The Northern Michigan JournalNM LIVINGNEXT

Northern Michigan Lodging
Aspen House Bed and Breakfast
by Andrew L. McFarlane

The sun from a bright spring day streamed through the large windows, purging cabin fever, feeding the many plants and making the hardwood floors glow a rich amber. Outside, a couple of squirrels and several species of bird vied for the spring forage. Inside, Aspen House Bed and Breakfast owner Paul Swink and I sat at the table in her large and well-appointed kitchen.

Paula and her husband Phil moved out of San Francisco and into the 1880s Leelanau County farmhouse just south of Leland on August 3rd of last year. "We hadn't really planned to do this, "Paula explained, "It was always a 'someday thing'. We had a new grandson born up here in May and had long thought of moving to Michigan. We drove around and fell in love and decided 'Why wait another five years?' Our house in San Francisco sold in three weeks and we had to be out in thirty days. This place," her gesture seemed to encompass more than merely the house, "was available and though we moved in at the beginning of August, we couldn't open until Labor Day. It was so hectic that this winter was a really welcome time of renewal." She thought for a moment.

"You know, even if no one came until July, I think I would still say that it was a good decision."

That is a statement that Paula is not likely to have to make, due to more than just the Traverse Area Association of Realtors fact that she is the owner of a Bed & Breakfast on the Leelanau Peninsula. She and Phil, haven't spent the entire winter renewing themselves, they have put a lot of time and effort into renewing the old farmhouse as well.

"It's all new," Paula said, and then reconsidered. "Not really, it just seems that way sometimes. We have redone all the rooms and put a lot of work into the structure. There's even a hot tub in the upstairs room."

Indeed, quite a lot of work has been put into the old house. As we walked through the house, Paula pointed out this and that improvement, but to my eyes, the real beauty was what hadn't been updated. All the old furnishings, the woodwork and above all, the satisfying creak of the hundred year old floor. I squatted down to take a closer look at the floorboards and realized that they were fully six inches wide. Beech, I guessed, cut and laid in a time when trees grew larger.

They have also taken steps toward filling their rooms in the off-season (read, "Times other than summer"). One interesting feature that they offer is a sort of corporate retreat for small businesses. Paula has experience as a facilitator but both she and Phil also recognize that there are times when co-workers just need to be left to themselves with no distractions. Promotion is also a factor. In addition to standard means, print advertising and the very successful Lake to Lake guide to B&Bs, they have also gotten on-line this spring ( I asked Paula how it had worked so far. She replied, "Great. I think we've had five reservations in about a month and a half, so it's definitely paying for itself."

We returned to the kitchen and Paula spoke of her vision for the place. "We simply try to provide the best service possible. Having spent years in the corporate world, we feel we know the kind of stresses people are under today. They don't need to be bothered with thinking and planning--they just need to relax. So we'll make reservations and other arrangements for them and even pick drive them to and from the restaurant in Phil's convertible. We even offer them dessert when they get back and snacks and tea in the afternoon."

She gazed out the window for a time. "You know, I can sit here watching the birds and squirrels for a half an hour. When friends call from California, I get the sense sometimes that they don't understand what we do up here. The key for Phil and I will be to take care of ourselves during the busy time...or at least to remember the times that aren't."

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