It’s been awhile, friends. So much has happened since we shared that we bought the B&B last year. I’m happy to have some time to fill you in on everything.
How it started…
Owning a Bed & Breakfast has been a dream of mine for many years, and I was so excited to find out that The Harrison House was for sale back in 2020. Our friends who live down the street knew we had been talking about doing a boutique hotel-type project and sent us the listing. It looked like a perfect fit, but we knew we’d have to update both the house and the business to make it viable for us. It was also the first year of Covid and the future of the hospitality & travel industries were up in the air (like, would people ever want to stay at B&Bs again?). But we recognized that it was a special home in a special location with a lot of history, and decided to go for it.
Part of Harrison was dated in a good way…
… and part was ’80s dated, which was naturally very exciting (the potential!)
Our plan was to close the business down during renovations, convert some of the unfinished attic space to usable bedrooms, and reopen 9-12 months later. We wanted to work within the existing footprint of the home as much as possible, and keep as much as we could intact. We appreciated the fact that the house has been a B&B for 30+ years, so having it “set up” in terms of zoning was a big plus.
After closing, we started to realize that every single expectation we had about this project was wrong. We learned that the house was zoned incorrectly, and we’d need to go through the city council variance process if we wanted to keep using it as a B&B. That process took the better part of 5 months to complete, and we wouldn’t be able to get a building permit until we had that variance in hand.
We also began discussions with a few architects and learned that our renovation would fall under the commercial building code, not the residential building code like we anticipated. The fact that it was a historic house (residential) being used for a small B&B (transient use/hotel/commercial) was a gray area that took months of research and discussions to fully grasp. Ultimately, we’d be subject to the same code requirements as a hotel in the eyes of the building code. Things like fire suppression, a sprinkler system, egress requirements, commercial kitchen equipment, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) considerations all were introduced into our scope of work, and collectively tripled our renovation budget off the bat. We expected to have a sizeable renovation on our hands when we bought the B&B, but we definitely did not expect to have to do all of this.
We spent nearly all of 2021 learning about commercial code requirements and finalizing our architectural plans, which felt like a long, painful game of red light green light. Every time something started to feel like it was moving in the right direction, we hit a new roadblock that set us back. We tried to make good decisions but inevitably made so many wrong ones. We had an infant and a toddler at home with us for the majority of the year, too. It was just a really tough year all around.
Plan Submission + A Long Pause
We submitted our plans to the city at the end of 2021 and received feedback a few weeks later. They noted a few seemingly insignificant change requests that impacted our floor plan and started a domino effect of other design changes. All of that lead us to take a pause and reassess our plans to make sure they were really what we wanted. We knew we were going to be investing so much in this home, and didn’t want to have regrets down the line about things we could address now.
That redesign process started in February, and it has taken almost four months to work through with our engineers and architect. If having two young kiddos hasn’t taught us about the importance of patience, this project has. The house has been sitting all this time (we’re sorry, neighbors), and we need to wait until our designs are finalized & permits are approved to resume construction. We’re almost there, but not there yet. The thought of it all gives me a pit in my stomach and has kept me up at night more times than I can count. We’re used to being hands-on and jumping in wherever we can, so having to wait with our hands tied is the hardest thing in the world.
How it’s going
The new plans are a big improvement over our old ones, and despite it taking so much longer than we expected to finalize them, we feel good about the direction we’re headed.
There have also been a few silver linings in all of this. During demo, we discovered some big issues that we would have missed in the cosmetic renovation we had planned. Having to gut the house allowed us to have a really clear picture of what we’re working with. In the process, we also discovered that the house had actually already been gutted before — there’s lots of new wood studs (yellowy pine vs the aged dark brown pine in 100+ year old homes), drywall vs plaster, and patchy flooring under carpet. We uncovered a lot of quirks, and being forced to start fresh turned out to be a good thing. For the house at least, not our bank account.
While we wait to resume construction, we’re trying to put our energy into the things we can control and stay present for our girls while we have the time. This is the hardest part of a renovation — being stuck in the middle of it, after it gets worse but before it starts to get better. The stakes are high because this home has a history in the neighborhood, and we’re risking a lot for it. We truly care about creating a special place filled with thoughtful details and intentionality, and with that comes really hard work, stress, and pressure that we are feeling every day. I share all of this because I don’t want to sugarcoat it and make it seem like this has been a walk in the park. It’s been anything but easy — even as two people who have been through dozens of full gut renovations before. This project has made us question just about everything we’ve done as entrepreneurs and designers and real estate investors. But one thing has remained a constant from the beginning: we have a crystal clear vision that we’re passionate about, and we are going to do whatever it takes to see it through.
I have to believe that someday in the future, we’ll be thankful for everything we’re learning and the mistakes we’re making. In the meantime, I’m dreaming of the day I hear the framing nail guns going again and when I can walk on our new herringbone floors with my socks on and hang our sign out front and look out the turret balcony onto the beautifully landscaped backyard and welcome our first guests. It’s going to be good. I felt it in the beginning and I still feel it today. Just need to get there.