GENOA – Mary Keys had been thinking about starting a bed and breakfast for years, even saving old B&B pamphlets and catalogues since the 1980s.
Six months after she retired from Resource Bank in late 2015, Keys realized that starting a bed and breakfast was what she really wanted to do. After purchasing two how-to books and creating a business and marketing plan, Mary and her husband, Roger, spent more than a year restoring a circa-1888 house their son Matt bought at auction.
After a soft opening early this spring, the Genoa Guest House, 231 S. Sycamore St. in Genoa, is open for business and taking reservations.
“I think everything just fell into place at the same time,” Mary Keys said. “It wasn’t the question of why but ‘Why not?’ There is no lodging in Genoa. Instead of staying on a relative’s couch, guests could have a nice, clean place to stay two blocks away from downtown Genoa and a delicious gourmet breakfast in the morning.”
Matt Keys purchased the house at auction in 2010. At the time of purchase, the house and barn had fallen into disrepair and had been converted into a two-family home many years ago.
“I loved the house because of the carriage house barn in the back,” Matthew Keys said. “It was a really original house with a lot a potential. It was a good candidate for fixing up.”
The house did need fixing up. Over the past year, the house has been rebuilt from the inside out, updating and modernizing features but keeping the house’s historic character. The renovation kept as much original plaster trim and woodwork as possible.
“The outside of the house hadn’t been painted for more than 45 years and the barn even longer,” Roger Keys said. “The interior walls of the house had more than 20 layers of wallpaper in some areas. Since we do historical restoration and the house was sitting here unused, we decided to turn it into our project.”
Changes included reframing the back section of the house, reroofing, painting and reworking plumbing, heating, electrical and fire protection. The house’s boiler and radiator heating system were removed and replaced with central heating and air conditioning.
The biggest change made was turning the main floor’s flat roof, one-story addition into a large, open-plan kitchen and dining room. The kitchen was entirely rebuilt and fitted with cabinets and appliances salvaged from a National Register residential project in Chicago. The kitchen’s floor is from the original basketball court of Northern Illinois University’s Chick Evans Field House.
By using items their son Matt salvaged as a historic restorer, the Keys were able to reuse and repurpose fixtures, appliances and cabinetry. Their daughter Meg helped with accounting, website design and interior decoration.
“We truly believe that you don’t have to tear down everything, you can make an older home a modern home,” Mary Keys said. “We wanted to keep the house’s original charm while making it more modern. We’re making history home.”
Before turning the house into a bed and breakfast, the Keys had to ask the city of Genoa for a building permit and rezone their property from residential to commercial. They also had to move from DeKalb into the house as residents in order to operate the business.
“There really were no complaints from the city or neighbors, everyone was excited for our renovation of the house,” Mary Keys said. “There are so many events and occasions in town that having a bed and breakfast would be a great idea: community events like VolksFest and Genoa Days, graduations, weddings, even a day-trip to the winery or shopping downtown.”
The Genoa Guest House welcomed its first guests mid-May: the winners of the Genoa Mouse Race. On May 12, the guest house hosted its first event, a Mother’s Day brunch. Tickets to the brunch sold out within two days.
All booking of the guest house must be completed online at www.genoaguesthouse.com. There is a 5 percent discount on bookings May through July with the code FINISHINGTOUCHES.
“There are a few last-minute finishing touches with the steps and the baseboards detail, but we are accepting guests’ bookings,” Mary Keys said. “We’re excited to finally be open to bookings and guests.”
Guests have their choice between three fully remodeled rooms: the New York Room, the Blue Glass Room and the Tower Suite. The Blue Glass Room and the New York Room share a detached bath with a shower. The Tower Suite offers a private, attached bath with a clawfoot tub and shower combination and marble counters.
Each of the rooms are unique: The New York Room features a double bed, reading chair and closet/office conversion; the Blue Glass Room has a queen bed, writing desk set, walnut wardrobe and a private seating area; and the Tower Suite has a queen bed, reading chairs, table, chaise lounge and separate closet.
Guest rooms are located on the second story with a private entrance. The guest house’s communal living area includes a sitting room with a fireplace, library and large, custom modern kitchen and dining space.
Additional amenities include private parking, free high-speed wireless internet, home-brewed specialty coffees and teas, full breakfast with home-baked goods, fresh fruit and a special entrée, fresh-baked cookies and milk, robes and luxurious linens. The Genoa Guest House also will offer a special blend of coffee, “GG’s Front Porch Genoa Guest House Blend,” made by Genoa’s own OpenDoor Coffee.
Renovations to be completed on the guest house in the future include revamping the carriage house to create an upstairs gathering area and a small shop.
“Our goal is to create a welcoming place where people can gather, relax and rejuvenate during their stay in Genoa,” Mary Keys said. “At the Genoa Guest House, you will be treated as a special family member.”
For information or to reserve a room at the Genoa Guest House, visit www.genoaguesthouse.com.