Suite dreams
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, June 2007

Local bed and breakfasts take different approaches to décor

We’ve all had that travel experience: spotting a decorating trick that we’re eager to copy back home, whether a hallway mirror or a kitchen mural. Now you’re invited to step inside the varied interiors of three Whatcom County inns to see welcoming touches you might try in your own guest rooms.

Art appreciation

Vermont and Donna McAllister raised three sons in their home overlooking Lake Whatcom before converting it into the Schnauzer Crossing Bed and Breakfast Inn in 1986.

“We bought this little two-bedroom house in 1972 because of the trees and property,” says Donna. “We thought it would be a good starter home.”

But the couple, now both 65, fell hard for the spacious lot dotted with enormous trees. So between 1978 and 1991 they worked with local architect Robert Bruce to claim more indoor space.

The expansive living room was part of their first remodel, with breathtaking floor-to-ceiling windows and a wall of glass doors that open to let in the pleasing scent of white fragrant wisteria that winds through the pergola below.

Bathrooms were the next major project. Ten years after that, Bruce designed a guest cottage intended for family guests.

“We just made it to suit ourselves,” says Donna. “We had no idea then that it would eventually be a bed and breakfast.”

Now spread over 3,800 square feet, the renovated contemporary home was well-suited as a high-end sleepover spot when the McAllister’s decided to change their empty nest into luxury accommodations.

The living room showcases a variety of woods. The soaring pitched ceiling is cedar; floors are oak. As for the trim, done in a magnificent clear grain fir, “You couldn’t even do that anymore,” notes Donna.

“So many bed and breakfasts tend to have the Laura Ashley look, but we don’t do that here,” she says. The décor has a decidedly Asian feel, punctuated by silk kimonos adorning several walls.

“The Asian has a timelessness about it,” says Donna. “And we did it before it became trendy.”

The larger of the two guest rooms in the main house, “The Suite,” has landed Schnauzer Crossing in many travel books, including Northwest Best Places , The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest , and Frommer’s Travel Guides .

It was the home’s original living room, complete with brick-surround fireplace and crisp white mantel. Overlooking the lush garden, the view space is a favorite of many recurring guests.

Oregon hand-crafted furniture mingles with a 1700s French armoire in the soft peach room, while French doors open onto an adjoining window-lined retreat wrapped by the greenery outside. Delicately hand-painted vines and birds wind around the walls above the glass.

The cottage sports a private deck overlooking the lake. It’s served as temporary home to visiting writers Barbara Kingsolver and Christina Dodd , and artist John Ebner , whose work hangs on the wall there and in the main house.

As a former art history major, Donna’s appreciation of Northwest artists and artisans is evident in the paintings, drawings, furnishings and accessories in every room.

Bellingham fine woodworker and furniture designer Steve Hall created the couple’s distinctive dining room set, buffet, and desk, while Rocky MacArthur’s chainsaw sculptures are scattered throughout the yard. A myriad of Louis Mideke pottery pieces are displayed in the living room and used in the kitchen.

“I’ve worked at it over the years and have fine-tuned and fine-tuned,” says Donna. “It’s been the most rewarding profession I could have found.”

‘Color is so important’

Bonnie and Cori Litorja , an art-adoring mother-and-daughter team, own and operate Everson’s charming Kale House Bed and Breakfast. Cori, 38, paints striking portraits and colorful folk-art pieces, while Bonnie, 65, dreams up equally vibrant quilts. Their creations, accompanied by other local artists’ works, pepper the inn’s sumptuously hued walls.

Deemed “traditional with a twist” by Bonnie, the nearly 90-year-old house on one acre was the Litorjas’ home for five years before being transformed into a bed and breakfast a dozen years ago.

The only structural changes required to make the leap from family digs to public spaces involved the bathrooms. A door was added to link the downstairs guest room with what had been the home’s only bathroom, and an upstairs hallway closet became a shower. A toilet and sink were added on the second floor where the previous owner has already installed the necessary plumbing.

Each of the property’s 2,600 square feet conveys the Litorjas’ creative leanings.

“We love making things,” says Bonnie.

“We need projects,” Cori adds with a laugh.

One unusual undertaking was the guest room headboards. Plywood was covered in batten, then wrapped with fanciful fabrics and secured to the walls with hook-and-loop tape. “We have an extensive fabric stash,” says Cori, “so we don’t have to go out and buy stuff.”

Imaginatively refurbished thrift-store finds mix with antique pieces. For example, the main sitting room’s stately French daybed was purchased in Germany, where the family lived in the 1970s, when Bonnie’s ex-husband, Cori’s father, was stationed there.

The smaller sitting room is Cori’s favorite. Eye-catching in color, its rich brown tone is a strong contrast to the home’s crisp white trim.

“That brown was a real marathon,” says Bonnie. “We had to do five coats.”

White built-in shelves encircle the room’s welcoming window seat, overlooking a busy birdfeeder. Toile curtain panels visually separate the spot.

“We added those recently and it really cozied it up,” says Cori. “You can sit with a book and kind of hide.”

For Bonnie, it’s hard to pinpoint one favorite space. “I just love the whole thing,” she says. “Really, the part you’re working on right now becomes your favorite.”

The downstairs guest room is painted a brilliant eggshell blue, while the chartreuse walls of the second downstairs bedroom, converted into a gift shop, are a collage of artwork and jewelry. Every fall, the Litorjas holds a popular art show to peddle their and artist friends’ wares.

A gleaming white stairway climbs from the kitchen to the second guest space. One of the rooms is tiny, with a snug built-in sleeping nook; the other is a cacophony of colors in its headboards and bed coverings.

“Some people come in and say, ‘It doesn’t feel like an old house.’ We’re not purists by any means,” says Cori. “So that gave us the freedom to do what we want.”

“Color is so important to us,” says Bonnie.

“And living in military housing all those years, we couldn’t do anything, so we just went wild here,” says Cori. “This really is a scrapbook of our lives.”

A cliff-side Craftsman

Less than 30 minutes south of Bellingham, at the end of a relaxing, meandering lake-view drive, sits South Bay Bed and Breakfast, perched high above Lake Whatcom. It feels worlds away from civilization.

Philip and Kate Malmgren purchased the bed and breakfast a year ago, after an arduous search for just the right project. Kate, 55, has a background in the hotel industry and Philip, 51, has experience as a general building contractor. It makes a handy combination for running and maintaining the 4,900-square-foot home.

Built in 1910, the original Craftsman home, was moved a mile to its current cliff-side spot in 1994, where it was lovingly restored and expanded. Six rooms are available to guests, all with inestimable water views.

“Much of the furniture was here when we bought the inn,” says Kate. “We bought it turnkey, but added all the other touches.”

The public areas are open and welcoming. A double-sided fireplace warms both the living and dining rooms, lending a lodge-like quality complete with original trim, substantial wood furniture pieces and snuggle-in seating.

Breakfast is served in a stunning view-rich atrium. Two resident bald eagles often perch in the tall trees outside.

A quad of guest rooms fills the lower level, branching off a wide hallway. With different rustic-meets-contemporary themes, each room couples a bed with an overstuffed double-wide chair, loveseat or chair and ottoman. Dark wood and walls painted in deep, earthy shades up the cozy quotient.

Baths in three of these rooms share an intriguing design feature: a double-hung window between bathroom and sleeping quarters, allowing spectacular tub-side views.

Upstairs, “Cassie’s Retreat,” the smaller of two larger guest rooms, was named for the previous owner’s 10-year-old daughter. Olive-tinged walls complement lush fabrics on the bed, at the windows, and on the roomy window seat, laden in plush pillows.

“There’s a touch of San Francisco here, because we’re from the Bay Area,” says Kate, describing the cheery room. “This is the only Victorian thing about the whole place.”

The room booked most often is at the opposite end of the upstairs hall. It’s dubbed “Sky View” for the two skylights above the bed, which allow for comfortable cloud- or star-gazing.

Light cream-colored walls are a neutral backdrop to deep-red fabrics on the bed, lampshades and windows. His-and-hers armoires share the romantic space with two seating areas.

Both upstairs bathrooms have jetted corner tubs overlooking the lake.

Kate describes the bed and breakfast as “a little slice of heaven,” which was clear to them the moment they saw the place. “We walked in and just said, ‘This is it. We have to have this place,’” she recalls. “So we ran home to California and sold our house.”

As different as the owners who operate them, these Whatcom County bed and breakfasts all hold decorating delights galore. You may want to run home and try some yourself.

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.


Home | Resume | Clients & Projects | Writings | Contact

© 2007 Whatcom Magazine
All rights reserved