Sweet Getaway

A Glen Mills B&B that feels like home—and, in a way, it is.

In summer, when their neighbors are heading to their mountain retreats or the crowded Shore towns of South Jersey, Chris and Vicki Le Vine travel a mere 15 miles from their Bryn Mawr home to Sweetwater Farm Bread & Breakfast in Glen Mills. For seven years, the couple has owned this tranquil getaway on 50 pristine acres in the heart of the Brandywine Valley. Convenience aside, the minute you pull around the circular drive to the stately stone Georgian Manor-style main house, you feel light-years removed from the hectic pace of everyday life.

Sweetwater Farm’s impressive kitchen features a large center island, a commercial-grade oven and the home’s original brick fireplace. (Photo by John Lewis)“Since we took over ownership of Sweetwater, we’ve strived to make it the best it can be,” says Vicki. “We want our guests to feel as comfortable as they would at home.”

The B&B’s main house features seven guest rooms—three in the 1734 Quaker farmhouse and four in the 1815 Georgian addition. Everything is updated, including the property’s seven cottages. “Every time we travel, we stay in a B&B to get ideas and experience what it must be like for our guests staying with us,” says Vicki.
“My husband is always jotting down notes.”

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While theirs is a historic home, the Le Vines know that guests expect modern comforts—amenities like flat-screen televisions, spacious en-suite bathrooms with spa-like showers, wireless Internet access, and luxurious queen-size beds. Each room has a unique style accented by richly colored woodwork. In the home’s 1815 wing, the Caldwell Room’s sunny aesthetic includes a yellow-and-white checkered area rug, a fireplace, a writing table, and crisp floral bedding beneath a beautiful white lace canopy.

In the more rustic farmhouse section of the home, guests can stay in the Dormer Room, which was once used as a hospital for the Underground Railroad (the innkeepers gladly will share the rich history with anyone interested in hearing it). It features a sloped ceiling with original hardwood floors, an Oriental area rug, an exposed brick wall, a sitting area, and dormer windows with gorgeous views of the property.

The kitchen is one of the home’s more impressive renovations. Although quaint, the original space couldn’t accommodate the cooking needs of the staff. “We serve a full three-course breakfast every morning, either in the dining room or on the outside patio,” Vicki says. “So we needed a modern, professional kitchen.”

Bryn Mawr’s E.B. Mahoney Builders handled all of the work, which involved expanding the space to include a large center island with a gray-and-tan granite top, a commercial-grade oven and plenty of cabinet space. The original brick fireplace brings Old World charm to the modernized surroundings. “If guests want to sit at the [kitchen] island reading the paper while breakfast is being prepared, they’re welcome to do so,” says Vicki.

The living room opens to a billiards room filled with rowing memorabilia. (Photo by John Lewis)The first-floor’s common areas also include the living room, den and billiards room. The latter features memorabilia from Chris’ side of the family, many of whom had a passion for the water. His maternal grandfather, rowing legend John B. Kelly Sr., was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the father of Hollywood legend Grace Kelly. His mother, Lizann, is the youngest of the Kelly siblings. A set of oars hanging in the room was used by Le Vine’s uncle, John Kelly Jr., when he won the Henley Royal Regatta. Relatives Prince Albert and Princess Caroline have both stayed at Sweetwater while visiting the area.

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Chris, an investment banker, and Vicki, an artist, hadn’t a clue how to run a B&B. But they learned quickly after Chris’ sister, Gracie, passed away from cancer and left them Sweetwater. “Most B&B owners live on-site, which we couldn’t do because we had three children,” says Vicki. “So we have a different model.”

They hired full-time innkeepers—husband-and-wife duo Sean and Farrell Kramer—to handle the day-to-day operations. Chris, meanwhile, converted the property’s original icehouse into an office. That way, he could be on-site most days while continuing his career in finance.

“Chris and myself and our children are very involved here,” says Vicki, who sees her last child off to college this month. “It certainly was unexpected, but we’ve really enjoyed the experience.”

The Brandywine Cottage’s blue décor, rich cherry furniture and paisley bedding impart a regal feel that belies its former life as a garage. (Photo by John Lewis)Five of Sweetwater’s seven cottages are pet friendly, three have fully equipped, private kitchens, and all have comfortable seating areas. A garage was recently transformed into the Brandywine and Hemphill cottages. The former has a regal feel, with its blue rug, cherry furniture and paisley bedding. Framed by floral-patterned treatments, three windows allow for plenty of natural light.

“Joan Flynn of the Curtain Exchange did a fabulous job in a majority of the rooms,” says Vicki.

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Another highlight of the cottages are their stunning bathrooms, with white marble flooring continuing up the walls of the oversized glass showers.

Sweetwater Farm B&B is always evolving. Right now, the Le Vines are restoring its classic Eastern Pennsylvania stone barn. Originally used for malting, the big red structure dates back to the 1750s and has been unusable for years due to structural damage. E.B. Mahoney Builders was again called upon to handle the restoration. “Ed Mahoney and his company have done a marvelous job on the projects they’ve done here,” says Chris. “His attention to detail is legendary.”

The Le Vines had something specific in mind for the barn. “We thought it would be perfect for wine tastings,” says Chris.

But they needed a vineyard. Thus, Grace Winery (named in memory of Chris’ sister) was born. The barn’s top floor will house the tasting room and an event space, while the lower level is dedicated to grape processing and barrel storage. And behind the barn: a ceremony area for weddings.

In the spring of 2008, 4,200 vines were planted near the main house; 4,900 were added this spring to complete the 8-acre vineyard. The first harvest will include both red and white vintages, and should come next year.

“It’s definitely been a labor of love,” says Chris. “We really hope that guests will enjoy taking tours of the vineyards and barn.”

The porch is a popular spot for watching the horses and sheep wander the gorgeous grounds.Over the years, Sweetwater Farm has attracted an impressive array of visitors, from vacationers to business executives to celebrities. Adrian Brody, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt and Bryce Dallas Howard stayed at Sweetwater while filming M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 movie The Village. Shyamalan himself spent his wedding night at Sweetwater. Other noteworthy guests include composer Bobby McFerrin, Drew Barrymore, and Phillies legends Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt. The B&B has also been a setting for television shows, commercials and product catalogs.

Indeed, Sweetwater is not your typical B&B—the Le Vines are reminded of that every time a guest gushes about the place. But for them, it’s less about Hollywood names in the guest book and more about enjoying a dip in the pool, a stroll on a hiking trail, a workout in the fitness center, or the simple pleasure of wiling away an hour on the back porch watching the horses and sheep wander the grounds.

“A B&B is supposed to be a home away from home,” says Vicki. “That’s what we want for our guests.”

Sweetwater Farm B&B:
50 Sweetwater Road, Glen Mills; (610) 459-4711, sweetwaterfarmbb.com
Renovations: E.B. Mahoney Builders, 615 Old Lancaster Road, Bryn Mawr; (610) 527-6584, ebmahoney.com
Window Treatments: The Curtain Exchange, Joan Flynn, Spread Eagle Village, 503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne; (610) 765-1142, thecurtainexchange.com

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