Once in New England, each day one person drove the single, rented, suitcase-laden van to the next inn on the itinerary while the rest cycled to that destination reveling in the autumn glory famous in New England. At the end of the day, the happily fatigued cyclists relished the homey comfort of a restored or redecorated vintage home, often became interested in its history, compared notes as they relived the day's adventure, were cordial with other guests, and slept well. The next morning a delicious and hearty breakfast and conversation with the other lodgers and gracious hosts invigorated them for the day's sightseeing and body-tuning cycling.
It sounded to me like an ideal vacation, but since my husband does not bicycle that particular option was not available to us. Still, we have enjoyed some wonderful bed and breakfast inns in our travels through America and the British Isles. I have stayed in modest, cottage-sized B&bs; in large, lovely homes; and once, in Wales, in a huge estate with a view of a castle from our bedroom window!
Here in America, bed and breakfast inns either are restored large homes or new homes built to look old or to create a historic theme. In a few cases, they originally were non-residential buildings or even structures such as barns or other farm structures painstakingly and lovingly remodeled into gracious and welcoming B&Bs.
In most cases there is a story about the inn that is well worth hearing-its origins, its owners, its decades of glory or neglect, its remodeling months or years, its opening to the public, its famous guests who have come for a stay. The hosts themselves often are very interesting people with a passion for what they do. I have a friend who says her favorite stay was on a lakefront in Montana. Years later, she still receives Christmas cards from the gracious host and hostess, and my friend fondly remembers every detail of her family's agreeable stay there.
If you are looking for decorating inspiration, add bed and breakfast stays to your list of must-do's on your next vacation, or even when business calls you out of town. They often are a decorating delight. Of course, there are a few I have been rather critical of and some that are decorating nightmares that decidedly would have benefited from some help from a decorating or design professional.
FUN AND LUXURY
There are other reasons why bed and breakfast inns have become not just a place to sleep but a treasured part of many travel plans, and these reasons are good to keep in mind when an opportunity arises to work on a B&B or just in recreating the experience in a client's home.
• It's homey luxury. Staying at a bed and breakfast is like staying at home, with someone else doing the cooking and housekeeping.
• The house has personality. Like many interesting people, the home used as a bed and breakfast has gone through stages, prosperous times, difficult times and times when decisions meant painful reconstruction. The result is a rich entity that can be appreciated and enjoyed by all.
• The costs usually are lower than hotels perhaps because the amenities of finer hotels are missing-usually no dry cleaning or room service meals at midnight. But increasingly you'll find a spa or swimming pool and a small but adequate business center. Of course, one reason why B&Bs are not pricey is that they often are not convenient to urban business centers. Rather, a bit of a drive is frequently required and, like going on a treasure hunt, it may be found tucked in an out-of-the way place.
• The setting is often country or at least residential-meaning more peace and quiet-and often in locations where the surroundings are worth exploring from a picturesque drive, bicycle ride or hike to the fun of exploring local shops or antique stores.
• The people are one of the more important reasons why B&B guests remain loyal to this type of stay. The hosts are unique, hard-working individuals who relish the privilege of getting to know their guests and sharing with them their enthusiasm for their inn, the story of it becoming an inn and the story of furnishing it. Often pieces of furniture have a wonderful history, too! And the breakfasts usually are so memorable that even years later your mouth waters as you recall those fresh strawberries on the homemade waffles.
• Each stay, like each room, is unique. It's something different to tell friends about when you get home. As a nation, Americans are shrine-seekers, and B&Bs fit the bill nicely. As an example, Delta Air Line's Sky magazine recently featured a new bed and breakfast built from the ground up to replicate Tara, the plantation in the movie Gone With the Wind. It seems the real Tara does not exist, but now a look-alike does and business is so good a second estate is being planned. DECORATING INN COMFORT
Bed and breakfast rooms are unlike hotel rooms that are mass-produced from typical specifications. In this sense they are less like non-residential design and more like residential interior projects. B&Bs are famous because rooms are created one at a time, and each is a treasure, a delight, a far away destination, a romantic hide-away. Here are some reasons to pursue B&B business:
• Often each B&B is thematic, or based on a theme, and each room will have its own theme. This makes the work stimulating and challenging. It also is fantasy decorating, so there often is less pressure to fulfill the needs or desires of a particular person. The end product should have broad appeal, and the theme is the dictating influence in the decorating decisions.
• Each window treatment and each bed ensemble is unique, no two are the same. Innovative ideas are important because the idea is to delight the senses of the guests. Keep in mind that all soft products will need to meet local fire codes, so all must have passed National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) criteria or other equally stringent code regulations, or must be treated with a flame retardant. This treatment will add to the cost per yard of fabric and can weaken the fiber and cause slight color changes.
• Some antique pieces of furniture may need refurbishing and reupholstering, and some upholstered pieces may need to be custom built and upholstered. This may be an add-on service you can provide.
• Floor coverings-both hard and soft-are a salable item, and patterned carpets often are sought by B&B owners because they hide soil and traffic patterns. Again, there will be fire code regulations to consider.
• Wall covering plays a vital role in bed and breakfast decor because it can establish a theme more quickly and successfully than any other single decorating product.
• Because the B&B is a non-residential setting, there is a lot of wear-and-tear on furnishings and replacement needs are real. Don't forget to leave your business card wherever you go, unless you are not in the market for work this far away from your home base.
• After completing the interior decorating project for a B&B you may be able to leave business cards and even your own brochures in the guest rooms as well as in the lounge, dining or reception areas (where the check-out is located is the best location). This could be great free advertising for you that could lead to interesting upscale work in the future.
• A new trend in bed and breakfasts is to build them from the ground up with a broader function in mind such as business, conference and reception centers that also offer guest accommodations. With this information, try the building permit department in your city to monitor when the next bed and breakfast is scheduled for construction. And remember that each guest also can be a potential residential or commercial customer.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.