“The guests say the experience of being surrounded by art is very calming,” says Ann. Her choices are striking. In the lobby lounge, glass artist Dale Chihuly’s sculpture Ardea Figura is a breathtaking cluster of clear, textured glass stalks undulating in a seductive dance. In Herons restaurant, Kay Hutchinson’s tandem murals capture the rippling water in a creek, while at the bar Herb Jackson’s painting Temple Rocket explodes with abstract slashes of color. These pieces are just a small fraction of the works by 32 artists that grace The Umstead’s interiors.
Early on, the couple’s attempts to woo established companies like the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton to Cary, home to 300 software companies, were unsuccessful. However, since SAS has 400 offices in 52 countries, the Goodnights had enough traveling experiences to see their city’s need for a luxury hotel. When the companies remained unconvinced, Ann sprang to action—with her husband’s support.
Jim happily let Ann take charge. “I made a deal with my wife. If she didn’t interfere with the interior design of my airplane, I wouldn’t meddle with her hotel,” he says.
For starters, Ann chose architect Frank Nicholson, designer of the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton, to realize her vision: 150 rooms—including 27 suites—spread over six floors, situated on twelve pristine, wooded acres overlooking a three-acre lake.
Ann realized that the area’s high-tech industry and four universities reflected an educated population that would embrace her concept of an art hotel. In addition, her 20 years of experience as a volunteer and a board member for the North Carolina Museum of Art made her a perfect candidate for the undertaking.
The Goodnights’ passion for art, which sparked their original, personal collection of works by the American Masters, has extended to the walls and grounds of SAS’s 20-building campus and to The Umstead. As Ann explains, selections are made for their emotional impact; pottery, photography, and paintings are displayed in the restaurant, in the bar, by elevators, along corridors and in a dedicated gallery with revolving, featured-artist exhibitions.
Ann notes that Cary’s identity has shifted as the textile and tobacco industries have dried up, and it has actively reinvented itself as a cosmopolitan destination that attracts people from all over. Of her own contribution, she says modestly, “I like the idea of making a difference.”
Courtesy of the Umstead Hotel and Spa.