Aspiring innkeepers tackle a reno

Plus two ways MBBA eases the journey for future B&B owners

Each week, aspiring innkeepers Joanne and Lance Murphy inch closer to fulfilling their dream of opening a B&B on Lake Street in Port Austin. Some weeks the dream seems further away than others, considering all the work to bring the property up to 21st Century standards. They plan a grand opening in May 2020 for Port Austin Bed and Breakfast.

“I don’t know anything about owning an inn,” Joanne said candidly. “Right now I only know about renovating.”

Wanting to know more about operating a B&B is what led the Murphys to join the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association as aspiring innkeepers. (Click to learn more about aspiring innkeeper membership.)

“My experience has shown me the value of good professional associations,” Joanne said. “MBBA‘s Quality Review Checklist was great to have as we planned the renovation. MBBA offers a wealth of information in one place that covers marketing, all things related to the use of the web and Google searches as well as legislative lobbying efforts on behalf of the industry. MBBA is truly invaluable for people like us in the beginning stages of our adventure into the B&B world.”

Joanne plans to attend MBBA’s one-day workshop for aspiring innkeepers as well as for those new to B&B innkeeping. Read about this annual event.

For now, the Murphys’ days on site are like an HGTV renovation show, with all the big and little surprises but without the cameras. We interviewed Joanne Murphy.

Q&A with ambitious renovator and aspiring innkeeper

Future Port Austin B&B exterior, still under renovation
More than a year into the renovation of 1800s house in Port Austin, it’s possible to envision its charm as the future Port Austin Bed and Breakfast.

When did the idea of owning a B&B come to you?

“We had been looking for something to do in retirement. Our son has multiple disabilities and will need some level of care for the rest of his life, but we wanted him to have the opportunity to work and to know he can contribute.”

So, a home-based business appealed to the Murphys. They also wanted to do something involving food.

“I was sitting on the beach in Port Austin on Aug. 27, 2016, and saw this property on Zillow. My family has owned a cottage in Port Austin since the 1950s. I grew up here, we love it here and we thought this would be a great community in which to invest.

“We closed on the sale Oct. 21 and we started demolition in December. By spring of 2017, the main contractors started work. All of our contractors are local and are really invested in our project.”

People enjoy renovation stories, but first describe your future B&B.

“Five guest rooms with queen and king beds, all with ensuite baths. One room has a bonus sitting room. In-room heating and cooling controls. Extra soundproofing insulation in walls and between floors. New plumbing and electrical. New everything really, except where historical details could be preserved. The first floor features several common areas. We have a large wrap-around porch, an additional patio and over an acre of grounds for guests to enjoy.”

These aspiring innkeepers also specified a commercial kitchen, which B&Bs in Michigan are not required to have if they serve only breakfast. The Murphys’ 24-year-old son Zack attends a culinary arts school in Macomb County for young adults to age 26 with disabilities, Rising Stars Academy. The Murphys hope to offer short-term internships at the B&B so their son and others from the academy can obtain real-world experience and practice life skills toward more independent living.

This old house offers some surprises

Clearly this house has some history.

“Local lore says the house was built in the 1850s, but I can definitively trace it back to 1880. The land wasn’t platted until 1875. It was owned by several prominent local families through the 1960s.

“The original home was about half the size it is today. It became a summer home from 1913 to 1930, which left it in need of some TLC.

“In 1930 it was purchased by a family who had been admiring it for years. They spent three years renovating and expanding the home — including enlarging the porch — to the form it takes today.

“From the 1970s until about four years ago, it became an adult foster care home for up to 20 residents. When we purchased it, it was unoccupied and uncared-for.”

How has the renovation process gone?

“Just like it does on HGTV. We had no way of estimating all the hidden problems.

Stairway to the second floor has lovely woodwork.
Stairway to the second floor.

“It has cost three or four times what we expected, but everything has been rebuilt to last. This place will stand for another 150 years.”

For example, “we had hoped to preserve as much of the plaster walls and ceilings as possible. However, it turned out there was no support through the center of the house. The second and third floors, the attic and roof were supported only by exterior walls of the first floor. We discovered this when we replaced the foundation and only the first floor leveled out.”

The house might have collapsed. How does something like that happen?

“Over the years, different owners cut doorways or completely removed sections of the 18-inch cobblestone support walls that ran through the Michigan basement, thus removing the central support. We completely rebuilt the interior space from the basement to the roof.”

Any other surprises?

“A nice surprise was finding several pieces of original exterior trim detail above the front porch that had been covered with vinyl siding. The best surprise was finding wood floors. Unfortunately, carpeting had been glued down on all of them.”

Have you stayed at B&Bs?

“Oh, yes. Lance and I stayed at our first B&B in New York City in 1988 and really enjoyed our experience. In 2000, I took a trip to England with my college roommate and stayed at a B&B. Since then, when I travel with Lance or my roomie, we always look for B&Bs or small inns because you get to feel like you are a part of the community, not just tourists.

“In June, knowing this would be our last summer to travel, we did a road trip around Alaska, staying at B&Bs. I have a list of my favorite things about the different B&Bs and we will incorporate those things into our B&B.”

“Next year our house is going to be in here”

People always ask B&B innkeepers “what did you do before?”

“Lance works for Verizon as a network planning engineer and expects to continue there until his retirement. We are fortunate in that he can work remotely. He will live here, do his job, and also help with the B&B.

“I worked in LAN management, but after Zack was born, I became dedicated to helping him. After he started school, I soon became an advocate not just for him but also for other students with disabilities and their families, to help them get equal access to education.

“The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a comprehensive law, but as a parent, I quickly learned that our school district, among others, preferred to segregate and to babysit students with disabilities rather than include and educate them.”

Joanne trained for a year in a State of Michigan-sponsored program and later at the prestigious William and Mary School of Law, Institute of Special Education Advocacy.  She lobbied in Washington D.C. at least three times, once visiting every Michigan congressional office in a single day.

How is Zack participating in the project?

“He helped a lot during the demolition, as well as prep and cleanup for the other jobs we are doing. He is more interested in the marketing aspects of the project and will definitely have a hand in choosing our logo.

Section of wood floor that has been uncovered at future Port Austin B&B
Removing glue from six-by-four-foot section of wood floor in upstairs hallway took four hours at future Port Austin B&B.

“Recently he picked up a copy of ‘Discover the Blue,’ published by the convention and visitors bureau based in Port Huron, and showed it to us and said: ‘Next year our house is going to be in here.’

“I love his optimism because this has been just as much about him as about the wonderful people who will come through these doors.”

What’s next for you in the renovation?

“We are determined to save the floors. which feature several different wood species and designs. Although we don’t know whether they’re original to the house or date to the 1930’s renovation, these floors are special and more than worth the effort.

“For the next perhaps four months, I expect to be on hands and knees removing glue residue from over 3,000 s.f. of unique wood flooring that had been hidden by carpeting.”

We wish you great success.

“Anyone interested in following our journey as renovators and as aspiring innkeepers are invited to follow our Facebook page and to sign up for notifications.”

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Is owning or operating a bed and breakfast your future dream? If you plan and execute it right, you can make money operating a B&B, enjoy being your own boss — and meet some great people.

Join MBBA as an aspiring member, even if your path leads to a B&B in another state. MBBA is recognized as a leader in the U.S. B&B industry.

Attend MBBA’s valuable one-day workshop for aspiring and new innkeepers.