The Lake House on Canandaigua, a new design-focused hotel in the Finger Lakes, opened on August 14, 2020. But Bill Caleo has been dreaming of this project since 1993, when he was just a high schooler sitting at his grandfather’s kitchen table. A dilapidated local motel had gone into foreclosure, and his family, prominent figures in the town of Canandaigua, were lamenting the loss. It had such potential: the property was close to town, and on acres and acres of waterfront. After an in-depth discussion, his grandfather came to a conclusion— “I think it would be very good for our community to take that under our wing and to open it to the public,” Caleo recalls him saying. So the family bought it.
Fast forward three decades, when the property came under the stewardship of Caleo and his sister, Lyndsay. Founders of the Brooklyn Home Company, one of the preeminent real estate developers in the city, they decided to completely transform it into a resort. It would be complete with lodging, yes, but also a spa, two on-site restaurants, and an events barn. Their goal? An expanded version of their grandfather’s vision: “We wanted to create something very, very special. Something that put the Finger Lakes on the map.”
The Finger Lakes—a region of 11 lakes in Upstate New York—still qualifies as something of an in-the-know getaway. Whereas in the last decade, the Hamptons and Hudson Valley have become upscale, and, well, expensive vacation spots, the Finger Lakes has managed to hold onto its low-key Americana charm. Towns like Aurora, Geneva, and Skaneateles look straight out of Norman Rockwell paintings. (Canandaigua, albeit with its own draws, does feature more recent construction.) Roadside antique shops—where fascinating trinkets and tchotchkes are offered at bargain prices (this writer is now the proud owner of a 20-dollar telephoned-shaped porcelain decanter from the 1940s)—are aplenty. Dairy stands, and their delicious homemade ice creams, are a dime a dozen, thanks to the region’s agricultural roots. Then there are the lakes themselves: clean, calm and, in the case of Skaneateles Lake, crystalline. On a Saturday afternoon, they’re dotted with boaters, tubers, paddle boarders, kayakers, and the occasional hydro-boarder, all happily coexisting. All this to say: a trip to the Finger Lakes is one of simple pleasures and pursuits, stripped of any ritz or pretense, where a “big night out” is likely dockside drinks and dinner, where heels seem out of place, and where lounging in an Adirondack chair will take up your entire afternoon.
The Lake House on Canandaigua does not challenge the region’s relaxed identity. It merely enhances it. The price point is competitive at under $300 a night. (Meanwhile, in the Hamptons, you’re lucky to find something of similar quality under $700.) The Caleos partnered with renowned design firm Studio Tack for their interiors—the rooms are filled with crisp whites and beige tones, and accented by carved sandalwood bed frames. (Many also include lakefront decks complete with telescopes.) Their library, which will double as a bar in the winter season, is painted in a rich navy blue with plush banquets and comfy ochre leather chairs. With their home-building background, the Caleos wanted it to feel like one of their residential spaces. “We wanted it to lay out like a house,” Lyndsay says. “We wanted where you check in to feel like a living room, and for the library to be where you can go for a drink, to work on your computer, or read a book.” Her husband, artist Fitzhugh Karol, made several wood sculptures for the common spaces.
And that’s just the inside. The lawn is laid out for leisure pursuit, with a pool, firepits, and cornhole boards. Then there’s the Sand Bar, an outdoor restaurant that’s abuzz every lunch or dinner. It serves beachy comfort food: think lobster rolls and lobster mac n cheese, oyster po’boys, corn dogs, and crab cake hush puppies.
For more organized activities, there are canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards available to rent. (They even offer light-up paddleboards in case you’d like to go out at a more celestial hour.) There are also fitness classes (held outdoors, with proper social distancing), wine tastings—the Finger lakes is known for its Riesling—and cooking classes.
One of the drawbacks to the Finger Lakes? Its distance from New York City: towns are anywhere from a four and a half to five and a half hour drive. (Although a friend swears they’ve made it in three and a half, for what it’s worth.) However, the Lake House has a solution for that: seaplanes.
Yes, for city dwellers who are automobile-absent or just seeking to save time, the Lake House will have a seaplane available to fly you from the East River directly to the hotel’s dock—a scenic ride that will take around an hour. Bill got the idea after he flew the same way to Montauk. “It was the most exciting flight I’ve ever had,” he says.
With easy access, design-forward rooms, and delicious food, the Caleos have built the destination they dreamed of so long ago. And now, “we want to show how beautiful, untouched, and pristine this area is.”