Widgets Magazine

Shorecrest Innkeeper Marilyn Marks on Gardens, Home-Making and Finding the Perfect Next Career

Q: You have a British accent, so you’re clearly not from the North Fork. How did you get to Southold? A: That’s a long story.  The short version is I left a career in graphic design and publishing, working for the BBC, to move to NYC in the 1970s. I worked in the design end of the fashion and textile industry for 30 years, running my own companies. During that time I moved to Long Island—to Huntington. In 2005, after I closed my last fashion business and prepared to sell my house, I had to figure out what to do next. So I made a list, of what I wanted and needed in my life and realized that running a B&B sounded like it would meet all the criteria.

I needed to stay on Long Island because of my children, so I started looking online for one to buy on the Island. And Shorecrest was available, although it had been on the market for two years. I felt like it was waiting for me.

Q: After working in fashion, you made a list and realized you wanted to run a B&B? What kind of list was it?

A:  It was my ‘In an ideal world’ list of “What do I want? What do I not want? What must I have, and what would be nice to have?  And what was I going to do with a lifetime collection of ‘stuff’?

After commuting from Huntington to the city for so many years, one of the things I wanted no more of was commuting; I wanted to work from home.  And I had to have a garden. I had created the very large and beautiful garden in Huntington from scratch and was prepared to do that again, but not to live without one.

As to what business I could do from home, I realized that what I love to do is to make a comfortable inviting space. I liked to entertain at home, cook special dinners—elaborate, beautiful meals—and invite my friends. It’s an art project for me. I developed the passion as an art student in London, when the most satisfying form of entertainment my friends and I could afford was to cook for each other.

All the years I worked in fashion and raised my three sons, my favorite meal of the week was Sunday breakfast.

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I worked all week, but Sunday mornings we would always be together. I could make a meal for my whole family and I would create an elaborate breakfast spread. My children would come down the stairs and the table would be laid end to end with every kind of delicious food. It was Christmas and Thanksgiving morning once every weekend in our house

They are grown now, but the remembered pleasure of those Sunday breakfasts was part of how I got the idea  that running a B&B was the perfect next career for me.

Q: Ok, but Southold is so different from Huntington and the City. How did you know you would enjoy living here?

A: Southold reminded me of the English countryside, and I love to be near water. I grew up on the outskirts of  Bristol, a port city in the west of England, which was quite rural. I missed green fields and I was tired of the city and so much cement. But the main reason was probably the opportunity. Shorecrest Bed and Breakfast was for sale, and when I saw it I thought it was perfect. Even though it was a February day, cold and grey outside. People here know what February is like.

Q: What struck you about the B&B?

A: Lots of things: the building itself, the architecture--the generous height of the ceilings, the craftsmanship in the intricate moldings, the history. The other thing was the beautiful property; I knew I could plant a wonderful garden here. I also loved that the B&B had its own beach—two really, one on the sound, and one on the inlet.

Q: Two beaches? That’s really special. What are they like? Do you provide any particular amenities for your guests?

A: The beach on the Long Island Sound side is just 100 yards east of the Southold town beach. While it’s great for walking and swimming, the sunsets are spectacular there. The beach faces west and north, and the sun goes down in all its glory every night. What a treat for me and my guests.

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I offer lounge chairs, Adirondack chairs, a picnic table with umbrella and a fire pit on the bluff overlooking the water. Watch the sunset, sip wine and roast marshmallows. It’s a lovely way to end the day.

Behind Shorecrest is the largest inlet on the North Fork, the Hashamomuck Pond (or Arshamomoque, it’s spelt several different ways) and that’s where people launch my kayaks. The kayaks are available to rent, but I include them for free in extended stay packages, midweek and off-season.

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You can fish and clam too, so long as you get the proper permits.

Q: What changes have you made in the decade you’ve been Innkeeper?

A: First of all, there was no garden to speak of as a lot of the land was overgrown and left to become habitat. I have planted several gardens within gardens. The bermed up bed running parallel to Route 48 is a sequential perennial planting 200 feet long and 20 feet deep. I’m putting in more shrubs now, and the privet hedge my sons planted for me for Mother’s Day in 2006 is now so huge it is like a homage to the Hamptons.

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I’ve created a fenced-in quiet, shade garden with a pond off the kitchen where my dog can safely wander outside, and I’m constantly digging up lawn and adding more flowerbeds. Last fall I planted close to 8,000 bulbs, then in the spring when I realized the deer were delicately topping the petals off the tulips. I fenced the rest to keep them out. Now instead of a plot at Charnews farm I am able to plant a vegetable garden here at the Shorecrest.

I’ve also added chickens, including a handsome  Silver Leghorm rooster named Elvis and a mixture of different breeds of hens, 24 in all. They’re so pretty, like walking flowers as they run and rummage through the flower beds, and really entertaining.

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Who knew that they had so much to say for themselves? The chatter constantly as they free range and forage throughout the gardens, and my guests love to meet them. Plus when the hens are laying I use their eggs for breakfast.

Of course maintaining the house has been an enormous labor of love too. I’ve renovated and updated every room in the house, including the bathrooms and each winter compete another project. I keep the website and Facebook updated with news and photos of the rooms, gardens and chickens.

Q: You mentioned you loved the history of the house. What is it?

A: Based on the architecture it seems to have been built in the late 1860s, when the property, consisting of over 75 of the surrounding acres, was a farm. It’s quite an elegant and elaborate house for a farmer, so he must have been very successful. I imagine that he may have made a lot of money during the Civil War when the north was booming and the army needed lots of food to feed the troops.

In 1897 the property was bought by a Dr. Ruch, a dentist from New Jersey. I had a guest recently who grew up around here, and she brought me a copy of a photograph dated September 1919 showing the house. Then it was called Windcrest Manor.  There was a windmill in the back yard and Route 48 was an old dirt road going right past the front door.

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In the late 1920s, the children of Dr. Ruch started selling off plots to other doctors and dentists from New Jersey. They started developing Bayberry Way too. A guest of mine, an elderly gentleman in his 90s who lived around here then, told me about it.  Somehow the Bayberry development didn’t work out, I think it was due to the Depression. Over the years the rest of the farm land was sold off for housing except for the one acre and two access plots to both bodies of water that remain as part of the Shorecrest property. Dr. Ruch’s descendants lived in this house until the 1980s when it was sold to the people that first made it into a B&B.

Q: Is there a signature Shorecrest breakfast dish?

A: Not really, there are a lot of dishes I like to make. When berries are in season, I put summer pudding on the menus a mix of soft seasonal fruits, pressed overnight in the refrigerator with their juices into a mold that ends up looking like a purple Christmas pudding, and tastes delicious.

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I posted photos of that with the recipe on my Facebook page. Right now there are still a lot of tomatoes and corn available from the farms, so I use them in frittatas flavored with herbs from my garden. Now that apples and pears are in season I’ve been making baked apple French toast and poaching pears to serve with pancakes. Zucchini is ubiquitous so I put it in muffins and add it to potato pancakes. The goat cheese available locally I like to use in quiches.

Q: Every B&B is idiosyncratic, that’s part of the charm. What is part of the Shorecrest experience that’s different from the other B&Bs here?

A: Hmm. The heart rocks, the feel of this place, the experience of it, its unique charm.

Q: Heart rocks?

A: My son once brought home a perfectly heart shaped rock he’d found on our beach. We started looking out for them on our walks, keeping them in a bowl in the living room.  Guests saw them and started finding them too, and then they started writing their names on them and messages. One of my favorites just said ‘I love Carol’.  Now the rocks aren’t always heart shaped that people find, but guests enjoy adding their rock and message to the collection. And I like to think it leaves a little of their good energy behind when they do.

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I had a guest just recently write a review that said ‘when I walked in I felt this place was full of love.’ And I believe she is right. A lot of couples come here to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, get engaged, and they are in love.

This is a warm place, it’s not austere. Having a B&B allowed me to keep and share the many treasures I’d accumulated over the years --art, furniture, antiques, beautiful carpets, china —and they add to the visual feast that is this house, Shorecrest. One guest who walked into the dining room for the first time recently said ‘It’s like walking into a jewelry box.’

My hope for my guests is that a stay at Shorecrest will be pleasurable, fun, restful yet interesting. The environment, the land, the water, the gardens, the books, and now the chickens set the scene.  Sharing a delicious meal, enjoying the space and meeting interesting people, is the theatre that everyone partakes in to some degree. I enjoy my guests and my role as innkeeper, feel very lucky and grateful to be here, and every year work on further enhancing the experience for all who walk through my door.