When Charles D’Angelo, managing director of D.C.-based Westmount Capital Group, first saw the Clifton Inn and its surrounding countryside, his initial thought was, “Wow.” “It’s a stunning property, from the 19-acre lake and Blue Ridge mountain views to the infinity pool with the canopy of trees overhead,” says D’Angelo. As a business enterprise, however, the inn was struggling.
Though renovated several times in recent decades, including a large-scale overhaul in 2005 after a devastating fire, the inn’s reputation had been waning, its wedding bookings falling from a high of 50 in 2011 to just 11 for this year. At the end of a complicated and lengthy negotiation, a deal was struck in late 2017 between Mitch and Emily Willey, the hotel’s owners since 1983, and the investor duo of D’Angelo’s Westmount Capital and the McGeorge family of Richmond.
When the dust settled, the new owners immediately opted for more dust, closing the hotel for the first quarter of 2018 for renovations, rebranding and an infusion of new technology. “All 20 rooms were renovated, plus the restaurant, the bar and the front desk, and we installed bright new software,” says Francois Bladt, the hotel’s general manager. “As well, we now have a Michelin-starred chef, Matthew Bousquet, who came to us from California.”
D’Angelo knew that a great chef would be a key element of the hotel’s future success, as would the new branding, updated by Watermark in Charlottesville, and interior design, recast by the in-house design team at Tennessee-based Blackberry Farm. “The renovations were mostly cosmetic,” he says. “For a building that old, it’s in very good shape.” Cool blues, greens and grays replaced the former white and cream interior, with an emphasis on the comforting surrounds of soft rugs, draperies, upholstery and artwork as patrons ease into their dinner or cocktail.
With the new branding came a name change as well. Now dubbed simply The Clifton, the change reflects a mindset. “We wanted to get away from the sleepy bed and breakfast idea, toward something a little more modern that would draw in a more urban crowd,” says D’Angelo. “Having a true country getaway feel, only minutes away from the city, is a real advantage. I think of The Clifton as a boutique hotel that does phenomenal weddings, where you can also have one of the best meals in Charlottesville.”