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Barbara Napier and her mother, Etta
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Etta's cherry winks
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Snug Hollow's rosemary braided bread
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Innkeepers Sara Smart Fisher and Barbara Napier
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Longtime Snug Hollow guests Keata Tapp, Janis Wakeman and Kathy O'Brien
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Barbara Napier has a talent for making ordinary items feel like treasures worthy of reverence. The shelves of her cozy farmhouse kitchen are dotted with pottery teapots and pitchers, colorful egg cups, and the garden’s harvest preserved in Mason jars. With so many items onto which the eye can alight, it’s easy to miss the small piece of white paper affixed by a magnet to the side of the refrigerator. While the words on that paper may be overlooked, visitors to Barbara’s bed and breakfast, Snug Hollow Farm, will happily attest there is no escaping the tranquility of the viewpoint expressed:
Free your heart from hatred
Free your mind from worry
“We’re not guests anymore; we’re friends,” says Janis Wakeman. “We like it that way.” Janis and her companions, Keata Tapp and Kathy O’Brien, all from Cincinnati, have frequented Snug Hollow for, they estimate, at least a decade. “We come twice a year, fall and spring,” she says.
“We’d come more if we could,” Keata chimes in.
What is it that draws these women to the Estill County getaway again and again? As its name suggests, Snug Hollow is nestled among the Appalachian foothills. There are more than 300 acres of meadows and forest crisscrossed by walking trails and abundant with wildlife. The rustic two-story farmhouse, designed by Barbara and completed in 2000, has two spacious guest suites and inviting common areas—sunroom, library loft, living and dining rooms, and multiple porches—all furnished in a deliberately eclectic, bucolic style.
There are also three guest cabins. The newest is scheduled to open in December; the oldest is a 100-plus-year-old log cabin filled with items displayed—as are all of Snug Hollow’s material gems—to celebrate the beauty of everyday things. Buckeyes placed in birds’ nests adorn a windowsill. An old pink washtub and a vintage hand-crank eggbeater grace the kitchen walls. On the porch, tobacco sticks and antique lanterns pop against the dovetail-notched, hewn chestnut logs. “I’ve always loved old things,” explains Barbara. “I’ve always been enamored.”
And then there’s the food. Barbara delights—and likely surprises—guests with her comforting, hearty vegetarian fare. Her dishes feature produce and herbs grown just steps away in a garden presided over by a scarecrow jauntily clad in a shift dress, patterned apron and flower-accented hat. Roasted veggies, pot pies, soups, salads, lasagna and Snug Hollow’s signature rosemary braided bread are a few of the lunch and dinner offerings. Breakfast guests may enjoy oatmeal pancakes, yogurt parfaits (including a to-die-for spicy fruit compote), farm-fresh eggs or biscuits and gravy. In her meal preparations—as with her décor—Barbara shines a flattering spotlight on simplicity.
“Cooking is not a chore here but a daily meditation,” writes Barbara in her cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories. “The planning, preparation and sharing of vegetarian meals are joys for me and gifts to our guests.”
A beautiful setting, cozy accommodations and delectable food are all compelling reasons for Janis, Keata and Kathy to hold their Snug Hollow trips so dear. But perhaps a major factor in their (and others’) repeat visits is the innkeeper herself. Barbara is a force—a petite, curly-haired whirlwind of hospitable intensity. She hustles from kitchen to dining room, from living room to porch, making sure her guests are fed, entertained, happy.
Barbara has journeyed through more than her fair share of tribulations—marriage and motherhood at 16, divorce, bankruptcy, and the loss (and eventual recovery) of her farm—to arrive at what she says is her “true vocation.” With a peace that comes with finding one’s purpose, Barbara chooses not to dwell on the hard times. “You just have to have your life, whatever it is,” she says breezily.
Born in Harlan and raised in Breathitt County, Barbara exhibited a creative bent from a young age. “When I was little, I was the town [Jackson] artist,” she says. “I decorated [shop] windows for 35 cents a day.” Later in life, she worked as a clown. “I would go to festivals and paint faces,” she says. This stint also fed her passion for collecting. During her travels, Barbara would stop and bargain for yard sale finds. “The big red nose will get you anything,” she says with a matter-of-fact attitude that belies the humor of her anecdote. “People would say, ‘Give it to the clown.’ ”
Her creativity eventually was channeled toward a different purpose: Snug Hollow. She purchased the farm in 1976, moved into the chestnut log cabin that now serves as guest accommodations and began developing her organic-gardening skills, while also raising her sons. She taught at Berea College for several years and sold shares of organic produce from the farm. After eight years spent constructing the farmhouse, Barbara’s dream of opening a bed and breakfast was realized, and she began welcoming guests to the hollow. “I’m an artist,” she says. “I’ve made my life that way—by the skin of my teeth.”
Toward the end of the long and winding gravel road that leads to the Snug Hollow farmhouse and cabins is a red, hand-painted, arrow-shaped sign that encourages, “Keep Going.” Do just that and you’ll land at a place where quietude is an art, simplicity is celebrated, and gifts that enrich the spirit are plentiful. “People ask me how I take care of this place,” says Barbara. “I tell them it takes care of me.”
Make It Meaningful
Don't miss THESE RECIPES from, and inspired by, Snug Hollow Farm: Snug Hollow Rosemary Braided Bread, Bird Seed Wreath and Botanical Bath Fizzies