Classic Fireplaces Add to Wessex Hall’s Warmth
Appreciating the essence of Wessex Hall starts with an understanding of open-hearth fireplaces. The Williamsburg Winery’s largest event venue houses two at opposite ends of the 48 x 96-feet space.
The Williamsburg Winery’s Founder Patrick Duffeler discovered both fireplaces in from destroyed 18th-century houses in the Bordeaux area and had a mason salvage them. Prior to shipping them to this country, he assured each of the fragile white stones was marked in chalk with a number.
“From floor to ceiling, all those pieces had to be put back together,” he says. “I had great fun working with the mason on the reinstallation of the fireplaces.” Also, translating metric measurements in feet and inches.
The fireboxes for each were integrated with units that originated in Denmark; they are well deeper than what most are accustomed to, and feature large outer hearth extensions in stone.
“You don’t have to worry about a piece of spark coming out,” says Duffeler, smartly dressed in a Janker while tending to the coals on a bended knee.
A robust fire burns, and Duffeler delights in its whimsy, bemused by the cackle of varying volume and spirals of cinders. The spellbinding effect of the blaze in the open-hearth fireplace speaks to all the senses. It’s fragrant but not overwhelmingly so. Minus any screen or tempered glass, the fire emits a heat that warms the skin and invites lingering.
It’s hard not to stare at the burning wood in front. With friends, it’s an ideal focal point for sharing stories. Alone, it can turn an extrovert into a reflective thinker.
Consider Wessex Hall yet another gathering place to enjoy wine at The Williamsburg Winery.
Wessex Hall hosts as many as 80 events in a year. It’s a favorite venue for a wedding reception and can accommodate 180 for a sit-down dinner or as many as 300 overall.
Wessex was an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in southwest England from the sixth century until a united English state emerged in the 11th century (1066).
Constructed in 1999, Wessex Hall opened the following year. The rectangular space was built in a style classic to Virginia and inspired by the British. The east-to-west length flanked by the north-to-south wings strengthens the resistance of the building to the fierce winds indigenous to the area.
“Those wings symbolize a lot of the construction they would have had in the 17th century,” Duffeler says.
Duffeler crafted the front door; he’s designed multiple doors during his lifetime. He wanted to replicate a 17th century door and worked with a carpenter to execute it, finishing it off with old fashioned imported nails from Mexico.
What’s wonderful about Wessex is its understated elegance. The floor is in aged pine. Duffeler knocks at the 10×10 beams — “solid pine,” he confirms. The ceilings are of two different heights. The center one is 12 feet high — in addition to the lovely effect, that’s a necessity for the fireplaces at both ends. The ceilings dip to 10 feet on both wings.
More treasures from Duffeler’s travels are on display throughout as are replicas of tapestries, including an eye-catching one from the 17th century that celebrates a wine harvest. An early 19th century French mahogany armoire contrasts with a less ornate one that equally splendid. Across the room, more furniture adds to the décor, including a dresser from one of Duffeler’s trips to Spain marked by authentic hardware.
Weaponry from the period is on the wall, including helmets and swords.
Wessex Hall spills into what used to be a terrace distinguished by the stucco ceiling. Standing tables and what Duffeler deems “good pieces of wood over barrels” make for gathering spots for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation.
With so much wood of varying shades in Wessex Hall, it’s surprisingly bright. Windows bring in natural light. Four candelabra chandeliers are breathtaking during the day and even more so at night. Flameless candles illuminate as do smaller unobtrusive lights overhead.
Duffeler aimed for charming and warm light — both achieved and aided by the spectacle each of the fireplaces creates.
“With the two fireplaces going, it throws an interesting light,” Duffeler says. “People will naturally want to congregate in front of the fireplaces.”
Talk of Wessex Hall always returns to the fireplaces. One German and one French motto is above each in gold calligraphy. Their English translations are below.
From the west end fireplace: “Freedom, honor, loyalty and farther.”
“Those are my principles when I look back at my life,” says Duffeler, recalling a college English assignment when he had to make a personal shield and created the German motto for it.
From the east end fireplace: “Do things right and let people talk.”
This one stems from Duffeler’s father, a publisher, who shared those 13th century words with his son. The idea is to do things the right way all the time and let the chips fall where they will.
“That’s a wonderful concept,” Duffeler says. “Let people talk. They’ll say whatever they like.”