Think of Searsburg and — quick — what comes to mind? That buffering in your brain may soon change.
Three miles west of Wilmington, roughly midway between Brattleboro and Bennington, out of a ramshackle 1890s mansion, Chez Nous has risen, phoenix-like, to become a wedding and special events destination. It now boasts six bedrooms (that sleep 12), an events barn, and a space for a wedding (or special event) for 200 guests.
Owned by John and Cheryl Mincarelli, this private home — not an inn, Airbnb, or motel — in Searsburg, has year-round appeal, with ski slopes in winter, and water sports in summer. The Mincarellis rent to guests with a simple philosophy: once the event starts, “we’d love to see them; we hope we don’t,” meaning everything is going swimmingly.
The house has a history. Two sisters, Mary and Celia Heather, commissioned architect William Bull to design the house, which was built from their inheritance for around $100,000 or $3.5 million in today’s dollars. (The Heather sisters’ father, Edmund, earned his money in real estate.) The daughters named their home Chez Nous (French for “with us” or “our house.”) They held large parties, drawing people from New York City for New Year’s parties. “This was the place to be,” says Mincarelli, citing contemporary accounts and pointing to the third floor ballroom (not yet renovated) and the connecting stairs (perhaps designed with women’s wide skirts in mind).
Over the years, Bull’s finely designed house fell into disrepair, until it was a “shed” when Mincarelli bought it in 2013. Advised that it was a tear-down, he instead jacked it off the ground — all 340 tons of it — rebuilt the substructure, and then, bit by bit over the years, renovated the house, salvaging the poplar paneling and what he could. He scoured the area for furnishings, finding the spectacular chandelier, for example, in a building being demolished in Albany, N.Y.
The first wedding in the new Chez Nous was the Mincarellis in 2019. Cheryl Mincarelli had grown up in North Walpole, New Hampshire and lived her entire life in Vermont and New Hampshire. John Mincarelli had been in New Hampshire for the last 40 years. They live at the house sometimes, when it’s not rented, but have a permanent home nearby.
Although the house harkens back to an earlier, elegant era, it’s comfortable, a place where you can put your feet up. It has modern conveniences — a fiber connected wifi setup, for example, and a honeymoon suite bathroom with a fancy tub (water therapy, aroma therapy, chromatherapy). It has space for food trucks to roll up during events. Guests also can hire a caterer such as Steve Dickson, the Mercenary Manchester chef, who has cooked for guests in the newly renovated kitchen.
The venue is intended for year-round use, and rates vary by season. In the summer months, the Mincarellis are planning murder mystery nights, for non-sleepover guests. Through treachery and intrigue or romance and newly-wedded bliss, the Mincarellis are trying their best to put Searsburg on the map.
For more information, contact Chez Nous Mansion and Barn Rental, 665 VT-9, Searsburg, at cheznousweddings.com or at 802-780-0123.