The short drive to the O’Brien House is as much a part of the experience as is walking up the cobblestone staircase to its trademark red door. This is cottage country and getting in the car to escape the city for the weekend is a year-round ritual here, and a time-honoured tradition.
As you head North out of the National Capital Region, it doesn’t take long for the traffic to subside and a sense of calm to wash over you. Rocky escarpments line both sides of the highway outside your window, and by the time you take the exit towards the historic town of Chelsea, you already feel as though you’ve made your escape.
Where the roads start to narrow and wind, you’ll know you’re almost there. Even though March marks a transitional season in Gatineau Park, skiers and boarders are still spilling out of the parking lot and across the road to Camp Fortune to take their last few turns before the snow melts. Shortly, cyclist will caravan along the road’s shoulders in brightly coloured racing jerseys and hikers will reach bluffs overlooking the beauty below.
The final turn is marked by a large wooden sign : the name O’Brien and nothing else. And if the glimpse of its turrets through the trees isn’t enough, the final upward pitch that sends you into the driveway is sure to produce another flutter of excitement.
This is Maison O’Brien House’s inaugural week. After four years of meticulous restoration, like any new hotel, the anticipation of finally filling its rooms with guests is palpable.
But the comparisons really stop there – from the moment you walk through the threshold and into the foyer, you quickly forget you’re a guest: the O’Brien house feels like home.
As Residence Manager of the O’Brien House, James Henderson explains “service is the industry that we belong to, hospitality is the manner in which we do it.” It was vital to infuse the concept of hospitality throughout the entire guest experience. And between the design, decor and warm hospitality, they could not have hit the mark more accurately.
Tonight, the O’Brien Chelsea is hosting its first private event for the Ottawa chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. The late-afternoon sun spills through the window and has set O’Brien House aglow with warm light. There are a few guests already chatting in the library, sipping cocktails, while a jazz trio plays softly in the foyer.
This is a group of friends and close peers : both the organizer of the event, Eva Cooper, and O’Brien Chelsea owner Robert Milling are longstanding members of the organization. And in honour of the mansion’s heritage, their guests have been requested to dress in costume reflecting the 1930’s era.
The result is spectacular. Looking out into the Canadiana Room from the top step, it is a sea of rich jewel tones; of velvet and sequins and pinstripes and top hats that could make you wonder, briefly, if you’re seeing ghosts from once upon a time.
With toasts made over flutes of champagne, it’s apparent that there is so much more to look forward to at the O’Brien: plans for a chef’s table on the back patio for sunset dinners overlooking Lake Meech. They will soon break ground on two tree-houses: separate guest residences (with all the same modern amenities) will give its fortunate guests the thrill of feeling as though they are right in the middle of the valley.
As guests are seated in the two adjoining dining rooms and the conversation dims to a warm hum, it’s hard not to daydream about the possibilities for this space -how the view will change as new spring buds burst from the branches and turn the valley below into green canopy. How the summer sun will welcome guests to lounge on the patios, and the spectacular canvas of gold and red and umber as autumn returns to the valley. The weddings and reunions that will be celebrated here. And how spectacular a holiday tree might look next to the grand fireplace.
These halls will undoubtedly be witness to some spectacular memories for years to come. And regardless of which season or occasion that brought them there, guests will unquestionably anticipate when they can come back home to Maison O’Brien House.
Watch highlights of the special event by clicking here.
(Credit : Caroline Phillips, Ottawa Business Journal)