Written by Jim Murphy
The good life is alive and well at a resort spa in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. And, thanks to a philanthropic proprietor, the place is making miserable lives a bit better half a world away.
The spa is called Westglow, and the elegance of the name cannot fully describe the luxurious reality of the place. For starters, overnight guests can stay in a Greek Revival mansion that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was built by the artist, Elliott Daingerfield, who chose the name Westglow because “the sunsets are always glowing, never glaring” as the evening sun settles over Grandfather Mountain.
Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer bought Westglow in 2005, spent nearly a year making renovations and opened in 2006. Bonnie smiled as she recalled some of the challenges of the restoration.
“This is an old, old house. It was built in 1917. By the time we took over, it needed a lot of work. Jamie was in charge of the renovation. She assembled a team, an architect, a decorator. But still, there were a lot of things that we did not anticipate having to replace. The columns, for instance. The original columns came from Europe. They came up the mountain by oxen. They had to be replaced because they were rotting. And we wanted to maintain the integrity.”
The restored mansion includes such touches of integrity as several of Daingerfield’s original paintings hanging in prominent places, many of his books on the library shelves, and period antiques scattered throughout the rooms. Even the flooring displays the same Greek key pattern that Daingerfield had originally installed.
The house reflects a quiet history, which Bonnie and Jamie have worked hard and effectively to preserve. Their own history with the place has added a new chapter.
“It was about 18 years ago,” when they first discovered Westglow, Bonnie says. “Jamie and I were looking for a summer place. We started looking in the Asheville, Highland, and Cashiers area when Jamie suggested we should try Blowing Rock. We drove over here, and all the way we were on the phone, trying to get a room reservation. Every place was booked. Finally I found one room available at Westglow Resort. It was the only available room in town, and I really believe there are no accidents. We felt this house was very cozy and comfortable, and the spa was wonderful. I fell in love with it.”
The love affair proceeded slowly. Bonnie and Jamie found their summer home in Blowing Rock, but in Florida, where they live year round, complications intruded. Bonnie’s father, Rowland, was the founder and CEO of Claire’s, the retail chain that specializes in accessories and jewelry for teen-age girls. When Rowland suffered a stroke in 2002, Bonnie became CEO. Her responsibilities to the company and her parents left no time for taking over a spa in the mountains nearly 800 miles away.
“I had said years ago that I would love to buy the spa. And one day I was in a board meeting when I got a call from the owner, Glenda Valentine. She said, ‘I’m ready to sell,’ and I said ‘I can’t do it at this time. I can’t run two businesses.’ The next summer we came up as usual, and we were very glum because it was under contract with someone else. And I said to Jamie, ‘If the contract falls through, it was meant to be.’ And the contract fell through. And I immediately said I’ll take it.”
What she took was much more than a grand old mansion. Just steps away is a spa that is as modern as the mansion is traditional. The Life Enrichment Center is equipped with every conceivable amenity, from an indoor swimming pool and two whirlpools to a steam room, two saunas and rooms for facials and massages to a workout gym with a stunning array of resistance apparatus and a separate section filled with cross-training machines. It includes dressing rooms, shower rooms—and a sprawling “Relaxation Lounge” where soft music caresses even softer lounge chairs that overlook the 42-acre property to face a panoramic view of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains.
After a day of working out in the gym, sitting in the Jacuzzi, perhaps hiking in the surrounding mountains, relaxing under the touch of an expert facial or massage, playing a set of tennis and finally basking in the comforts of the Relaxation Lounge, a guest need go no further than the ground floor of the mansion for a dinner that completes the Westglow experience. Rowland’s Restaurant serves elaborate gourmet meals with the same understated elegance that marks the Westglow signature.
“The restaurant is named after my father,” Jamie says, and his portrait hangs prominently in the main dining room. “He loved good food, fine wine. He was a real gourmet. So we decided instead of catering to people who were coming here to lose weight, I wanted a restaurant he would be proud to come to. We changed the menu to an indulgent menu. You can still have spa portions, but the menu is completely different.”
The difference is apparent as soon as you sit down. Where many fine restaurants leave no salt or pepper on the table, trusting their food will need no additional flavoring, at Westglow the tables contain a small tray with five compartments, each displaying a different salt. The waiter explains the unique qualities and strength of each. A quick taste test confirms the subtle differences. Then the menu reveals items such as a Roasted Corn and Pimento Salad with marinated kale, manchego cheese, artichoke, honey vinegar, and Marcona almonds. And entrées such as Pan Roasted Breast of Fowl, which features a choice of duck or chicken and includes Ashe County cheddar broccoli cassolette, wild mushrooms, local potatoes, gooseberry, pimento gelee and faro crisps.
Bonnie adds a note of pride in describing the restaurant named for her father. “Everything that we buy in the kitchen—with the exception of the fish—is local. And organic.”
Perhaps the ultimate point of pride at Westglow is its membership in Relais & Châteaux, a worldwide association of about 500 luxury hotels and restaurants. To become a member, the group requires that facilities have a “truly unique character,” such as landmark status or an idyllic setting in addition to luxurious accommodations and gourmet cuisine.
(article continues of page 2 and more photographs are at the end)