A luxe culinary destination and the meticulous restoration of Natirar’s 100-year-old mansion have given new life to an historic estate
by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Robert Nuzzie, Alicia saboly photography, and lauren kearns photography
When Bob Wojtowicz set his sights in 2001 to securing an expansive plot of land in Somerset County—owned by the King of Morocco—the plan for the site was to develop an unrivaled New Jersey culinary resort immersed in the bucolic splendor of Peapack-Gladstone’s lush green hills.
“This was once a private estate, built in 1912 and sold in 1983 to the Moroccan royal family,” Wojtowicz said. “It consisted of an architecturally spectacular mansion with 30-mile views, plus an accompanying carriage house and garage. From the moment we toured it, the vision for this property was clear: to take the upper-level parcel and turn it into a luxury culinary space—a destination for guests near and far.”
The 500-acre estate, located through three towns (Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster), was originally owned by Kate Macy Ladd and her husband, Walter, a wealthy New York City family who commissioned architects Guy Lowell and Henry Janeway Hardenbergh to design a 33,000-square-foot brick Tudor mansion on the property. They named their estate Natirar—the reverse of Raritan, the river that runs at the edge of the property.
“The features of the home were simply extraordinary,” Wojtowicz said. “Exquisite brickwork and intricate limestone trim on the exterior; molded plaster ceilings, and teak floors. And we simply fell in love with the other two standalone buildings on the property: the carriage house and garage, which we knew we could turn into an incredible space for dining and culinary education. ”
But the property also garnered interest from Somerset County itself, which eventually purchased the parcel in 2003. After meeting to discuss their respective interests, Wojtowicz signed a 99-year lease with the County for the property’s upper 90 acres.
“Then we worked with David Rockwell and a team of other architects and designers to design a glass structure that would connect the garage and carriage house,” Wojtowicz said.
Complete with an open kitchen, private dining room, wine cellar, and tasting area, they called the project Ninety Acres, one that offered distinct dining experiences for their guests, including a main dining room for traditional, casual eating, communal dining in the Cognac Lounge with tapas-style plates, a BMF (bring me food) option near the open kitchen, and al fresco seating on the back patio near the farm.
Wojtowicz hired Chef David Felton—who wholeheartedly embraces the use of locally produced ingredients—to run the kitchen. Felton crafted everything from pizza to fried chicken and foie gras with produce sourced from Natirar’s on-site farm.
“From day one, the concept of Ninety Acres was farm-to-table,” Wojtowicz explained. “There are 12 acres that wrap around the two buildings, and under the direction of my wife, Kim, who is a master gardener, we were able to turn the surrounding land into a farm. And since this beautiful, rich farmland surrounds the property, we describe the experience here as more than just farm-to-table. This is a table at the farm.”
A further focus, Wojtowicz pointed out, was to celebrate the experience and art of fine food and wine, reveling in the process of cultivating, harvesting, preparing, and savoring each bite in the beautiful landscape where it was grown.
As a result, Ninety Acres has been embraced by epicurean enthusiasts throughout the tri-state area, and Wojtowicz recently debuted the second phase of his Natirar project: a newly renovated grand ballroom built inside of the property’s mansion.
“We completed a major renovation, opened up the first floor of the original mansion and added 10,000 square feet of new space,” he said. “There’s a new wing with a conservatory and ballroom and we performed significant restoration work on the mansion itself, which is now 105 years old.”
Although the property is not historically registered, there was considerable effort taken to preserve its original features, including matching much of the millwork and limestone. Additionally, a 26-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall “living wall” was designed inside of the ballroom to honor the ivy that once crawled up the building’s side.
“There are ten different species of plants living on that wall,” Wojtowicz said. “We’ve saved the ivy from the outside of the building and are currently in the process of bringing it back.”
The expansive mansion has room for 225 guests, and includes a pre-function space, a bridal suite, and a great room, along with menu offerings that include the same farm freshness of Ninety Acres.
“For the past seven-plus years, it had become common for small weddings to happen here, with The Cooking School at Ninety Acres used as the reception space and the ceremony hosted outside in the farm,” Wojtowicz said. “But now, with the ballroom complete, we are able to offer an entirely different experience to guests.”
The facility’s first wedding was hosted on June 3 and the calendar has remained busy with functions ever since. For Wojtowicz, the debut of the ballroom marked a significant stage in Natirar’s growth.
“The next phase for the property will be the development of a hotel and spa, and with it will come a second restaurant that will serve as a complement to Ninety Acres,” Wojtowicz said, adding that a 24-unit condominium project will bloom on the property as well.
“We are excited that Natirar will be a mixed-use property where people will have the option to live on a permanent basis starting in the fall of 2018,” he said. “When we first started this project 16 years ago, we knew how special and beautiful this place was. It has been an amazing experience to create a destination here and add to the estate’s beauty.
2 Main Street, Gladstone / 908.901.9500 / natirar.com