A Tale of Two B&Bs
Many people wonder what it would be like to live in a historically restored house. These two inns offer a little bit of that experience — without all the work.
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The Inn at Martin Farms, on the other hand, was in no danger of disappearing. Furnished with period antiques and featuring ornate fireplaces and 11-foot ceilings, the farmhouse harks back to the formality of the Victorian period.
"The Martins probably sat in these rooms and talked about the Civil War and Abe Lincoln," says Lisa Donovan.
Two years ago, she and her husband, John, saw a real estate ad featuring the Martin house and drove out to Washington County, Pa., to take a look. Rounding the bend leading up to the house, "our mouths just dropped open," recalls Lisa, a controller for an engineering firm.
When the couple first saw it, previous owners had restored the two-story Italianate farmhouse — painted a deep San Francisco blue — to its former glory, inside and out.
Nestled on 27 acres of rolling farmland and graced by covered front and side porches, the house was more than just picturesque. Built by brothers Matthew and William Henry Martin in 1864, it was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Donovans spent a year turning its two floors into an authentic yet comfortable 19th-century inn. In the elegant dining room, they ripped out a modern parquet floor and replaced it with hardwood rescued from an old tobacco barn in North Carolina.
Upstairs, they pulled up carpeting and converted one small bedroom into a luxurious master bath complete with walk-in shower, Jacuzzi tub, gas fireplace and small sitting porch. The couple also installed a large soapstone stove in the country kitchen and hid the parlor's tell-tale reminders of modern-day life (TV and VCR) in a large armoire.
They traveled to countless flea markets, antiques shops and estate sales in search of historically accurate furniture. The inn's most popular and romantic room, the William Henry Martin Suite, boasts a king-size poster bed and giant 19th-century armoire. Across the hall in the Matthew Martin Suite, a carved mahogany rococo queen-sized bed shares space with an antique mirror.
An addition former owners put on in the '80s now serves as the inn's cozy breakfast room. The turn-of-the-century bakers' table against one wall came from an antiques fair; the giant spinning wheel — similar to the wheel that once turned water in the farm's still-functioning 150-year-old springhouse — was a flea-market find.
In keeping with the Victorian atmosphere, the Donovans decided not to put TVs or phones in the five bedrooms. The only "modern" amenities are electricity and indoor plumbing.
"We wanted it to be as historic as possible," says Lisa.
Kept in the Martin family until the '80s, the farmhouse has changed very little over the last century and a half. The dining room still features its original pass-through cabinets to the kitchen, and every interior door sports a glass transom. A 1790s log barn still stands next to the spring-fed brook that trickles across the property. Instead of livestock, the barn is now home to the Donovans' four cats and four llamas.
"It's really a special home that doesn't exist anywhere else," says John.
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