difficult to return to the modern reality outside the garden’s walls.
ACE THIS TRIP
Upgrade: Spring for the exquisite WG Irwin Suite, located on the top floor and affectionately called the “bachelor’s” quarters. Handsome Edwardian details are revealed in the closet cabinetry (with secret attic access).
Don’t Miss: The indie film Columbus prominently features the Inn and stars John Cho and Parker Posey staying in the suites and strolling the gardens. Actors and crew actually stayed off-site while filming the movie in 2016, but they checked into the Inn when they returned to Columbus for the film’s premiere. Open your room’s guestbook to September 1, 2017, to see who stayed there.
Book This Tour: A walk though the Miller House and Garden, the contemporary residence of the late J. Irwin Miller, is essential for any architecture or design enthusiast, and still dazzling for those who don’t identify as such. The home was conceived by a trio of midcentury greats: architect Eero Saarinen, interior designer Alexander Girard, and landscape architect Dan Kiley. One Girard descendant said, “Being in the Miller House is the closest thing to being in our grandparents’ own home that I’ve felt since they passed away.” Private visits for up to six people can be arranged through the Columbus Area Visitors Center.