(CNN) — Bobbi Brown is best known for the beauty brand bearing her name. The minimalist, flattering eyeshadows and lipsticks won many busy working women as fans, but Brown sold the company to Estee Lauder in 2016 and has been looking for a new project ever since.
The answer came in a form she didn't expect -- a hotel in her pretty suburban New Jersey hometown.
Unlike many in the beauty and fashion worlds, Brown was content not to be a regular on the New York City party scene, preferring a quieter life with her husband, developer Steven Plofker, and three sons in Montclair, about 45 minutes outside of Manhattan. Montclair is a picturesque, sleepy college town that refutes the cliche of New Jersey as dirty and industrial. Does this mean that A-listers might abandon Manhattan for the 'burbs? Brown thinks it's worth taking the risk, and she spoke to CNN Travel about her new life as a hotelier.
Shades of gray: Brown obsessed over gray tones until she found the perfect ones.
Photography by Lesley Unruh for One Kings Lane
Brown didn't plan to get into hotels -- and she claims to have zero interest in building another brand. But after her youngest son went off to college and her husband began exploring a property in central Montclair, it seemed only natural for Brown and Plofker to merge their talents.
Enter The George, a 32-room boutique hotel named after, and inspired by, George Washington. (The nation's first president spent lots of time in New Jersey.) It officially opens to the public on April 1, 2018.
"Let me tell you, it was not easy having a very creative developer alongside someone who considers herself an expert in color," Brown laughs. "[My husband and I have] been married 30 years in September. We raised three boys together. We have a happy marriage, but we're very strong-minded people and have learned when something is non-negotiable."
Among those non-negotiables? Dyson hair dryers and bathrobes from Ikea -- both things that Brown herself swears by and uses at home. She spent years traveling the world for her work and considers herself an expert on what hotels are doing right -- and what they're doing wrong.
A few of her favorite things
While the expensive Dyson hair dryers will have to be signed out from the front desk to prevent thievery, Brown had a very specific idea of which things guests would need in grabbing distance, namely coffee -- so there are Nespresso coffee makers in every room to prevent pre-caffeinated guests from having to interact with other humans.
Brown, who loves the Soho House hotels around the world and opts for boutique stays over big-name brands with loyalty programs, also wanted to keep things personal. Since she has strong reactions to fragrances, she chose a delicate peppermint lavender scent for all the in-room toiletries, and has a policy against using perfumes or room sprays in common areas.
Just like home: Many of The George's interiors come from Brown's home goods line with Lord & Taylor.
"We're very hands-on people," Brown says about why the hotel project suited her and Plofker so well.
"I get into the details. We're going to be serving breakfast and brunch both to hotel guests and the community, we'll have an afternoon tea and smoothies. It matters what yogurt we serve. I will be curating everything," Brown says. "It's a small hotel, so it's about customer experience and accommodating."
And customer-friendly service doesn't just extend to guests of the human persuasion. Brown, a dog lover, has made The George extremely animal-friendly. Not only are there special doggie treats and beds, but travelers can pick out their pup's accessories (such as a food bowl) ahead of time when they make their reservation so that everything in the room will be ready to go upon arrival.
Another challenge for Brown and Plofker was negotiating Montclair's quirky local laws. The town has a very small number of liquor licenses, which can make it tough for a new bar or restaurant to open.
While The George does not have one of those licenses, Brown has come up with creative ways to bring booze onto the property, such as having a favorite local wine store host on-site tastings. (The licenses are portable, which works out nicely.) Her team can also arrange for deliveries to individual guest rooms.
The hotel's small size also makes it easy to accommodate specific dietary needs, from gluten-free to diabetic-friendly.
The one thing The George will never have, though? A spa.
The George, 2317, 37 North Mountain Avenue, Montclair, New Jersey 07042; +1 973-783-7878