Inn Vermont: West Hill House B&B
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
In the heart of the Mad River Valley, an inviting country inn stands on a quiet and idyllic hillside. Located on the former site of a historic 19th century Vermont farm, the West Hill House B&B provides a pleasurable and relaxed lodging experience. Its well-appointed rooms are decorated with charming nostalgic artifacts, which further enhance its welcoming atmosphere. Owners Peter and Susan MacLaren have overseen the West Hill House B&B for the past fifteen years. After working for decades in the fields of communications engineering, philanthropic fundraising, education, and radio broadcasting, the MacLarens have channeled their shared passion for positive connection into building profound relationships with both their guests and their local community. Their dedication to respectful and genuine hospitality is manifested through their thoughtful stewardship of their cherished country inn, which serves as a welcoming sanctuary where tasteful vacationers can enjoy an exceptional Vermont sojourn.
A Room for Every Occasion
Situated on nine acres of breathtaking Vermont scenery, the West Hill House B&B boasts a total of nine comfortable and cozy guestrooms and suites, which are spread out across its two separate buildings. Some guestrooms pay homage to the past owners of the West Hill House B&B. Others serve as touching tributes to the the MacLarens’ heritage and the happy memories that they have made over the course of their worldly travels.
The Allen Suite is named in honor of the Allen family, who were the owners of the original mid-19th century farmhouse that is now the West Hill House B&B. The land served as the home for their family farm for several generations, and the Allen family had a recent connection with the West Hill House B&B. “The children of the last Allen baby to be born at the Allen farmstead actually came to visit several years ago,” says Susan MacLaren. “It was wonderful to meet them, and they had a great time exploring the house and learning about all of the renovations that had taken place over the years.” The Allen Suite features a king-sized bed, a gas-fired stove, and a comfortable sofa. Its bathroom is outfitted with a vintage marble vanity and a jacuzzi.
The Bluebonnet Room is inspired by the years that the MacLarens spent near Dallas, Texas, and it is named after the official flower of the Lone Star State. The dazzling aesthetic of the room is enhanced by fetching blue bedding and pillows, as well as floral wall art that was hand-painted by one of the West Hill House B&B’s former owners, Dotty Kyle. The room is ideally-suited for single travelers, or couples who choose to visit the West Hill House B&B for a short stay. A queen-sized bed, gas fireplace, and ensuite bathroom provide a restful reprieve after a long day of lively exploration.
From the foyer of West Hill House B&B, a spiral staircase leads to the private entrance of the Highland Room. The room is adorned with traditional Scottish decorative accents, including bagpipes and Tartan-patterned blankets. Hand-hewn rafters and exposed barn-board walls lend an air of countrified ease and comfort to the room, which also features a gas-fired stove and bathroom with a shimmering brass sink and jetted tub with a built-in shower.
Above the dining room, the ski-themed Mountain Room is bedecked with ski memorabilia from Vermont, as well as graphic prints of the MacLarens’ adopted Canadian homeland. A king-sized bed, gas-fired stove and comfortable couch sit underneath a sloped ceiling with exposed wooden beams, and the ensuite bathroom is outfitted with both a jacuzzi and a shower.
Named after the former owners who first opened the West Hill House B&B to the public in the 1970s, the Stetson Suite is vibrant and alluring. A colorful purple couch is harmoniously complemented by a queen-sized bed, which is surrounded by dark-toned wooden nightstands and dressers. Additional features include a gas-fired stove and an ensuite bathroom with a two-person shower and jetted tub. The main house building of the West Hill House B&B also has many pleasant and welcoming common areas, including a communal dining room, a living room with a warm fireplace and comfortable chairs and couches, and a library room with a pool table and wood stove. Delicious home-cooked breakfasts prepared by Susan MacLaren are served in the dining room every morning, and the living room features a bar area with a curated collection of Vermont craft beers (such as Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Long Trail Brewing Company) and single-malt Scotches. A delightful flower garden - featuring 2 gazebos - surrounds the house, and the celebrated Catamount Nordic Ski Trail runs directly through the property. Snowshoes are available for guests to borrow throughout the winter. During the ski season, a complimentary shuttle brings skiers and snowboarders staying at the West Hill House B&B directly to Sugarbush Resort, which is located just a mile up the road.
Across from the main house building, a striking and handsome red “Event Barn” overlooks a vast field, pond, and nearby golf course. The barn features an airy and well-lit main room that can comfortably accommodate up to 50 guests. It is used as an on-site venue for weddings, corporate events, and family celebrations. A terraced mezzanine area serves as an ideal spot for event DJs and spectators, and a drop-down projector screen allows for the seamless facilitation of business presentations. In the back, a well-equipped kitchen allows event staff to serve meals on-site. “We put a great deal of effort into renovating the event barn to bring it to where it is today,” says Peter MacLaren. “We also had a lot of fun decorating and designing the Logan Suite, which is the only suite that is located in the Event Barn.”
The Logan Suite is the largest of the West Hill House B&B’s private suites and it spans two separate floors. On the first floor, a full kitchen is outfitted with a refrigerator, stove, oven, coffee maker, and microwave, as well as a bathroom with a shower. Upstairs, the suite’s large master bedroom features a queen-sized bed, gas fireplace, and country-chic wooden furniture and décor. The main bathroom is stylishly-appointed with a double heart-shaped jetted air tub, heated floor, and separate shower. “It’s a fantastic suite for honeymoons, engagements, and romantic getaways,” says Susan.
A Lifetime of Hospitality and Communication
According to Susan, she and Peter have always possessed an innate penchant for hospitality. “We both grew up in households that welcomed visiting travelers,” says Susan. “My parents hosted many of their friends at our homes in the various place we lived in my childhood years, and Peter spent his younger years living with his mother at his grandmother’s house near a college in Glasgow, Scotland. A number of instructors or professors would stay at his house, and he would always greet them with eager excitement. We were both raised in environments where hospitality was a prized virtue. We see the work that we do here at the West Hill House B&B as a continuation of the way that we were brought up.”
After Peter MacLaren graduated from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow in 1971 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, he began working for what is now British Telecom as an engineer in their Research & Development department. While there, he worked to assist in the development of digital microwave trunk radio systems and supervised the development of an advanced data recording system. In January of 1975, he was offered a job as an engineer in Nortel’s Research & Development department, which was then known as Bell Northern Research (BNR). He then left the United Kingdom and resettled in Ottawa, Canada. It was there that he first met Susan. They got married in 1981.
In 1983, Peter transitioned from the Research & Development department of BNR and advanced to higher executive roles at Nortel. Over the course of the next several decades, he was involved in several different branches of Nortel’s product lines. He became focused on the rapidly emerging wireless business in the 1990s. He led departments focused on business development, marketing
communication, and international standards. Peter and Susan moved to Texas in 1994 when Peter’s work took him to Nortel’s office in Richardson, near Dallas. In 2000, Peter and Susan relocated to Paris, France. Peter had been asked to serve as the executive representative for Nortel at the onset of their collaborative venture with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which was later renamed Airbus Group in 2014. While on secondment with EADS’ telecom division, Peter worked with a team of engineers as Chief Technical Officer to improve and streamline their first responder telecommunications technology program, then helped develop plans for entering the U.S. and Canadian markets. He and Susan then moved back to Texas in 2003, where he managed EADS’ public safety wireless business in the United States and Canada until his retirement in 2005.
While Peter was climbing up the ranks of Nortel’s corporate structure, Susan was effecting positive change on both a local and global scale through her work in the fields of community radio broadcasting, international fundraising, education, and hospitality. After graduating from high school, Susan worked with a nonprofit organization that designed and built a small radio network for Native communities in Northwestern Ontario. Using a mobile 40-watt transmitter, they relayed information regarding social services and town meetings to Native residents of remote rural areas. “We also played a lot of country western music,” says Susan. “I didn’t speak any native languages, and I didn’t have that much experience in working in radio, but I brought a lot of enthusiasm to the table and really helped to get things going.” In the early 1970s, while attending Carleton University in Ottawa, Susan assisted in organizing the “Miles for Millions” walk. The walks were modeled after Oxfam’s similar charitable walkathons in the United Kingdom. Working with a team of passionate fundraisers, Susan helped to coordinate philanthropic outreach efforts and secure funding for the Miles for Millions charitable walkathon events. The Miles for Millions walkathons raised funds for third-world development projects and also served as an educational platform through which many young Canadian schoolchildren gained awareness of their global impact.
In the years that followed, Susan hosted and produced a religious affairs program for a commercial radio station in Ottawa. Before moving with Peter to France, Susan was also involved in writing curricula and leading workshops and programs for both adults and children in the various churches in which she and Peter were involved. In addition, Susan served as an animator at a historic village in Alberta, Canada, where she recreated a timeless frontier-era experience for tourists who visited an authentic 19th century-style “Stopping House,” originally located between Edmonton and Athabasca. “Stopping Houses were, in many ways, a precursor to modern-day bed-and-breakfasts,” notes Susan. “The men would sleep in the barn with the horses, and the women would sleep up in the attic. Everyone who worked at the historic park always had to be ‘in character,’ so it was a really fun and unique experience.”
In the early years after moving to Texas in 1994, Susan homeschooled their son through 5th and 6th grade. Susan noted that “it was a joy working with him as he explored new ideas and concepts”.
While in France, Susan had the chance to tutor a number of children in English, while she herself was expanding her knowledge of French. She took the opportunity to join with friends to explore historic landmarks and museums in and around Paris, and she also took French cooking classes!
The Dream Takes Shape
Several years before Peter’s retirement, Susan suggested the idea of purchasing a bed-and-breakfast. “She quickly convinced me that owning a bed-and-breakfast would be a great thing to do after we retired,” says Peter. “We started thinking about it seriously in 2000, around five years before we first visited the West Hill House B&B.”
When Peter and Susan moved back from France to Texas in 2003, Susan began to extensively research potential bed-and-breakfast in the countries where they had lived in the past. “We thought about purchasing a bed-and-breakfast in Canada,” says Peter. “We also briefly considered France and Scotland. France was a lovely place to live, but we decided that it would be too challenging to learn the ropes from a regulatory point of view. Scotland is my home country, but it might have been hard to get re-established there. We also understood that we had to find a place where guests would want to come all year. We knew that the place we bought the bed-and-breakfast had to have a lot of things for our guests to do in the summer and the winter.”
Peter says that he and Susan then made the decision to narrow the focus their search to the northeastern region of the United States. “We would fly up to Montreal or Boston from Texas, rent a car, and visit six or seven properties at a time. We set up appointments with various agents and kept looking, but we didn’t find anything that quite ‘clicked.’ After a year-and-a-half of consistent searching, we wondered if we were being too fussy. We also wondered if we were not destined to be the owners of a bed-and-breakfast. The 49th property we physically visited was the West Hill House B&B, and it was love at first sight.”
Susan recalls that she and Peter instantly knew that the West Hill House B&B was the perfect fit from the moment that they first walked through its doors in November 2005. “We both just felt at home when we walked in. We had visited properties in the Mad River Valley on previous occasions, but we had never seen anything as beautiful and welcoming as the West Hill House B&B.”
According to Peter, the West Hill House B&B had several qualities that made it stand out from the other bed-and-breakfasts that they had visited. “The first thing that stood out to us was the
location. The Mad River Valley is an exceptionally-stunning area, and the West Hill House B&B is located on a very quiet road. We wanted to find somewhere that was an ideal place for rest and recreation where our guests could get away from the noise of their city lives.”
In addition, the construction and renovation projects undertaken by the previous owners of the West Hill House B&B, Dotty Kyle and Eric Brattstrom, had significantly expanded its structure. “The expansion added two things that were very important,” notes Peter. “Firstly, the West Hill House B&B has really nice bathrooms. In a lot of old properties, the bathrooms are shoehorned into corners, and they’re not spacious enough to comfortably accommodate bathtubs or showers. Secondly, the West Hill House B&B has enough space for eight wonderful guestrooms on the multiple different floors of the main building. In many of the bed-and-breakfasts that we visited, the rooms were incredibly cramped, and there weren’t any open areas where guests could congregate. Part of what makes the West Hill House B&B experience so wonderful is that we have large common areas that include two wood fireplaces. We also have a communal dining room where our guests can enjoy each other’s company at breakfast time.”
After Peter and Susan first visited the West Hill House B&B in 2005, Peter discovered a serendipitous coincidence that further affirmed his convictions regarding the property. “It was one of the few B&B’s that we visited which had a phone system installed in all of the guest rooms as well as for the offices. Not only that, it turned out that the system was a Nortel system. I wasn’t involved in its design by any means, but I was quite involved with the business aspects of that system. It was a wonderful full-circle moment.”
In April 2006, Peter and Susan closed on a purchase deal with the previous owners. After moving into the West Hill House B&B, they were greeted by their first guest very shortly after they arrived. “We had just moved up from Texas, and we were still getting things situated,” says Susan. “At the time, Peter was still doing consulting work, and he happened to be away on a business trip. My sister came down to visit, and we sat together and waited for the first guest to arrive. When the first guest finally pulled up, a massive skunk was parading around the front porch. We called the guests from the top window and told them to come around back. It wasn’t the most gracious entrance, but it was nevertheless an auspicious beginning for our career as bed-and-breakfast owners.”
Over the next few weeks, they hosted several additional guests, and also hosted their first wedding. Susan recalls: “It was a small wedding with just the couple and a lovely ceremony. They came back for the tenth anniversary of their wedding with their two young kids in 2016. It was really great to see them again. We don’t normally allow young children, but we made an exception for them.” Over the next fifteen years, the MacLarens embarked on a series of targeted renovation campaigns. They redid the interior of the barn building and converted it into an event space, speeds, and joined a community solar grid in an effort to lessen their carbon footprint. They also became actively involved in the local community. Before upgraded the internet to fiber optic speeds, and joined a community solar grid in an effort to lessen their carbon footprint. They also became actively involved in the local community. Before Peter and Susan took over the West Hill House B&B, their predecessors, Dotty Kyle and Eric Brattstrom, introduced them to the lodging group at the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. Shortly after Peter and Susan relocated to Vermont, Peter joined the Chamber, which greatly helped him get to know the community. He served on their board for almost seven years, several of which he spent as the Board Chair. “We got to know a lot of people through the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce,” says Peter. “We learned a lot of things about the Vermont business community and all of the wonderful things that were going on in the Mad River Valley. I would strongly recommend anyone who moves to Vermont to start a business to become involved with their local chamber of commerce.”
As Susan began to develop West Hill House B&B’s kitchen program, she formed a lasting relationship with a local community-supported agriculture farm (CSA) known as Muddy Boots CSA. Susan elaborates: “Muddy Boots CSA is a wonderful group of three independent farms that work collaboratively. They operate out of the Cloud Water Farm in Warren, and they grow everything from cantaloupe and watermelon to kale, spinach, onions, potatoes and carrots. I use their vegetables in my dishes whenever possible. Their delicata squash is absolutely amazing. I look forward to it every fall. Vermont is a state that prides itself on its spirit of independent entrepreneurship, so it’s very important to support local businesses and farmers. Vermont’s small business owners work hard to make a living, and we make the business community stronger by looking after each other.”
As members of the Vermont Ambassadors Program, Peter and Susan are proud to be able to offer their guests advice on the best things to see and do in the Mad River Valley. “The Mad River Valley has phenomenal cultural attractions and natural scenery,” says Peter. “The Mad River Taste Place has an incredible assortment of cheeses from Vermont. They also have a wide range of local spirits, beer, and chocolates, and a section dedicated to arts and crafts pieces from local artists, as well.”
Peter says that in addition to celebrated ski resorts, such as Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, the Mad River Valley offers a wide range of fun and exciting outdoor activities in every season. “The Mad River Valley is the home of the famous Mad River Rocket sleds. There are many great sledding spots throughout the area, including the hill at the golf course down the road from the West Hill House B&B, and the Lincoln Gap, which is also a wonderful hiking area. There are also unique winter exploration opportunities, such as the dog sled tours that are operated by October Siberians. In the summertime, there is an active mountain biking and road cycling community here, and Sugarbush Soaring offers glider flights and flight lessons for people who aren’t afraid of heights. You get to take in some fantastic scenery while riding in their gliders, and nothing beats those views during fall foliage season.”
As a result of Peter and Susan’s tireless efforts, Peter was awarded the Borden E. Avery Innkeeper of the Year award by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce in 2019. “It was extremely unexpected,” says Peter, “but I appreciated the recognition.” The nomination came as a result of Peter’s community engagement at a statewide level and his advocacy work in the field of hospitality. It also recognized Peter and Susan’s unfailing commitment to customer service. “We’ve always had one of the top-rated bed-and-breakfasts in Vermont from fairly early on,” notes Peter. “I think the secret to our success lies in the fact that we truly love interacting with our guests and helping them enjoy their time at the West Hill House B&B.” Susan adds, “We both also enjoy learning from conversations and sharing experiences with our guests who come to stay with us at the B&B.”
Peter adds that through their ownership of the West Hill House B&B, he and Susan have been able to continue bringing people together in the same way that they did through their previous careers. “We’ve built our lives around connecting people in positive ways,” notes Peter. “I played a pivotal part in building technological systems that allowed people to communicate effectively with one another, and Susan brought people together across great distances with her work in philanthropic fundraising and radio broadcasting. We get to carry on that legacy of connection in a different way today at the West Hill House B&B. Our aim is to provide a place where our guests can share beautiful moments and connect with their families and the people around them. There’s no better feeling than watching our guests relax, leave their stress behind, and share conversations together around the breakfast table. Running a bed-and-breakfast is hard work, but those moments of connection make it all worth it.”