Prince Edward County’s Drake Devonshire
“Welcome to the Drake Devonshire. Would you like to try one of our signature cocktails?” If first impressions can be trusted, I was going to like the Drake Devonshire. A lot.
A bright yellow door on the far side of a cobblestone courtyard offers a sunny welcome to visitors who’ve made the two-plus hour drive to Prince Edward County from Toronto or further. Inside, opposing adjectives like “quaint” and “cool” compete for your affection. Part of the hotel occupies a renovated 19th century iron foundry, onto which ERA Architects added new light-filled spaces. To blend them together, Toronto designer John Tong of +tongtong layered the interiors with quirky vintage finds and colourful modern accents. The effect is like being at a family cottage that the grandkids have updated for a new generation while preserving nostalgic elements of the past.
The staffer greeting me with the tray of cocktails isn’t a permanent perk for arriving guests. I’m there for a media preview, which aims to give me the experience of a weekend stay in a few short hours. So while I don’t get to sip a cappuccino on the large back deck while watching the morning mist lift off Lake Ontario, I do get a personal tour of the hotel with owner Jeff Stober, John Tong and Mia Nielsen, who curated all of the artwork.
I discover Jeff is an antiques junkie. He gets excited all over again recounting the story of how he snagged the vintage secretary desk that now functions as a hostess stand. It turns out he’s a regular at the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts and has a fine-tuned system for buying, storing and shipping found treasures. I secretly start plotting how I can tag along on his next trip, so I can discover all of his tips and tricks.
We wander into the newly built A-frame pavilion, which is hosting a raw bar piled high with fresh seafood prepared by Chef Matt DeMille, who graced the kitchens at Toronto’s Canoe, Parts & Labour and Enoteca Sociale, to name a few, before moving to the country. Later, in the lake-view dining room, he’ll treat us to a multi-course dinner that I happily finish every last bite of, despite having said “yes!” to the countless snacks offered throughout the afternoon.
Jeff notes that he loves the pavilion’s A-frame structure — “It looks like it has been here forever,” — but I’ve only got eyes for the custom mural by Brooklyn-based Faile, which covers one wall and looks like a collage of street art, album covers and wallpaper scraps. Mia has placed art to surprise and charm guests: New York artist Kirsten Hassenfeld’s sculpture made of vintage paper is hung so it can be enjoyed from two different perspectives (looking up at it from the main floor and looking directly into it from the stairwell to the second floor), fragments of poetry by Canadian Al Purdy are written directly on walls, and vintage paintings updated with cheeky details by Toronto collective Team Macho hang in nearly every room. It’s soon clear to me that Mia has the coolest job in the world.
John has a pretty good gig, too. He was part of the team that designed the original Drake Hotel in downtown Toronto, so he knew exactly how to tweak its DNA for the country. Graphic patterned floor tiles anchor the main floor common areas. In the guest rooms, Jeff’s vintage furniture is paired with custom platform beds sporting beadboard headboards, colour-blocked walls and bold area rugs. These are spaces you can comfortably inhabit whether you’re dressed for the beach or dinner — and here, one outfit will probably do for both.
Before I have to head home to the city, we gather around the beach-side fire pit and watch the sun go down. A guy playing guitar on the deck accompanies the fire’s familiar crackle and pop, and I find myself dreamily planning my return.