Though it’s been everything from a family home to apartments, a store, and now a waystop for weary travelers, one thing is for sure: The Painted Lady’s colorful history is still being written today.
“It’s just fun meeting the different people that come through,” said Sharon Geiss. “For instance, we had a guy come that was going cross-country on a hand bicycle, and we really enjoyed him. I don’t know that there’s been anyone we haven’t enjoyed.
“That’s what we like about it, the people you meet.”
Sharon and her husband, Steve, are the owners of The Painted Lady Bed and Breakfast, located inside the polychromatically-painted three story Victorian home at 704 S. Cedar St., Ottawa. Designed by the prolific local architect George Washburn and built in 1898, the structure currently boasts 3 bedrooms available for overnight guests and a sprawling first story living, dining and parlor area.
The location has been open as a bed and breakfast since September, many months after the Geisses decided to meld their entrepreneurial, DIY and hosting skills with the location’s potential.
“We were watching for it to go on sale,” Sharon said. “We’d looked at some other places around town, including the place down here at 5th and Cedar, trying to find a house that would be suitable for a bed and breakfast. And when this one came on the market, we felt that it was exactly what we were looking for.”
Before the Geisses took over, the home had been owned owned by the Kahler family since 1979. Many factors made the place suitable for a B&B operation, most notably its plumbing and a specific facet of its late 19th century architecture: a servant’s staircase.
“Before the Kahlers bought the house, the house had been apartments,” Geiss explained. “They took it back to a single family home, but because of the fact that it had had apartments, it had a lot more plumbing than most Victorian houses. When we’d been looking at houses, that had been an issue, because you obviously need bathrooms for a bed and breakfast. The expense of adding those was a bit much, plus it takes forever.
“This house also had a servant’s staircase, so we are able to completely shut off our private area. That too was important to us, that we would have our privacy.”
Despite all of its quality features, the place was far from B&B ready. So, Sharon and Steve began a string of work suitable for an HGTV montage: they removed popcorn ceilings, cleaned and polyurethane-finished floors, stripped wallpaper and repaired walls, painted hallways, rebuilt a bathroom vanity, fixed a leaking shower, rehashed the driveway and landscaped.
“Also, to meet fire code we had to put in the interactive fire alarms to meet fire code, install egress windows in all the bedrooms, and install emergency lighting,” Sharon said.
Even after all the work completed, Sharon was unsure about the Painted Lady’s readiness for opening. However, the Geisses couldn’t turn away guests clamoring for a stay in the 120-year-old house.
“We opened for the car show about Sept. 15,” Sharon said. “We probably wouldn’t have been open that early, but the people made reservations with us as soon as they heard we were opening. There were things that I didn’t feel like were completely done, but we were booked every weekend in September and October.”
Business has ebbed and flowed with travel seasons, Sharon said, adding that the actually running of the bed and breakfast isn’t the most challenging part of their operation.
“I think what has been challenging is figuring out how to market it,” Sharon said.
A combination of referral networking -- many in-town businesses, such as The Bottle House, encounter out of town guests looking for a roof and meal -- and crafting an online presence has done the trick, though the couple is still learning the finer points of the art, they said.
At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to creating quality and memorable stay for guests, the Geisses said.
“I try to have the place how I would like it when I’m staying places,” Sharon said.