Does My B&B Need a Water Softener?

Victorian house with turret

It’s no easy task restoring a house* like this. Good thing I like a project! *This isn’t the house we’re restoring, but it’s very similar.

A friend of mine recently had the good fortune of purchasing a beautiful Victorian-era mansion that she plans to convert into a bed and breakfast, and she’s taking me along for the ride. The exterior of the building maintains distinctive Victorian characteristics, but somebody sure did a number on the interior. The original woodwork is covered in layers upon layers of paint. Many ‘improvements’ were made in the ’60s and ’70s, including drop ceilings. (We removed the grubby tiles from a drop ceiling in the ‘parlor’ and found the original hand-painted crown moldings. Why someone would want to hide such beauty with a drop ceiling is beyond me.) The cheap faux wood paneling and tired Berber carpets will all have to go too. It’s a good thing I like doing this kind of thing, because we have a lot of work a head of us.

My friend was able to obtain photographs of what the house looked like when it was originally built (in 1908) and we’ve been scouring antique stores and salvage stores to find rugs, sconces, doorknobs and curtain rods that belong to the same era as the house. We even found parts for the old dumbwaiter, and we’re excited to get it working again! We’ve also found a company that prints stunning Victorian-style wallpaper, which I simply cannot wait to hang — those horrid brown-and-orange floral patterns that have hung on these walls since the Carter administration have simply got to go!

Industrial Water Softener for a Victorian Laundry Room

As cool as it would be to do this restoration in wall-t0-wall Victoriana, there are some things that simply must be modern. The kitchen needs a professional-grade range and walk-in refrigerator, and the laundry room needs industrial-sized washers and dryers. My friend wondered if she should install a commercial water softener  so that her guests could always expect pristine, soft linens.

I didn’t know a whole lot about commercial or industrial water softeners. My “thing” is aesthetics. Utilitarian things like industrial water softeners aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse. But, I knew my friend was relying on my expertise, and so I did as much research as I could so that I could offer her an informed opinion. What I found was a company called Robert B. Hill Co., which is based in Minnesota. Robert B. Hill Co. manufactures custom water softeners that are made to fit the exact specifications of their clients’ spaces.

industrial water softener

A commercial water softener is a good option for a laundry room.

That seemed pretty nifty to me; Robert B. Hill Co. can make a water softener that will fit in the space we have available in the laundry room (which admittedly isn’t much) and can still meet the demands of daily washing. I showed my friend the website, and she agreed that it would be a good idea to reach out to this company and see what they can do for us and for the Astoria Community Inn.

I know…a terrible name. The house was, at one point in its varied history, a community center and for some reason my friend is hell-bent on paying homage to that. I keep telling her that the name will make people think that they’ll be sleeping on cots under Ping Pong tables, but so far she hasn’t budged. However, I discovered that the original owner had a daughter named Violet Rose. I think I can sell my friend on calling the place Violet Rose Manor. Much more appealing, don’t you agree?

Photo credit: Scott Hess / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wallpaper Steamer

I like to do things the old fashioned way. Stripping wallpaper? All you need is vinegar and hot water. There’s no need to use nasty chemicals or fancy doo-hickies just to take down wallpaper. But, my friend is restoring an old house and she insisted I use the steamer she bought at Home Depot. She said it would be gentler on the house’s “fragile” old walls. I told her that water and vinegar would have been good enough for the first people who lived in the house — after all, there was no Home Depot in 1908. But some salesman pulled her leg and she just wouldn’t budge. And, as I’m still trying to convince her to change the name of the place (Astoria Community Inn is NOT a good name for a B&B!) I have to pick my battles.

So I used the SteamMachine Steamer for Steam Cleaning and Wallpaper Removal.

And I liked it.

I really hate to admit how much I liked using this thing! I mean, I really do try to stick with simple solutions when I can, and avoid expensive ones when they are unnecessary. But the SteamMachine made removing wallpaper fast and easy, with minimal mess. Additionally, it’s a steam cleaner, so when I was done taking down wall paper at the Community Inn I took the SteamMachine home and got all the mustard stains out of my husband’s recliner. (Honestly. My husband is like the dad on Frasier. I work so hard to put the house together, and he constantly mucks up my visions with his big ugly chair.)

Anyway, I still prefer hot water and vinegar for wallpaper removal. However, if you prefer to use a machine, I think the SteamMachine Steamer for Steam Cleaning and Wallpaper Removal is the way to go.



Reviving Moorish Revival

Proof that True Beauty is Timeless

The Victorians liked to dream about faraway lands. And though their “appropriations” (as my granddaughter insists on saying) of Middle Eastern designs weren’t exactly politically correct by today’s standards, the result — Victorian Moorish Revival architecture — is something worth celebrating.

Though some Victorians designed entire houses in the Moorish Revival style — complete with onion domes — it was not uncommon for Victorians to decorate one room with Moorish furnishings. Recently, I got on a Moorish kick while helping a friend of mine redecorate a Victorian bed and breakfast that she purchased. We had not considered using any Moorish-style furnishings, but that changed when I fell in love with the Persian Roomset by Bradbury & Bradbury while I was searching for wallpaper. I love the deep reds and the brilliant oranges and the gold accents. I love how it seems at once exotic and cozy. When I saw the wallpaper, I immediately called my friend and told her that her B&B needed a Moorish room.

She agreed, and I’ve since spent days scouring antique shops all over Astoria to find Moorish furnishings like ornate Turkish lanterns and hand-carved tables. I’ve come across some really fantastic finds — including a gorgeous Moorish-style birdcage — that I am very excited about. I just know that honeymoon couples are going to want to book the Moorish room, or, as we’ve decided to call it, the “Scheherazade Suite!”

Moorish Domes in Peril

Moorish Revival architecture Bardwell Ferrant

The Bardwell-Ferrant house is the quintessential example of Moorish Revival architecture.

You cannot Google “Victorian Moorish Revival” without seeing an image of the Bardwell-Ferrant house in Minneapolis. You can view this video for more info on the house, but long story short, it’s a beautiful house in a struggling neighborhood, and is in need of a lot of TLC. The family who owns it now is working hard to restore it, but they don’t have the money or know-how to keep the beautiful Moorish dome from toppling over.

Because I’m a fan of Victorian architecture in general, and Moorish Revival in particular, and because I’m a strong advocate for saving historic homes, I want to see this house survive. I sincerely hope people will lend a hand to this plucky, ambitious family and their equally plucky home!