For good friends Diane Ormrod and Dorothée Walliser, home is more of a feeling than a place. It is achieved through the presence of good company, the leisurely consumption of a stiff drink, perhaps the dulcet song of a piano and, more often than not, a lapful of dogs. All of this and more is at the heart of their Catskills guesthouse, The DeWitt Oak Hill, in the historic hamlet of Oak Hill, NY, bordered by The Catskill Creek and surrounded by the most beautiful swimming holes and hiking trails.
The property’s original structure dates back to 1857. After a village fire, it was rebuilt in 1865 and named for the affluent farming family who owned it, The DeWitts. Diane and Dorothée justified the purchase by using its sprawling space as storage and a showroom for their vintage furnishings business, French & Scouser. Dorothée would reside in a cordoned-off section of the home and the rest would function as it had for nearly all of its history—as an inn. The two of them quickly closed on the home, securing their position in a long line of hotel proprietors, and began its extensive restoration.
The inn is outfitted with French & Scouser’s varied inventory, nearly all of it for sale — from a 1930s curved velvet sofa, to a Milo Baughman mid-century modern shelving unit, to upholstered Ikea chairs. “People ask us what our style is and we always say that we don’t really have one, we just have to fall in love with things,” says Diane.
However, it’s not just the beautifully curated decor that turns first-time visitors into regulars at The DeWitt. Diane and Dorothée’s cheerful camaraderie is felt throughout the house and, along with their combined five dogs found splashing in the nearby creek or snoozing around the hotel, has the space feeling like that especially comfortable country house you’ve been invited to come and enjoy with your closest friends. “We didn’t want to create this perfect place,” says Diane. “We wanted it to feel like home, like a place that’s been here forever.”
Location: Oak Hill, NY
Four guest rooms
En-suite luxury bathrooms
Vintage furnishings for purchase
Gourmet farm-to-table breakfasts
Garden area and firepit
A shared love of skiing brought Diane and Dorothée to the Durham Valley of the Catskills. Their weekend jaunts turned into extended stays and, eventually, Diane bought a home in East Durham, NY, and set about moving her life north. Dorothée followed not long after to focus her own house hunt in nearby Oak Hill. While Dorothée’s intentions were to settle in a small home, her plans changed the moment she saw — and immediately fell in love with — the massively gorgeous DeWitt. “It was a beautiful shell of a place,” remembers Dorothée, “but there was no plumbing, no heat, no insulation, one toilet, and minimal electricity.”
In the two-story great room, an eclectic mix of art and antiques creates a cozy yet classy space for guests to relax, socialize, or gather around the piano. “I’ve always had this romantic vision of having a place where people could hang out and sing around a piano,” says Diane, “and my joking vision is to drape myself across it like Michelle Pfeiffer and pretend I’m in The Fabulous Baker Boys.”
Since nearly every item at The DeWitt is for sale, the decor and furnishings shift regularly. “It’s really fun for us because the inn is an ever-changing environment. We find new pieces, replace old pieces, and move pieces around,” says Dorothée, “so when you come, you can see the place looking different every time.”
Original pine flooring and 150-year-old paint crackled doors and door frames intermix with both auction finds and salvaged gems. “The house in itself is so gorgeous; we didn’t want to transform it into something different. What we wanted to do is bring it back to its original grandeur and the way it must have looked in 1865,” explains Dorothée. “The original doors with the faux bois painting — we would never think of painting over those; it was our goal to restore that as much as we could.”
An eclectic, cheeky approach to design is shown off in the reception area. Amidst valuable vintage treasures and estate sale finds are two Ikea chairs and an old bird cage with antique Staffordshire dogs inside — a decision Diane attributes to her “wacky sense of humor.”
Across the room, a federal style mirror and antique children’s portraits hang above an extremely rare rolltop desk with secret compartments.
A rope lighting fixture was purchased online to hang in the kitchen, but was far too long initially to hang above the counter. Instead of returning it, they simply knotted the fixture until it fell at the correct height.
English horse brasses that once belonged to Diane’s late aunt hang alongside a portrait of a derby-winning horse in the upstairs hallway.
When original architectural features couldn’t be restored, or had been replaced with modern updates by previous owners, Diane and Dorothée scoured the internet, salvage shops, and estate auctions to find period-appropriate alternatives. This door, which leads to the upstairs gallery, was found at The Historic Albany Architectural Parts Warehouse.
The upstairs gallery exhibits the talent of local artists; the current exhibition, seen here, includes work by Norman Hasselriis, B.Goode, Matt Hausmann, and Jeanne Strausman. “There’s so many interesting and creative people here and they all do different kinds of things — they paint, they sculpt, they photograph, they do pottery, they do gardening… it’s a huge community of extremely creative and fun people to be around,” says Dorothée. “One of the goals that we have is not just to have a place that benefits us, but the community, too,” adds Diane.
Originally featuring six upstairs bedrooms, Diane and Dorothée sacrificed the two middle ones to create an en-suite bathroom for each guest room. When they found those rooms’ door frames too beautiful to part with, they closed them in and created hallway bookshelves to house old tomes and curiosities.
Each of the four guest rooms were decorated by a different friend and local creative using French & Scouser inventory. Room 48, seen here, was designed by Steve Willis, who hand painted the mural on the walls over the course of just a couple weekends.
A French ebonized bonheur du jour desk is a striking feature in the ornate, Rococo-style room. Room 48 is jokingly referred to as “The Joyce DeWitt Room” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the actress who played Janet on the 70s sitcom Three’s Company.
The carved wood headboard is another show-stopping component of the room, which sits in the back of the house overlooking the rushing Catskill Creek.
Room 49 was decorated by a friend, Todd Carr, in the style of a little boy’s camp getaway. Antique snowshoes and oars complement the verticality of the iron twin beds, while a miniature Rip Van Winkle, a local Catskills legend, takes in the scene from a small shelf.
A vintage schoolhouse chalkboard — along with its original chalk ‐ appropriately hangs in Room 49’s bathroom and offers sage advice for any young visitor. Guests often leave “little love notes” for Diane and Dorothée before they depart.
Designed by Steven Ellwood, Room 47 is a serene, minimalist haven for guests looking for a restful getaway. “He wanted to create a very quiet space where someone could potentially read a book, write, or rest in the afternoon,” says Diane. A blown-up copy of an old post card of the Durham Valley adorns the wall.
A vintage 1940s wedding guest book collects visitors’ info and notes. “It starts off with all the lovely things written from [wedding] guests, and we just wanted it to be continued with our guests. As soon as we saw it, we said, ‘That has got to be our guest book!’” recalls Diane.