New Look: East Hampton's Maidstone Arms Hotel
East Hampton’s historically all-American Maidstone Arms gets a new owner and a dose of Scandinavian cool.
The Maidstone Arms is where it has been since 1740—just across from the Town Pond on Main Street in East Hampton, near the Hook Windmill, built in 1806, and the South End cemetery, with its tombstones dating back to the 17th century. The hotel’s façade is the original white-wood shingle framed in green shutters, its deck shielded from summer sun by the familiar bold-striped awning. But the chairs on the front porch are now industrial white metal lounges from the Swedish firm Grythyttan; the throws on top are of sheepskin via the island of Gotland; the bikes leaning against the front door are cherry-red Kronans; the lobby furniture is covered in fabric by Josef Frank.
This is the new c/o Maidstone, bought in 2008 by 37-year-old Swedish hotelier Jenny Ljungberg, who revamped it with a clear, if somewhat radical, mission to make this historic East Hampton property a showcase of Scandinavian design.
“It was a by-the-book New England B&B when I first saw it,” says Ljungberg. “There was a faintly nautical theme, some chintz, lots of little rooms, and black-and-white pictures of Montauk.” Ljungberg, who has made a specialty of restoring historic hotels and inns, including Stockholm’s 17th-century Häringe Palace, came to the States from her native Sweden for business school at Columbia. She’d been looking for a Manhattan property to convert when a friend spotted an ad for the Maidstone in the Financial Times. Ljungberg appreciated the challenge of taking on a classic: “If you ask people about East Hampton, they all mention something about the Maidstone Arms.” But she also took note of the fact that despite the international influx of people to the East End of Long Island during the summer months, there are very few places to stay, and even fewer designed with a modern point of view. (Driving to the Maidstone on Route 27, with just one roadside motel and a few country inns in evidence, proves her point.) She enlisted Swedish decorator Nadia Tolstoy (great-granddaughter of Leo), who’s worked for the British Design Council and was behind the cult Stockholm design store Apparat, to redo all the common areas and to imagine each of the 16 rooms and three private cottages as homages to strong Scandinavian personalities.
“Some of the names in Jenny’s brief were expected: Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto,” says Tolstoy. “But Sonja Henie?” A quick Google search revealed she was a thirties Olympic figure skater. With names and biographies in hand, Tolstoy set out to create designs guided by each personality but subtle enough that if guests had no idea who the homage was to—or didn’t care—they’d still appreciate each room’s look. So even those who can’t identify Aalto as the Finnish man some call the father of Modernism will enjoy checking into a room with his signature low-slung chairs and curved glass vases. And if they’re only vaguely familiar with Verner Panton’s pop-colored interiors or his reputation as the enfant terrible of Danish design, they’ll still want to stay in the two-room suite furnished with “atomic orange” curvilinear couches and Panton’s trademark dome-like lighting fixtures. Some of the design works so well—like the botanical prints, natural fabrics, and gilded birdcages in the one-bedroom Carl von Linné garden cottage—that guests may end up wanting to know more about the individual behind it (in this case, the Swedish botanist who pioneered the classification of plants). And a family of four would be perfectly happy dividing themselves between the Eero Saarinen suite (Womb chair included) and the mosquito-netted twin beds in the Karen Blixen room directly across the hall.
Truth be told, some of the biography through decor is a bit heavy-handed, and certain elements—like the overwhelming black crocodile-embossed canopy chairs in the Edvard Munch room—teeter close to theme-park territory. And we’re not sure who but a girl under the age of ten would be comfortable with the bright quilts and yellow flower decals in the Astrid Lindgren room, named after the writer of the Pippi Longstocking series, or the white, metallic silver, and pink palette inspired by the aforementioned Sonja Henie. Still, the common rooms, painted in a crisp turquoise (Benjamin Moore’s Wilmington Spruce) and filled with couches and pillows covered in Josef Frank’s brightly colored floral patterns, are designed for guests, and locals, to linger; the warm, casual service (with staff in uniforms designed by United Bamboo)—not to mention the Hamptons Coffee in a French press, along with cocktails, charcuterie, and a terrific tarte flambé—make it easy to do so. The Living Room restaurant, in the old Alison at the Maidstone Arms space, serves Slow Food takes on Swedish classics: a deconstructed Toast Skagen, hand-cut fettuccine with local spring peas, a great roast chicken, Swedish lamb meatballs with Mecox Bay–ricotta dumplings. (The kitchen stays open for guests early in the morning and into the late night, from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.)
Maidstone’s location also works to keep guests from just sitting in their rooms, no matter how design-savvy they might be. It’s just two blocks from Newtown Lane, East Hampton’s main shopping strip, and Main Beach is less than a mile away—a short ride on Maidstone’s gratis Kronan bikes. And perhaps more important than the dog-walking service, the Malin & Goetz bath gels, or the morning yoga class in the garden is the fact that each room comes with that most coveted of Hamptons amenities: a beach pass.
Rooms, from $495. At 207 Main Street; 631-324-5006; themaidstone.com.
Fact: The furniture from the old Maidstone Arms was donated and is now for sale at the Animal Rescue Fund thrift shop in nearby Wainscott. 631-537-3682.
The Details: A Cut Above
Almost every piece of furniture and swatch of fabric at the Maidstone is a Scandinavian import and can be sourced through the hotel. The silverware in the Living Room restaurant is the Focus Steel style from Gense. gense.eu.