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Starlite Motel Is the 60s-Inspired Catskills Retreat Instagrammers Dream Of

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Photo by the Starlite Motel

The Kerhonkson motel pairs baby blue doors and pink walls with a retro, Americana aesthetic to create an Ulster County escape that visitors never want to leave.

Driving up to the Starlite Motel is like taking a detour back to the 1960s.

From Route 209, the Kerhonkson retreat’s exterior, done in a hue perhaps best described as I Dream of Jeannie pink, is eye-catching enough to make passersby wonder how such a statement-making place found a home in one of the quieter corners of the Hudson Valley.

Photo by Jody Kivort

In truth, the motel has had a presence in the Valley since the ‘60s. Even so, it remained under-the-radar until it caught the eyes of Alix Umen and Adriana Farmiga just over 10 years ago. The duo have a home just 10 minutes away, so they often passed by the motel and dreamed of all that could be done with it. One day, in June 2018, Umen decided it was time to stop by the inn for herself. She introduced herself to the owner, an 80-year-old woman with her hands full with trying to maintain the property. After Umen and Farmiga expressed interest in taking over the space, they stepped in as owners in December 2018.

From the start, Umen and Farmiga knew they wanted to preserve the original aesthetic while converting the property into an attractive alternative to Airbnbs or Mohonk Mountain House.

Photo by the Starlite Motel

“We loved that old Americana ‘60s vibe,” Umen, a 30-year veteran in the fashion industry, recalls. Together with Farmiga, a practicing artist in the Hudson Valley, she began mapping out the plan to renovate six of the rooms onsite. The goal was to create a space that’s just as cozy and comfortable as it is fun and playful. Drawing inspiration from Wes Anderson, they painted doors in pastel blue hues and coated the exterior walls with cotton candy pink. Inside, they turned the old motor lodge’s king rooms into elegant interiors with smooth hardwood floors and retro tiled baths. Much of the artwork at the motel is part of Farmiga’s series called Blue Hour, a collection of meditations on sunrises and sunsets. The overall effect a little artsy, a little minimalistic, and entirely delightful. It’s the sort of place that could just as easily be the backdrop for an old-timey Catskills postcard as it could a high-end fashion photo shoot or, you know, a Wes Anderson flick.

Outside, the Starlite is just as idyllic. A saltwater pool invites guests to dip a toe into its crystalline waters during the summer months, while a fire pit offers crackling warmth during evenings spent under the stars.

Photo by the Starlite Motel

Although the Starlite Motel began accepting guests in early December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt on overnights. It reopened in May with coronavirus safety protocol in place and has been happily accepting guests ever since. To ensure both customer and staff wellbeing, the motel offers contactless check-in via text message, with payment completed entirely online. Because there’s no face-to-face interaction, visitors can feel safe in their rooms while still connected to the Starlite staff, who are happy to provide recommendations on what to do and where to go in the region. After each stay, the motel airs out rooms for 24-48 hours before thoroughly cleaning them.

Photo by the Starlite Motel

If its weekly calendar is any indication, the Starlite is certainly doing something right. Since Memorial Day, it’s been booked solid. Thanks to its semi-secluded location in the Catskills, it’s a popular venue for Brooklynites craving an escape from the city or locals in search of a quiet staycation in the Hudson Valley. The space is serene and, with its proximity to Minnewaska State Park and Mohonk Preserve, it’s an ideal base for guests who want to explore the great outdoors by day and return to a plush and cozy bed at night.

While the motel keeps occupancy to its six king-size rooms for now, it will debut four queen rooms later this summer. Its outdoor cantina area is currently closed, but, with the upcoming addition of an outdoor back deck, it may reopen in the coming months as well. Guests can savor an organic breakfast on the weekends, and the Starlite staff is happy to provide local restaurant recommendations for lunches and dinners.

Photo by the Starlite Motel

Even though COVID-19 altered the boutique motel’s plans for community events and workshops this summer, Starlite keeps things fun with visits by New Paltz-based Baba Truck, a plant-based food truck, on weekends. Coming on August 15, it also hosts Misto, a culinary project by Hudson Valley Chef Wilson Costa and Nadia Costa, for a pop-up dinner spotlighting Misto’s Brazilian-Ukrainian menu powered by local ingredients.

“We’re being optimistic and hopeful,” Umen says in regard to reopening following the COVID-19 closure. “It’s been a really nice pace. We’re small and nimble and we don’t have a huge staff, so we can help concierge and treat each guest almost like it’s our home and tell them the best of the best in the area.”

Summer vacation at the Starlite, anyone?

Starlite Motel
5938, Rte 209, Kerhonkson

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