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Talking B&Bs with… Liz & Eric Brodar, Owners of White Fences, Southampton, NY

White Fences is a new bed and breakfast that’s recently opened in the Hamptons, a tony section of Long Island, New York that attracts everyone from celebs to artists to sun worshippers.

Located in the hamlet of Water Mill, White Fences is the right mix of charming and modern, and we highly recommend a stay if you ever find yourself wanting to explore the various shops, beaches and restaurants on the East End.

We were introduced to Liz and Eric Brodar, the owners of White Fences, through a mutual friend – and all we can say is that the couple’s B&B impressed us so much – we wanted to know more about them, their inn and their industry.

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Liz and Eric Brodar

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1. Tell us a little about yourselves. How did you get into the hospitality industry?

At the height of the recession in 2010 we became very concerned about the lack of job opportunities in the men’s apparel business and were searching for a way to reinvent ourselves. We were out in East Hampton for the opening night of “Julie & Julia.” Ina Garten was sitting behind us, as she had a small part in the movie. After the movie we went out to dinner and we were discussing how Julia Child reinvented herself, and so did Ina Garten. Two martinis later I came up with the idea of opening a B&B! I then spent about 9 months researching the business.

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2. Tell us a little about White Fences.

White Fences has been a B&B for about twenty years. In fact, this was one of the first properties we looked to purchase in 2010 when our search began. The original home was built in 1740 and was actually moved to this location from Sag Harbor. Back in those days property was cheaper than the home – boy have times changed. The home was owned by the Benedict family, who came to Water Mill from Connecticut to manage the mill, which was used for milling grain, fulling wool into cloth and also manufacturing paper.

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3. You could have opened up a B&B anywhere. Why the Hamptons?

We had a house in East Hampton for many years and love the area, so it seemed like the perfect place to open an inn, and as most people who visit here know there are very few really nice places to stay. The Hamptons was where we felt most at home and we just love all the seasons, the beaches, and the local farms. It’s close enough but yet still far enough away from NYC hustle and bustle.

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4. There are many lodging options in the Hamptons. How do you make yourself competitive?

There are really not that many options, and there are certainly not a lot of really nice updated lodging options. We choose to open a high end modern inn – everything is brand new! Our decor stands alone here and I have been told by guests who have been traveling here for many years that my breakfast is the best! We compete by offering something special.

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5. White Fences used to be an old farmhouse, correct? Where did you get your inspiration for architecture and interior design?

Eric has traveled the world for many years and always loved the old meets new style of decor that he saw throughout Europe, especially in Italy.

There you are not allowed to knock down old buildings, so they leave up the facade of old on the outside and then the new interior is all modern.

We have always enjoyed the contemporary/modern decor and really felt this was missing here; most of the inns are styled with a traditional flair here. Lifestyles are changing, and people are not as traditional as they were 15 years ago. The upcoming guest has much more contemporary taste when  traveling.

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6. How important is style when opening/running a B&B?

In our opinion, very! There are some guests that still think of a B&B as your grandmother’s attic with shared bathrooms. We have been attracting younger guests who sometimes haven’t stayed in a B&B because the style was too traditional and not updated enough for their travel needs.

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7. What is the hardest part of owning a B&B? The best?

The hardest part today is keeping up with social media – it is a very important part of the business and requires more attention then I have time for. The variety of guests is the BEST part! We have met so many wonderful, interesting guests. Most recently we had a couple stay with us for a week from Kuwait, and we learned so much about their culture; it was so interesting. In the 5 months we have been open here we have welcomed guests from Germany, England, France, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, China, Australia, and best part is we have had several guests who stayed with us at our inn in Maine come visit us here.

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8. Without giving away names, what was the strangest thing a guest did at one of your B&Bs?

[Left] sex toys in the shower….

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9. What is the most polite way to ask for an upgrade?

I honestly can’t say that has happened – if we are not busy we try to offer an upgrade as a surprise upon check in. I don’t think people ask for them so much when staying at a B&B.

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10. What should a person look for when choosing a B&B?

That depends on their travel needs, but for most of our guests it’s decor, cleanliness, quality of food, location and price.

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11. How important are Trip Advisor and website reviews? Please elaborate.

Not as important as they were five years ago. They are still important, but travelers have learned to read through the very bad ones when all the other reviews are good. Travelers seem to want to check reviews, but don’t relay on the reviews as much as they used to.

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12. What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the hospitality industry?

Make sure you are a people person, if you don’t like engaging with the public, don’t even think about it. We couldn’t be happier with our decision to open a B&B, and wish we had done it many years ago. Yes, it is a lot of work, and you work hard, but who doesn’t today?

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13. Has anyone famous stayed at one of your B&Bs? Did they use a false name, or is that something that’s only seen/heard in the movies?

No, we have not had anyone famous yet.

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14. If people want to recreate a stay at one of your B&Bs – what mattress, thread count and type of pillows should they use?

We use Serta iSeries mattress and Frette linens, we offer a few different types of pillows – women like softer pillows and men like firmer pillows. We always use hyper-allergenic products for bedding, since so many guests have allergies today.

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15. If you could open another B&B, where would that be and why?

Since this is our second inn/location, I am really not sure there is anywhere else I would rather be.

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16. Other than one of your locations, where and what was your best bed & breakfast experience? Please elaborate.

In Italy in the Piedmont region we went for the truffle festival and stayed at a lovely B&B that used to be a winery. Traveling to a B&B in Europe isn’t the same as here, but the total experience was just great, from the location to the landscape to the hospitality.

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17. Is there anything you would like to add, promote, or discuss?

We are a true B&B offering a served three-course chef’s whim menu that changes daily, as well as light afternoon refreshments.

It’s interesting, because most guests that visit us here are not aware what is included in their stay.

During the summer months about 50% of the guests didn’t even come to breakfast because a) they didn’t realize it was offered b) they were meeting friends in town or at a spin class… c) they were sleeping in after a late night.

It’s very different here than when we owned our inn in Maine – no one missed breakfast there.

They are happy with a well-appointed clean room, and then when they realize breakfast is included they seem surprised, and then when they have breakfast they are really in love with the experience.

Speaking of breakfast, we serve at a “communal” dining table. It’s great to see how the guests interact with each other and really nice when you see guests exchanging contact info or plan to reconnect during their stay – that’s what makes a B&B so special.

It’s all about the people and for the guest, too.

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Images Courtesy of White Fences Water Mill,  Liz and Eric Brodar, and Paul Undersinger Photography