Our Ferndale Bed and Breakfast Adventure
Our Ferndale B & B Experience
Everyone should have a Bed and Breakfast establishment at one time in their life. It is indeed an adventure, complete with totally unexpected suprises, some good and some bad, but mostly good. This lens depicts our experience owning and operating a bed and breakfast establishment in Ferndale, California and I hope that you enjoy reading about it......
"Downtown Ferndale Window Display"
In 2001, I purchased an old Victorian home in Ferndale, California. The entire town of Ferndale looks like it did back in the 1850's, so Victorian homes are the rule, not the exception. The house had been a B&B but it's roadside sign read: "Creekside Inn - Bed and NO Breakfast". The previous owner preferred to give guests a light European snack instead of the typical American fare.
Move ahead six months later to wedding bells and my wonderful new wife moves into the house. Our house was a two story, 3000 square foot, with four bedrooms, that was built in 1897. It was in good repair and had beautiful grounds, with many tall trees, two decks, lots of flowers, and a good sized creek running through it. It also had four antique faux marble fireplaces that were each unique. One of them had an oil painting in the center of the mantle. A lot of the interior wood was hand painted faux wood graining, done by one of the best artisans in town, at the turn of the century.
The kitchen had a modern touch: a wall of four large glass windows that overlooked the sloping lawn and creek. The dining room was large and formal, with a fireplace, and shutters. My favorite room was the music parlor/living room, with fireplace, facing couches and a gorgeous concert grand piano.
Looking out of the front door....
A Perfect Location...
A perfect place for a Bed and Breakfast, we were thinking. Ferndale is a town of about 1200 people, and has several B&B's in it, some of which, are world famous. What a natural, we thought, and started to plan it.
I want to stress, right now, that most of the fun is in the planning, furnishing and execution stages. We decided to use just two of the bedrooms, named them, and decorated them. My wife Valerie is multi-talented and upholstered the walls in one of the rooms and picked out the colors. I'm an artist/musician, so I painted a couple of murals and trompe'oil features. Since I had a lot of art, and lots of wall space, we decided to incorporate an art gallery into the plan. This required installing special unobtrusive track lighting throughout the house.
I had purchased some antiques that were in the house, but we clearly needed more. We haunted the local antique stores and, of course, eBay (I found one of our best pieces, a gorgeous French armoire there). We found a gorgeous art-nouveau mirror with two interesting little shelves that seemed to grow out of the mirror, at a local antique mall. It went into one of the bedrooms. The decorating was finished! Now on to my favorite, the food part.
Food and Perhaps More Food....
It helps to be a good cook, and my wife is the best. She decided to only do breakfast, and afternoon wine and horse'duerves in the music parlor. She dug up some wonderful recipes on the Internet, her favorite site being Epicurious.com.
She would be serving sorbet's, special exotic egg dishes, wonderful layers of fruit and yogurt. My favorite breakfast was Creme Brulette French Toast, which had to be made the night before, so that it could soak up the wonderful flavors. My job in the kitchen, was to stay out of the way, and do the dishes. I was in charge of setting the table, using gold leafed chargers, white china, crystal, and gold flat wear etc. etc. I also put little flowers on each setting and we had scores of varieties to choose from in the yard. I was also in charge of checking our guests needs during breakfast and general conversation, answering questions, and, when I could get away with it, some sardonic humor.
In the afternoon, I was in charge of entertaining the guests during snack time. I used to play piano bar back in the '60s, so this was great fun, playing polite cocktail jazz in the background to allow for their conversation. My favorite horse 'duerve that Valerie would conjure up was "Wasabe Asparagus" and we also served an assortment of cheese, crackers, and wine. Valerie also took sushi classes and would occasionally come up with a roll or two.
View from the kitchen......
This is the view that I usually had when I sat at the breakfast table. The old barn in the distance was built in the early 1800's and there were some gigantic trees growing next to the creek on the far left. This was a particularly rare, clear day.
Amazon B&B Recipes
The Creekside Room
Fun With Guests.........
The most memorable part of Inn Keeping is the interaction with guests. We had clients from all over the world, from all walks of life, politicians, clergymen, artists, musicians, architects etc. Newlyweds were always fun. Our first client was a bicycle racer. We usually turned down people without reservations, or what we called 'Walk-ins'. But we made an exception once when a young man came up to the front door, and asked if we had a room for he, his wife, and young son.
They were from Japan, and it was their first time visiting Ferndale. It turned out that the husband was a very successful businessman and his wife was a concert pianist. She had won the Yamaha award for classical piano two years in succession. They had their little four year old boy with them and he played the violin (a very special scaled down size for the little guy). She played the concert grand and he played his little scaled-down version of a violin, and it was a wonderful experience that we would have certainly missed by turning them away.
Advertise and Then Advertise.........
Advertising is a must. I created a web site for the Inn, with lots of photos. I also made sure that we were listed on several B&B websites. We also put a full page ad in an art related tourist magazine (Palette Magazine) for an entire year. And, I almost forgot, a spot in the local Chamber on-line directory. I used Webervations.com for on-line reservations, and set up two merchant accounts: one for the Inn and one for the art gallery. This entailed getting the necessary credit card machinery.
Prior to opening the B&B we stayed in several to get a feel for the experience. We discussed our likes and dislikes and tried to apply this to ours. I had stayed at several in Europe on an extended trip, so I also had that experience to draw from.
In summary, my wife and I did this for the fun and for the experience. I heartily recommend it for young retired people. You will probably not get rich owning and operating a bed and breakfast (unless you have 11 or more rooms) and it might end up costing you more than you make. It is, however, an enriching experience, and if you like people and enjoy learning about them, you will definitely come out ahead of the game.
Beautiful Downtown Ferndale
Most of the downtown buildings in Ferndale date back to the 1850's and it is really a treat for the eye to observe these "painted ladies", as they used to call them. This is one of my favorites, and another is the Gingerbread Mansion which is a block off of Main Street. The one in the picture is called "The Gazebo" and a friend of mine used to live in the front upstairs apartment.
A Typical Breakfast Setting
Breakfast was held in the formal dining room, which had a large fireplace and lots of old paintings to look at. The menu usually started with a fresh fruit sorbet over yogurt, topped with sugared pansies, possibly a creme breulet pecan french toast with more fresh fruit, and barista coffee.