What if I told you that there is a secret hotel in the Hudson Valley that has neither marketing nor social media platforms, and its bare-bones website offers no images of rooms or exteriors—or, really, any information at all? What if I also told you that its historic buildings are luxuriously appointed—it has a spa, a yoga studio and an ex–Eleven Madison Park chef—and its restaurant is supplied by an organic and biodynamic farm that sits on the hotel’s 236 acres?
Folks, it’s there—but good luck finding it. The Dutchess is a secret hotel owned and conceived by Rameet Chawla; he’s the chairman of Fueled, a company with offices in New York, L.A., Chicago and London. Fueled designs award-winning apps for clients that include Porsche, Ducati and Warby Parker. It is amusing that a man who engineers elegant ways to deliver information has crafted a hotel experience predicated on information’s near absence.
There was a negotiation behind the photos you see here. Chawla did not want images that reveal the entirety of The Dutchess to appear in these pages. “We are offering an experience, and one that can’t be captured in photos. Also, the photos set a certain level of expectation, and I would rather that you not have those expectations when you come.” Chawla explains, “I think, and I’ve said this before, that happiness is a function of the distance between expectation and reality. We’re looking to maximize that distance. One way is to make the reality even better. But, if expectations were already super-high, then what you come away with is, ‘OK, that’s kinda what I expected.’”
“Like, no one’s mind is ever blown on New Year’s Eve,” he says. “But if you did the same thing on a Wednesday night, you’d come away thinking, ‘What an amazing night.’”
At The Dutchess, Chawla designs experiences that a blizzard of information would undercut. These are feelings: the tickle of discovery, or the heightened awareness that comes with mystery, or even fear. At The Dutchess’s entrance, there is zero signage. When its electronic gate swings open, you pause in your car, wondering what to do. You creep forward, head swiveling, afraid that you’re trespassing. When you ultimately fall into the staff’s warm embrace, you will feel The Dutchess’s hospitality very intensely.
Because there is no sign, you work for that welcome: It has more value. Explains Chawla, “There’s a broad cultural movement built around ‘on demand.’ If you want something, you can get it. We satiate ourselves with information and access to information. And I’m very much a proponent; in previous lives, I’ve helped people get access to that information ubiquitously through the internet. And now it’s almost more interesting to buck that cultural trend. What becomes more interesting is the thing you don’t have access to.”
Then there is the idea that The Dutchess is tailored to a very particular set of guests who share lifestyles, aesthetics and even value systems. The Dutchess’s kitchen, overseen by Hudson Valley native Chef Mark Margiotta (he’s that Eleven Madison Park alum), serves richly satisfying, dairy-and gluten-free “mostly vegan” meals. “Mostly” means that, though he uses no dairy, Margiotta often prepares delicious, organic meats sourced from surrounding farms. While there is no gluten, alcohol is served at The Dutchess, and with style. Its beverage program features painstakingly wrought cocktails like the Rose Quartz: mezcal, rose quartz activated grapefruit cordial, Aperol, Himalayan pink salt and geranium.
The Dutchess’s farmer, Zach Wolf, worked under Jack Algiere at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and also for hotelier Andre Balazs. Balazs owns the Chateau Marmont in L.A., the Standard, High Line in NYC and Locusts-on-Hudson in the Hudson Valley, where Wolf farmed. On The Dutchess’s acreage, Wolf grows much of the all-organic produce that Margiotta prepares. He practices biodynamic farming, which can include some mystical-seeming techniques: For instance, biodynamic farmers might fortify their fields by burying the horn of a cow that’s been filled with ground quartz. Biodynamic farmers take some of their cues from lunar cycles. Wolf conducts outdoor talks with guests about agriculture and ethics, and often joins visitors in the dining room. Guests can participate on the farm, and its surplus yield is donated to local food pantries.
On the property, there is an exquisitely preserved 18th century Dutch barn, one of three buildings here that remain from the 1750s. The barn has been repurposed as a yoga studio, and its soaring timber-framed volume resonates with the Murniati gamelatron, a kinetic sculpture by Aaron Taylor Kuffner that creates an enveloping soundscape with bells.
All 14 rooms at The Dutchess are uniquely furnished with rustic antiques; in one, the desk is an ancient, scarred and perforated carpenter’s bench gleaming under a thousand polished coats of beeswax. The bed linens are expensive, but intentionally unironed— and, while the sheets are pulled taut, the blanket and coverlet are presented artfully ruched. There are no TVs in the guest rooms, but on the bureaus lie matches and palo santo smudge sticks. In short, this is not the hotel for guests who want golf, steak and vodka rocks.
But by relying on word-of-mouth, Chawla can curate the guests who show up at his door. “People come here through people who have come before. It’s very likely that, if someone recommends this place to you, it’s because they know you and they’ve been here. Guests are automatically curated through those channels. And that’s why we try our best not to take random reservations—because maybe The Dutchess is not for you.”
Chawla does not see his role as a hotelier as a departure from designing apps at Fueled. In fact, he sees his work at The Dutchess as part of a continuum that runs from designing the experience of app users to designing the experience of hotel guests. “I understand people on a cultural level, and I build technology for them. Now the medium is physical space—but the function of what I’m doing is strikingly similar.”
Eleven Madison Park | @elevenmadisonpark
Rameet Chawla | @rameet
Fueled | @fueled
Jack Algiere | @jackalgiere
Blue Hill at Stone Barns | @stonebarns
Chateau Marmont | @chateaumarmont
the Standard, High Line
This story was originally published in September of 2018.