Glamour & grandeur at The Greenbrier

Style Travel

October 31, 2023

A story of beauty and transformation, fashion and family

by Krisha Chachra | styling and production: Whitley Adkins | photography: Mira Adwell
interiors styling: Brooke Werhane Maples | hair: Farah Karim | makeup: Hope Nash, lead stylist, Studio G at The Greenbrier
models: Elle Danielson, represented by Ursula Wiedmann Models, and Channing Queen represented by Directions, USA, Model and Artist Management

The grand staircase in the Presidential Suite. Elle: Aje Cordelia corseted maxi dress, $625, Showroom; Nicholas Kirkwood blue suede shoes, $275, Edit Sale; earrings, $54, Hong Kong Vintage; Bakelite bracelets, stylist’s own. Channing: The Vampire’s Wife floral dress, $1,165, Showroom; Pierre Hardy heels, stylist’s own.

Anna Quan dress, $855, DeMillier bag, $550, both from Showroom; Milagros Bonasso earrings, $128, Sloan; vintage bracelets and Chanel shoes, stylist’s own.

Hers is a story of continuous transformation: the only true way to survive. After more than 200 years of change, The Greenbrier Resort and Spa continues welcoming guests drawn by the luxury, relaxation, charm and beauty that defines her — while absorbing a rich history that made the hotel what it is today.

From a social hub for the wealthy elite to a hospital during wartime, followed by a magnificent rebirth ushered by a famous designer and a secret underground bunker during the Cold War, the 710-room hotel set on 11,000 acres is an iconic destination like no other — and serves as the dreamiest setting for our November style shoot.

Smythe blazer, $427, Showroom; vintage blouse, $46, and pearl earrings, $88, both from Hong Kong Vintage; Daniel Gonzalez Designs skirt, $2,500; Eugenia Kim hat, $295, Neiman Marcus; Loeffler Randall clutch, $295, Sloan; vintage ring, stylist’s own.

Left: Philosophy jumpsuit, $475, Edit Sale; boots, $124, Hong Kong Vintage. Right: Sarah Campbell dress, $174, Zimmermann jaguar coat, $328, and earrings, $64, all from Hong Kong Vintage.

An enduring history

Lured by the healing powers of the local hot springs, families and friends have escaped to The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, since the late 1700s to restore their health in the “magical” wells that run deep in the Allegheny Mountains. Initially referred to as “The Old White Hotel,” the resort was built in 1858 on a Shawnee Indian hunting ground rich with mineral waters believed to dissolve symptoms of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. With the completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railroad in 1873, the resort — which held a reputation as a social gathering place for the wealthy — began expanding to welcome a wider clientele. 

Breakfast in bed served by Tina Sparks in the Presidential Suite. Andrew Gn dress, $625, Edit Sale; dangle earrings, $64, Hong Kong Vintage. Helenita Home bowl, $28, Charlotte’s.

Vietri highball glasses, $22, Helenita Home floral plate, $40, and Vietri pink glass, $18, all from Charlotte’s.

In the 1920s, while the country was on the verge of the Great Depression, the resort flourished under the ownership of C&O. The Greenbrier expanded its Virginia Wing, which today houses the exclusive Windsor Club Wing and the Presidential Suite, a 14-room, 7-bedroom, two-floor suite complete with a formal dining area, full kitchen, library, living room and an elegant, half-spiral staircase set against cymbidium orchid wallpaper. The signature north entrance was added, a grand façade with distinguished slender, white columns and symmetrical landscaped gardens.

During World War II, the resort transformed again. In 1941, the State Department leased the hotel for international diplomats before the U.S. Army purchased the entire resort and converted it into a 2,000-bed infirmary, which they renamed Ashford General Hospital. During the war, close to 25,000 soldiers were admitted and treated.

Howard’s Creek Lodge. DVN velvet top, $160, and Gucci harlequin skirt, $895, both from Edit Sale; bow clutch, $52, and mismatched earrings, $32 and $34, all from Charlotte’s.

Howard’s Creek Lodge. Ulla Johnson velvet top, $200, Tibi floral skirt, $115, and Nicholas Kirkwood shoes, $275, all from Edit Sale; Cult Gaia bag, $388, Neiman Marcus; hoop earrings, $34, Charlotte’s; Andrew Gn belt, stylist’s own.

Dorothy Draper’s maximalist style

C&O Railway regained ownership of The Greenbrier after the war and hired Dorothy Draper, a famed interior designer (her other clients included the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Mich., The Plaza in New York City and The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.), to redesign the entire resort. Her vision is what you see today: vibrant colors, custom patterns and wallpapers, black-and-white marble floors, and magnificent furnishings. Draper transformed The Greenbrier in 16 months and picked up the highest fee ever paid to a decorator at the time. Her dramatic designs and Hollywood Regency style are timeless.

Virginia Room at The Windsor Club. Stine Goya dress, $540, Showroom; Bariloche blazer, $675, Paul Simon Women; Eugenia Kim hat, $375, Neiman Marcus; Gucci bag, $825, Edit Sale; Derek Lam booties, Etro belt, ring and brooch, stylist’s own.

Primping in the powder room. Munthe pants, $390, and top, $390, Showroom; earrings, $40, and suede case, $92, both from Hong Kong Vintage; vintage bracelet and Pierre Hardy shoes, stylist’s own. Vietri glass (used as vase), $44, Charlotte’s.

In her historical novel, The Grand Design, author Joy Callaway discusses the grandeur and grace of the people who have walked through The Greenbrier’s halls, notably a bevy of VIPs including kings and queens, 28 U.S. presidents, and countless celebrities. The unmistakable character of the resort envisioned by Draper and her successor, the late Carleton Varney, resonates with visitors seeking elegance and southern charm. With the addition of a casino, kids club, escape room, beautiful indoor and outdoor pools, and a spa — along with outdoor activities like horseback riding, falconry, tennis and golf — the resort attracts friends and families who want to get away but still be entertained all in one place.

Take it all in

To truly appreciate the majesty of the place, you’ll want to spend time discovering the entirety of the resort, starting from the moment you pull into the long, stately driveway.

Skipping along Paradise Corridor. Left: Saloni blouse, $375, A Shirt Thing skirt, $365, Antik Batik vest, $645, all Five One Five; taffeta handbag, $98, vintage brooch, $72, earrings, $40, all Hong Kong Vintage; Isabel Marant belt and J.Crew hairbow, stylist’s own; boots, model’s own. Right: Cinq a Sept turtleneck, $225, Neiman Marcus; Tobias coat, $418, Hong Kong Vintage; RENATA by Renata Gasparian tiered skirt, $318; Jimmy Choo boots, $275, and Dodo Bar Or belt, $175, both Edit Sale; Cult Gaia bag, $498, Neiman Marcus; vintage fascinator hat, $40, Stash Pad; Melinda Maria ring, stylist’s own.

Explore the lower lobby while sipping complimentary bubbly offered upon check-in. Peruse the gallery shops, where you’ll find signature Greenbrier gifts and designer clothing, even for the kids. The Dorothy Draper Home store is located just before the must-try confections at The Candy Maker. Children will enjoy story time at Fizzy’s Land of Oz, a toy store where they can build their own Teddy Bear Mountain friend.

Above the north entrance, a grand parlor overlooks the gardens and the astounding wedding chapel built by former owner and current West Virginia Governor Jim Justice for his daughter’s wedding (she is the current president of the resort). A larger-than-life portrait of American actress-turned-Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly, who visited the Greenbrier on several occasions, adorns a wall. Make your way to the upper lobby in time for tea and piano music each afternoon. (And peek into the bathrooms as you explore — each is uniquely decorated with one of the resort’s many signature wallpapers.) Nibble on fresh pastries on a rhododendron-print couch, or play chess at the lobby bar while sitting under a chandelier straight from the movie set of Gone with the Wind.

Right: Elle, wearing an Alice + Olivia dress, $595, from Neiman Marcus, is photographed with Caroline and Wilson Ross, visiting from Arlington, Va.

With 20 restaurants and lounges, deciding where to eat can be daunting. Fortunately, a concierge is available to assist. A dress code of resort attire is maintained throughout the day, but more formal jackets and collared shirts along with dresses and suits are required for some of the popular dinner spots. Try Prime 44 West, an upscale steakhouse honoring NBA legend and West Virginia native Jerry West. The opulent Main Dining Room offers live music at dinner surrounded by dramatic green glass chandeliers dripping from the ceiling. 

If traveling with kids, sign them up for Adventure Kids, where they’ll enjoy laser tag, movies, bowling and swimming. Babysitting services are also available so adults can sample sushi at In-Fusion and hit the casino, which offers a nightly complimentary champagne toast and live dancing of the Greenbrier Waltz by the Springhouse Entertainers.

Game night in the living room of the Presidential Suite. Left: Victoria Beckham jersey dress, $1,090, Showroom; Apparis coat, $175, Edit Sale; earrings, $54, and wicker handbag, $158, both from Hong Kong Vintage; vintage necklaces, Melinda Maria ring, and Pierre Hardy shoes, stylist’s own. Right: Missoni dress, $550, Alix of Bohemia floral jacket, $425, and Gianvito Rossi shoes, $225, all from Edit Sale; Clare V bag, $410, Five One Five.

Like family

It’s hard to leave this resort when the time comes. In fact, many employees feel the same way. It isn’t uncommon to learn that staff members loyally dedicate decades of their lives working here. Tina Sparks has worked in the Main Dining Room for 35 years; Dave Jones in room service started in 1993. But the longest-serving member of Greenbrier’s staff was doorman and ambassador Frank Mosley, who passed away earlier this year after working at the resort for 60 years. Andrew Sullivan started serving pool guests in high school and eventually was promoted to a dining manager inside the resort. He left to work elsewhere, but after 8 months called The Greenbrier and told them he was ready “to come home.” Tracy Boggs agrees. She worked as a massage therapist at the spa after the Greenbrier paid for her education through its scholarship program for employees. “The Greenbrier supported my dreams as long as I worked here two years after I graduated, and I’ve been here six.”

Late night snack in the kitchen of the Presidential Suite. Left: Edeline Lee top, $585, Showroom; Tish Cox pencil skirt and overlay, $280, and Gianvito Rossi shoes, $225, Edit Sale; Tiwi sunglasses, $115, Charlotte’s; earrings, Hong Kong Vintage, $58; vintage bracelets and necklaces, stylist’s own. Right: Emma Domb cocktail dress, $428, and Lucien Piccard earrings, $98, from Hong Kong Vintage; Victoria Beckham top, $98, Showroom; Tabitha Simmons booties, $245, Edit Sale; vintage necklace and bracelet, stylist’s own. Two’s Company aqua glasses, $9 each, Charlotte’s

Left: Alice + Olivia dress, $595, Neiman Marcus; A.W.A.K.E Mode bag, $375, Showroom; Krewe sunglasses, $285, Sloan; pearl earrings, $88, Hong Kong Vintage; Jimmy Choo shoes, stylist’s own. Right: Christopher Kane dress, $419, Showroom; 1960s Enid Collins ladybug purse, $160, Stash Pad; Krewe sunglasses, $352, Sloan; shoes, stylist’s own

Maybe that’s why so many repeat visitors are drawn to The Greenbrier: She reminds us of who we are or what we can be. Ostentatious at times, yet steadfast through unpredictable moments. Adaptable through battle, but still relatable and down-to-earth. A fashionable place that becomes a loyal, lifelong friend — or maybe even family.  SP

Getting there: Getting to the Greenbrier is easy, with a 1 hour-and-15-minute nonstop flight from Charlotte on Contour Airlines (via American Airlines) to Greenbrier Valley Airport, followed by a 20-minute shuttle to the resort. If you’d rather live out your favorite John Denver song and experience the country roads, the drive is just over four hours from Charlotte — and the breathtaking mountain scenery is “almost heaven.”

Adulting at the Greenbrier

Looking to get away without the kids? Throughout summer and early autumn, The Greenbrier Creekside Gardens on the banks of Howard’s Creek offers a farm-to-table dinner series where you can enjoy locally raised meats from nearby farms as well as fresh vegetables and herbs grown in the same gardens where guests dine. 
For a girl’s getaway, book a two-night weeknight stay on select dates and receive a $1,000 spa allowance. Start with a soak in the Greenbrier’s famous healing sulfur water, followed by a luxurious sugar scrub or massage. The Mint Julep Body Bliss treatment uses a vichy shower, mirroring the experience of lying in warm rain, while the signature Greenbrier Treatment offers a Swiss shower and Scotch spray to break down toxins ahead of your Swedish massage.

A Greenbrier secret 

For 30 years, the Greenbrier held a secret buried 720 feet into the hillside under its West Virginia Wing. Completed in 1961, a shelter to withstand nuclear fallout known as “The Bunker” was built in plain sight to relocate members of the U.S. Congress and accommodate more than 1,100 representatives and families. Although never used as intended, the 110,000+ square-foot facility, powered with three 14,000-gallon diesel fuel tanks and three 25,000-gallon water tanks, stood ready to keep both the Senate and House active in case of emergency. The Bunker was a turnkey facility maintained during the Eisenhower era until two government employees leaked the story to the Washington Post in 1992. Three years later, the government ended its lease agreement with the Greenbrier. Today a data storage company leases The Bunker. Greenbrier visitors can book tours of this historic facility for $47 per adult and $24 for children ages 10-18.

Featured image: Pizza and Champagne in the Presidential Suite served by Dave Jones. Left: Scaasi gown, $748, and pearl earrings, $88, both from Hong Kong Vintage; 1950s beaded gloves, $50, Stash Pad; Chloe purple bag, $595, Edit Sale; Who What Wear shoes, stylist’s own. Right: Philosophy harlequin maxi dress, $345, Edit Sale; DeMillier jewel bag, $485, Showroom; earrings, $58, Hong Kong Vintage; Pierre Hardy shoes and vintage ring, stylist’s own

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