To see aspiring innkeepers Lance and Joanne Murphy in the gleaming, new kitchen of their future Port Austin Bed and Breakfast, you would never imagine the challenges they’ve experienced in holding on to their dream. One challenge, described below, was more like a roadblock. It cost them $100,000!
Our October 2018 article about Lance and Joanne’s highs and lows — “Aspiring innkeepers tackle a reno” — got more readers than almost any other post in the last year, so we knew people would want an update on these aspiring innkeepers.
MBBA’s marketing director, Sandy White, interviewed Joanne in late August….
You set a May 2020 date to open Port Austin Bed and Breakfast. How is that holding up?
That’s still our hope. We thought we would be having a soft opening by now. Bad weather last fall and spring meant not only our project got behind but also so did many of the other projects going on in the area our contractors are also working on. At this point, one more setback will change the date.
Port Austin is a popular tourist town in summer, and I see no lodging here at the top of Michigan’s Thumb that will compare to yours. When do you expect to start taking reservations?
Port Austin does have a wide diversity of lodging options available to travelers, and we think our property adds another nice option. We just selected our web designer and reservation system and expect the website to be completed in eight to 12 weeks. We should be able to start taking reservations then.
To ensure we will not have to cancel any reservations, at first we probably will take reservations for mid-summer on, and then add earlier dates only when we are sure we will be ready for occupancy. Perhaps we will collect email addresses for folks interested in May and June dates. If we are ready closer to the time, we will let them know. They might need to be able to be a little spontaneous.
What has been the biggest bump in the road on your renovation journey?
As anyone who watches HGTV knows, there are going to be surprises when renovating an old home. Our worst surprise was the loss of the interior walls due to the need to put laminated veneer lumber support beams throughout the interior of the first and second floors. The costs associated with that continue to ripple down even still.
On an HGTV show, those costs are maybe $10,000, but our additional costs skyrocketed to well over $100,000. On a positive note, included in that cost are improvements we were only able to make with the walls down. They included the addition of Roxul sound proofing and fire-resistant insulation.
What has brought you the greatest joy? Every time something is completed, such as the return and installation of our stained and leaded glass windows, the wood floors, cove moldings, paint, kitchen completion and even the day the first toilet was installed, those are happy days.
In general, all our contractors have been really awesome to work with. They have our backs, and they are invested in our project. That is such a relief, especially on a project this big.
But the thing that helps keep us going and gives us joy is the support and encouragement we get from the Port Austin community and beyond through our Facebook and Instagram pages, and just out on the street. Recently, we’ve been contacted by the relatives of previous owners, including children and grandchildren, and their family stories add to the joy of giving new life to a piece of Port Austin’s history.
I see your five guest rooms all have their mattresses wrapped in heavy plastic and work goes on around them.
I ordered the beds from Lady Americana last fall at the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association conference to take advantage of the show discount for members.
(Lady Americana is one of MBBA’s many Preferred Vendors, who give extra-special service and discounts to MBBA members.)
The mattresses were delivered in June because we thought we would be ready for them. Final painting and the bathroom tile still need to be completed in most of the guest rooms, so the plastic will stay on for a while.
The B&B will have two rooms with queen beds, one with a king, and two with split kings for guests who want to share a room but not a bed. We have tried out our bed, and it is the most comfortable mattress we’ve ever had. I think our guests will love them too.
The rooms are painted in dreamy, in my opinion, pastel hues. What was your design inspiration?
I’m glad you like them. Although this is a Victorian era home, I chose muted pastels rather than the deep, dark, dramatic hues of the era. In keeping with the Victorian ideas of bringing nature in, I tried to choose colors that reflect the colors of our nearby beach. I wanted to create a feeling of calm and relaxation.
When we talked last year, you had just started removing the adhesive that had been used for glue-down carpeting covering all the floors. You had some early success and estimated it would be a four-month job. How did that turn out?
We are really pleased with the way the floors turned out. All the glue is off, but only the second floor is completely finished. They look great. One Facebook follower said they look like new but really, they don’t. They bear the scars of their 100-plus years and they wear them well. We call it “patina.” The first floor will definitely have more patina.
For other DIY-ers out there, what method worked best for removing that thick, milky glue?
Different kinds of adhesive had been applied throughout the house, so we tried several products and methods. On the really thick glue, we used a three-disc random orbital sander with 20-grit paper to try to get some of the glue off. Next we painted on buckets of Ready-Strip Adhesive remover and scraped off the softened glue with putty knives, sometimes twice. The remainder was sanded off with a six-inch orbital hand sander. From there we switched back to the large sander for the finishing rounds of sanding, then stain and Fabulon polyurethane.
It sounds like back-breaking work.
This was a 1870-ish mansion that most recently served as an adult foster care home, so let me ask questions that will be on the mind of many prospective guests: What’s the bathroom situation, and will the shower have good water pressure and plenty of hot water?
True, it was an AFC home for the better part of the past 50 years. We removed the random bathrooms installed in whatever spaces they could find. Now, each bedroom has its own bathroom. Thanks to the foresight of the original builder or a late-1800s renovator who added ahead-of-their-time walk-in closets, we were able to add the bathrooms while losing square footage only in one room. It makes for a couple interestingly shaped bathrooms, but I think it works.
To ensure adequate water pressure, the water service has been upgraded from the main. The system was engineered so we could have all showers, both washers and both dishwashers running at the same time. We will conduct tests when the time comes. As for the hot water, we have three large, cascading, on-demand water heaters. I think it’s a very impressive system and expect it all to work perfectly.
What about heat and air-conditioning?
The first floor has forced-air heating and cooling. Each bedroom has its own mini-split heating/cooling unit that guests may control by remote. Each room will also have a ceiling fan, windows that open, and heated bathroom floors. We understand that guests like to control their climate for their personal comfort. We do too.
What’s next in the renovation of the future Port Austin Bed and Breakfast?
The end is in sight. The second floor needs paint and a little trim. Lance and I are finishing the first-floor hardwood and cleaning up the salvaged trim for reinstallation. Then there is paint and baseboards and a couple more HVAC units. The exterior needs one more coat of paint and, of course, landscaping. That’s all, and then the house will be ready for our guests.
2022 update: The Murphys finally opened Port Austin Bed and Breakfast in May 2021. Click the name to see a page about this gem of a B&B at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb.
Also read the third and final installment of the Murphys’ B&B renovation journey: “Even COVID can’t kill their B&B dream”
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