Photography by KRISTIN REIMER
If you ask Gregory Henderson how he and his partner and husband, Joseph Massa, came to build a beyond-bespoke fairy-themed cottage at their inn in the Catskills, he just might tell you the wee people made him do it. The pair, who were considering expanding their delightful pop-culture-themed motor lodge, had come to look at a property about two miles down the road from it. The land was graced not only with a stunning white Italianate mansion built in the mid-19th century but a gleaming, glittering five-story cascade called Stratton Falls. As Henderson tells it, the place worked its magic on them almost immediately.
“We were walking through the property, along the riverbed that leads to the waterfall, looking up at these rock formations and the forest and the sunlight shining through the trees,” Henderson recalls. “We turned a corner and there was the waterfall in all its glory, and I thought in my head at that moment, If fairies exist, they’re here! Later, I said something to Joseph about how I felt like I was in a fairy tale when I saw the waterfall, and he said, ‘I was feeling the same way!’ So from that moment on we both felt that we had to somehow bring the Roxbury at Stratton Falls to fruition, and we knew it needed to have a sense of being in a fairy tale. One room in particular needed to be dedicated to fairies.”
The Stratton Falls expansion of the original Roxbury motel—which began in 2014 and is ongoing, with a bar still to be added—includes five rooms in the mansion and five
“tower cottages,” so named for the soaring ceilings contained in each. Three of the latter are actually duplexes, but all feature whimsical black and white exteriors with lime-green highlights (a Roxbury trademark) on architectural features like doors and windows. Some resemble bungalows straight out of a fairy tale, some castles, but all, according to Henderson, are designed “so that literally wherever you turn, whether it’s inside the room or outside the room, you’re almost bombarded with something new to take in that hopefully brings out the sense of wonder that we all had as a child.”
Each cottage offers its own distinct pleasures, but among the most fantastical is Dracula’s Fang, a cottage inspired by Bela Lugosi, the original celluloid vampire. Dripping with crimson-colored red velvet, it boasts stunning red crystal chandeliers and a sweeping grand staircase leading to the master bedroom, where a towering ceiling with gothic arches awaits. Next door to Dracula’s Fang is Crown of the Pendragons, a King Arthur–themed cottage that features an eighty-five-gallon circular bathtub right in the center of the stone turret room. Over it hangs a three-tiered, twenty-foot chandelier.
For guests who want to literally stay inside a fairy tale, the Roxbury at Stratton Falls offers Cinderella’s Gown. In addition to an eighteen-foot ball gown studded with 11,117 rhinestones that acts as the downstairs bed’s canopy, the cottage provides another jaw-dropping element: a massive, sculpted-pumpkin carriage, which contains the upstairs bathroom facilities. Massa, who built sets for Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera during his and Henderson’s theater days in New York City, made the showstopper himself. To add to the magic, there’s a fairy wand on the nightstand next to the bed with a switch that turns on the pumpkin’s golden carriage lights. According to Henderson, it even “makes a noise not unlike a fairy godmother’s wand.”
While crafting their vision of the cottages—and make no mistake, it took visionaries to make such grand and glorious fantasies manifest—Henderson and Massa also went to work on the waterfall. Hiring a team with experience building new pathways at Niagara Falls and the Appalachian Trail, the pair spent three years overseeing the creation of a new system of cedar, black locust, and stone walkways, walls, decks, and stairs to take guests safely down the fifty-foot gorge to the base of the cascades. No new soil or plants were brought in, and all that had to be removed was relocated elsewhere along the trail.
“We don’t allow people to even walk along the riverbed, because there’s so much beautiful flora and fauna that’s indigenous to the area,” Henderson says. “So we’re very specific in the trail policies, that you have to stay on the trail itself and not venture out into other areas, because that’s all to be left pristine. The whole area in a way is like a nature preserve … after all, we don’t want to disturb the fairies!”
Speaking of the wee folk, the cottage-inspired by them, the last to be completed at the Roxbury at Stratton Falls, was finally finished in October of last year. Dubbed the Faerie Forest, it features an interior almost entirely crafted by Mazza, though one of the most eye-catching elements was purchased by the pair. “I found these eight-foot-tall golden fairies,” says Henderson. “They look like they hold up the staircase, but they’re not structural—they’re made to look that way. They were our first purchase of the whole project, so I like to say that fairies have been behind us since day one.”
“Wherever you turn, whether it’s inside the room or outside the room, you’re almost bombarded with something new to take in that hopefully brings out the sense of wonder that we all had as a child.”
Whether fairy goodwill or simply stupendous luck, Henderson and Mazza had much of it during the creation of the cottage. The balustrade that lines the curved staircase leading to the interior balcony is composed entirely of wood sourced from a dead cedar grove in the Catskills. In other words, not a single tree had to be felled to create one of the space’s most stunning architectural features. Even more incredible, the gorgeous railing that curls up the entire length of the steps is formed from one solid piece of wood, an enormous tree limb that, as if by magic, matched the turns of the staircase exactly.
What Henderson calls “the set dressing” in the Faerie Forest—everything that isn’t structural—took almost a year to complete. Two months alone were spent lining the interior of the cottage with the rich, dense faux foliage that makes the walls a three-dimensional wonderland. Then it was all overlaid and entwined with hundreds of tiny lights specially created to blink at various speeds at different intervals—all the better, says Henderson, to mimic “fireflies on a July evening at dusk, that random feeling, which is what I’ve felt fairy lights must be like.”
And then there is the false window in the living room, cleverly painted to look like a giant eye is peering through it. The idea, according to Henderson, is to give guests the feeling of being one of the fairies in the forest, “and there’s a child that has stumbled upon this little tiny building and is looking through the window at you. It’s our hope that people leave the Faerie Forest cottage feeling like they were magical fairies for a few days.”