Photos by Lesley Unruh
When makeup mogul Bobbi Brown announced she was leaving her beauty brand back in 2016, her husband, real estate developer Steven Plofker, breathed a sigh of relief. Not because an important chapter in their lives was closing, but because another one was about to begin.
Unbeknownst to Brown, her husband was in need of a helping hand after purchasing a historic property in their suburban hometown of Montclair, New Jersey. Known today as The George—the couple transformed what was once a 20th-century landmark into a trendy 32-room boutique hotel worthy of a spot in Williamsburg.
Construction on The George began two years ago, the exact day after Brown announced her departure from the cosmetics line. She explained, “When I called my husband and told him I was leaving the brand, he said to me ‘Good, because I could really use your help.’ He was thinking of opening a hotel and wanted to know what I thought. And as someone who doesn’t really spend a lot of time thinking I said, ‘Yeah, fantastic. Let’s do this.’ So I signed on and by December, The George was a complete construction site.”
Brown came onto the team as creative director, meaning she was the one in charge of any and all visual aspects of the hotel. She did admit, however, that this would always be first and foremost her husband’s project. As a real estate developer, Plofker has worked on commercial, retail and residential spaces, but this is the first time that he or Brown have shown interest in the hospitality industry. Throughout the years, the couple has collaborated on home renovations, creating office spaces, and Plofker even helped design all of the free-standing stores and in-store experiences for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. “We have very similar taste which is lucky,” Brown said. When it came to opening a hotel, they had no choice but to go all-in together.
The North Mountain Avenue estate was built back in 1902 as a residential home for the famous architect Charles Van Vleck—who also served as the exclusive architect to the esteemed Rockefeller family. The property got its first feel for hotel life as The Georgian Inn during the 1940s (named for its Georgian architecture), but the site was later granted landmark status in 2008. That is, until Plofker purchased it in 2012. The renovations didn’t begin until nearly four years later, when Brown was brought on board.
“Let me put it this way, every single thing had to be changed,” Brown said with a laugh. While it’s hard to tell from its stately brick façade, as far as the interior was concerned, it needed a head-to-toe revamp. Fortunately, they were able to restore the hotel’s original lobby and wood-paneled library which Brown believes sets the tone right from the start. “The bones of the library were absolutely gorgeous. It had a fireplace, bookshelves, paneled walls—but the colors were really bad. It was neglected. So we stripped it and then we looked at it and said, ‘Ok it’s cool, but lets stain it.’ So we landed on dark gray which I think came out really, really nice.” The lobby features original ornate crown moldings and stark white columns that speak to its colonial beginnings.
Brown chose to continue the soothing neutral undertones throughout the rest of the hotel, with pops of color, mainly reds, coming from decorative accents and industrial finishes she hand-selected. The first floor was a collaboration between One Kings Lane and Brown herself, with rich leather furnishings by Timothy Oulton including an overstuffed sofa and wingback chairs. And if you’re paying close enough attention, you’ll find a “George” theme that reappears in both the library and lobby with George Washington oil paintings, a black and white photograph of George Clooney positioned by the grand staircase and George Costanza sporting his tighty whities on the mantle of the fireplace.
Inspired by Brown and Plofker’s love of travel—and overall interest in seeking out cool, indie hotels to stay at—The George is a combination of findings along those journeys and pieces from their personal lives. And unlike other hotels, it feels more like a home, one where you can actually purchase anything you see. “Everything in the hotel is up for sale,” Brown explained. “Once we started this project, my husband and I had a huge storage warehouse and we would basically just buy furniture that we loved—anywhere from estate sales, to outlets, or things that I was ready to recycle that I had owned. So we just had a lot of furniture in one giant room until we actually were able to get it inside and start moving things around. I thought that part was really fun.” For this reason, The George will be constantly changing but still uphold that warm, cozy atmosphere Brown set out to create.
What posed itself as more of a challenge was designing the guestrooms, each one vastly different than the next with their own bespoke look and feel. A mix of seven suites, 16 standards, three premier and six studios, the rooms are categorized by names instead of numbers. This being Brown’s idea, she correlated the room names with the curated celebrity artwork that’s inside. For example, in the “Shirley” room, you’ll find frames of famous Shirley’s throughout history including Shirley Temple and Shirley Chisholm. Stay in the “Steve” room and you’re in good company alongside Steve Jobs, Steve Harvey and Steve Martin.
When it came to elevating what Brown refers to as the “hotel experience”, this included bringing on big-name brand partners to provide the hotel and its guests with complimentary amenities. Casper was in charge of outfitting each guestroom with a mattress, pillow and sheet set, while guests can also find Nespresso machines, SMEG compact refrigerators, AudioPro speakers and Dyson Supersonic hair dryers in their rooms as well. “Like any business I’ve ever been involved in, I really believe in the details. All those little things really make the difference,” Brown expressed.
In addition to afternoon tea and smoothies, The George also offers a daily breakfast buffet in their dining room provided by local sweet spot, Montclair Bread Company. And for those hoping to bring along their furry friends, The George will give your dog the VIP treatment with welcoming treats and a bed of their very own.
As the only hotel in Montclair, Brown has high hopes for her eclectic hometown and the potential residents and city-goers The George will attract. And in regards to whether or not this will be the first and final hotel project for the power couple, Brown seems to think so, but only time will tell.