Interior designers John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon of High Point’s Madcap Cottage transform a guest room at Pandora’s Manor into a detail-driven, relaxed, English-inspired retreat
By Jason Oliver Nixon • Photographs by Bert VanderVeen
In the film A Night at the Opera, Groucho Marx picks up the phone, and the scene goes like this:
“Room service? Send up a larger room.”
And while the times have changed, hotel dilemmas most certainly have not. We have all booked hotel rooms that lacked luster and aplomb. In today’s world, however, we needn’t bother to ring up the hotel operator to wax Marxist with our complaint when we can post a scathing remark on Twitter or, worse, Yelp.
I grew up in a family that traveled a lot — especially to New York and Europe (and this for a kid from 1970s-era Tampa, Florida, to boot!) — so we spent a lot of time in hotels. And until my brother and sister came along when I was about age 10 (rue the day!), my parents regularly checked into the best and brightest hostelries as we hightailed the globe.
Let’s see . . .
The Junior League floor at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria.
But, of course. (Why there was a Junior League floor in New York City, I cannot say, but it was a sea of blues and pinks, and it was wonderful.)
The concierge at The Savoy in London who gave me a toy double-decker bus (that I still have).
“Top notch,” I opined.
L’Hôtel in Paris.
“Absolument!” I trilled.
I can distinctly recall our color- and prints-packed room at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island at about age 7, and I traipsed through the hallways at The Plaza in New York City like I was the male equivalent of Eloise searching for a lost Weenie and Skipperdee.
“Charge it, please.”
At about the age of 9, I informed my mom that I missed room service when we were stuck at home during a particularly travel-free dry spell.
Mom rolled her eyes and advised me to take out the trash.
Fast-forward to the here and now.
John Loecke, my happy-go-lucky partner in the Madcap Cottage adventures, entered the hotel game a bit later in life as road trips to Grandma’s house were more de rigueur for his family vacations in Iowa circa-1975.
But once the Madcaps merged, the world was our oyster.
Let’s come clean: First and foremost, I am an interior designer. But I have also always been an editor and writer with my hands in various luxury-minded publications and television productions. (I was Robin Leach’s producer in the late 1990s!) So I have been lucky enough to partake in a rarefied world that I could hardly ever afford. Heavily reduced-rate, aka “media rate,” hotel rooms and meals are standard practice for my line of work. With a fruit basket or bottle of wine in the room, guaranteed.
Over the years, I might not have had a cent to my name, but I could certainly score a suite on Sutton Place for a long weekend and some free room service.
“Garçon, hold the cornichons!”
As I said, the Madcaps took to the road like nobody’s business.
And when we traveled to these far-flung and fabulous locales, John and I would make copious notes about what we loved and what we didn’t and how we could bring these adventures home.
Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India. Heaven! The best. Wow.
The Ritz Paris. So welcoming to Americans — truly! — but it needed an overhaul (which the iconic hotel has just, happily, had to much fanfare).
The Greenbrier is amazing, but the Bel-Air renovation was less than remarkable.
The staff at that hotel bar in Madrid was mean, and we couldn’t find an outlet for our phones in Dubai.
When the Madcaps design homes for clients and craft products for our licensed lines, we have always tried to bring our passion for travel and adventure into the mix. It’s all about creating a home or environment that is both beautifully inviting but also perhaps a tad transporting. And it’s the details that really make a house a home.
Riffing off that brand sensibility, the Madcaps have always wanted to design a small hotel, from soup to nuts.
So when our good friend Louise, the creative director at Chicago’s luxury bedding firm Eastern Accents, rang us up last year with a proposition, John and I practically frothed at the mouth.
“Jason, it’s Louise. Ridvan [Tatargil, the owner of Eastern Accents] has just purchased the historic, century-old Wilson House B&B behind Lee Industries in downtown High Point, and we would love for the Madcaps to design a guest room. It will be you and John, Alexa Hampton, Barclay Butera, Thom Filicia, Tobi Fairley and Celerie Kemble. The design of the hotel will be stunning, and so, too, will the service.”
Downtown High Point, my hometown? John and I moved from Brooklyn to High Point to be part of the city’s downtown revitalization and next chapter, so this was pure magic.
Something upmarket that doesn’t only revolve around Market?
To have talent of that caliber and not in an L. A. or Palm Springs or Berlin?
A real premium put on service? Hurrah! The Madcaps are all about great, intuitive and kind service in a world that has become so impersonal and uncaring. If a hotel looks great but doesn’t deliver on the service component, then the formula is a fail.
A historic property with heaps of provenance?
I think that John and I audibly shrieked.
The brief was simple, straightforward.
“You have the ground floor bedroom. Create the room of your dreams,” said Louise.
Hello, dream client.
And so John and I set to work. We wanted to create a room that would showcase our collection of fabrics for Robert Allen @Home, each inspired by our travels — from jaunts to India and China and long weekends sketching and painting in the English countryside. Comfort would be key: Rooms without the aforementioned outlets beside the beds and a lack of good reading lights define a lack of attention to detail, so we made sure to have all of the creature comforts top of mind from the outset.
We sketched, we drew, we cut out furniture and moved it around on the schematic. And, as storytellers, we crafted a mythical tale that would guide our vision:
“Imagine fabled English novelist Nancy Mitford running off for a long weekend, escaping from her workaday cares and seeking a cosseting retreat where she could read, sip a cool cocktail and avoid the harsh grasp of that pesky, ever-present social media. ‘I need comfortable luxe,’ cooed Nancy. ‘And no pretense. Let me put my feet up, play canasta and retreat from the world.’ But where to go?”
Upholstered walls. Gorgeous window treatments. Silk cording to frame the crown and baseboard molding. A custom armoire aged with wax to appear as though it was transported from a Derbyshire, England, estate. Bespoke lampshades. A braided rug. Heaps of good lighting and comfortable chairs. Outlets front and center on both night tables. Antique garden prints upon the walls that we collected over the years at London flea markets. Rich green trim and a stunning blue ceiling. Intuitive design that doesn’t feel forced.
A room that feels anything but like a showroom.
We met with electricians and contractors, we speed-dialed the fantastic team at Eastern Accents in Chicago ad nauseum (sorry, friends!) who were crafting our highly detailed window treatments, and we found a local talent to make hand-sewn lampshades. We tweaked, we texted, we compared notes.
And our vision quickly came to life.
The result is relaxed, pure put-your-feet-up chic. Granted, we used 300-odd yards of our Madcap Cottage for Robert Allen @Home fabrics, but nothing about our room feels stuffy or dated or overdone. Kick back with a good book — perhaps Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford — and relax, retreat and recharge. Or crank up the TV, a truly cutting-edge, custom number deliciously hidden behind a mirror over the fireplace, and watch a weekends-worth of The Crown. But be sure to leave the sanctuary of your stay not only to savor the other myriad pleasures of the inn (oh, your gracious hosts, Justin and Baker!) but also to explore the charms of up-and-coming High Point and the surrounding Triad.
And there you have it.
So come pay us a visit! We would love for you to check in, and check us out.
We’ll see you at the Manor!
Jason Oliver Nixon — along with his partner, John Loecke — is the co-founder of High Point-based design firm Madcap Cottage. The Madcaps have product lines with Robert Allen @Home, Smith & Noble, Howard Elliott, and HSN. A wallpaper and made-in-America upholstery line are next up for the gents.