The Painted Lady B&B brings Victorian charm and home-baked hospitality to Ottawa

Marissa Ventrelli
The Ottawa Herald

Whether you're visiting Ottawa from out of town, just passing through, or looking for a staycation, The Painted Lady Bed and Breakfast offers vintage flair and a homey feel you can't find at the local Motel 6. 

The Painted Lady is the work of architect George Washburn, who designed homes, libraries, and courthouses throughout Kansas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The home features four floors, three of which are accessible to guests. The owners, Steve and Sharon Geiss, live on the fourth floor. 

The home was most likely first used as a boarding house when beautician Zoe Shesler moved in with her sons in the mid-1900s. Seeing opportunity in the home's size and unique floorplan, she offered rooms for rent and even installed a salon. The Shesler family stayed at the home until 1979, when it was purchased by Brad and Beth Kahler.  The Kahlers stopped renting out rooms in the home and used the space to raise their five children. Brad and Beth continued living in the home for just shy of 30 years until Brad passed away in 2018.

At the time of Brad Kahler's passing, Steve and Sharon Geiss just so happened to be on the hunt for a home to convert into a bed and breakfast. The couple had previously owned a B&B in Baldwin but decided to find a new location closer to where they were living at the time, a single-family home on Ottawa's 7th Street. They had their eyes on a home nearby, but it was purchased by a man from California. The Geisses were ready to throw in the towel when they learned that the Kahler home was for sale. When the couple went to check out the house, the very same floor plan that had attracted Zoe Shisler decades before drew them in: "We felt it was just perfect because of the fact that we could have our own space," said Sharon. So the couple sold their home on 7th St. and moved into the Painted Lady.

A longtime fan of bed and breakfasts themselves, Steve and Sharon were adamant about providing top-notch hospitality to their guests. Sharon cooks breakfast each morning from scratch and bakes homemade treats throughout the day. What separates The Painted Lady from chain hotels or even Airbnbs, Sharon says, is the personal touch. The Geisses live in the home, and have extensive knowledge about Ottawa that they can share with their guests. "It's like a concierge service, so people, if they want to know good places to eat, things to do, I'm geared to give them that," Sharon said. Besides the personal touches, Sharon believes The Painted Lady is probably one of the safest places to stay during the pandemic since the couple pays special attention to the home's cleanliness - if the house is dirty, they have to deal with a dirty house, so it's the perfect motivation to keep the place spotless. "We do the cleaning, so I feel like we do more in terms of sanitizing."

Sharon and Steve have had guests stay for weddings, funerals, graduations, car shows, and bike races, while others found the Painted Lady to be the perfect setting for a relaxing staycation. Sharon and Steve still stay in touch with a couple from Australia who came to Ottawa for their son's wedding. Another time, Sharon was thrilled to meet a man from her home state of Wyoming who turned out to be an author and left her one of his books. The Painted Lady offers three bedrooms, which can be rented individually or all together. Because the home only has three bedrooms, it's still considered a residence, which means the Geisses don't have to collect sales taxes on reservations. The fourth floor, which serves as the couple's residence and is closed off to guests, is essentially one large room, complete with a kitchen area and bathroom. 

One of the Painted Lady's three guest bedrooms, appropriately named the Sunflower Room.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharon and Steve took the opportunity to do some renovations around the house. The Painted lady was technically considered an essential business and remained open, but guests were very few and far between. Steve, who owns Take it Outside on Main Street, had to close his store briefly due to the pandemic, so the couple decided to take the time to install new wallpaper in one of the bedrooms, replace all of the doorknobs, and purchase new skeleton keys. It was a nice break from the usual hustle and bustle of running a bed and breakfast, but Sharon admits it's hard for her to not be working. Whenever the couple goes out of town, she finds herself worrying about how things are going at the Painted Lady. Over the summer, the Geisses left the B&B in the care of a woman who Sharon said did a wonderful job taking care of the guests, but it was hard for her to be away for those two weeks. "It was stressful for me," she recalled. "I have certain standards and it's just hard for me to let that go to someone else. I don't know if you've seen our reviews, but we get really good reviews, and it's personal." 

The word "personal" comes up a lot when speaking to Sharon about the Painted Lady. At the end of the day, it's the personal touches that make the place unique and draw in guests. And nine times out of ten, those guests make all of the work the Geisses put into caring for them worth it. Sharon's favorite part of owning a bed and breakfast is "meeting the different people and getting to know everyone," she said. When people decide to stay at the Painted Lady, they expect to be taken care of. Sharon says a few weeks ago, a woman made a reservation because she wanted to treat herself. "When she said that, I was like, 'oh gosh, she said she wanted to treat herself, I want to make everything really nice for her,'" said Sharon, who laughed at the prospect of someone treating themself by staying at her home. "When you live here, you don't think it's a treat for people," she joked. But for that woman, staying at the Painted Lady was an occasion, and the Geisses were determined to make her stay as special as possible. After all, for them, it's personal. 

The Painted Lady Bed and Breakfast was built in 1898 and designed by architect George Washburn.

The Painted Lady is located at 704 S. Cedar St.  

If you have a local small business you'd like to see featured in our Small Business Spotlight, please email MVentrelli@gannett.com.