Stately Former Bed and Breakfast Seeks New Owner

By
From the August 2014 edition

Gareth Jones settles onto a couch in the cozy sitting room of his 19th-century Italianate home near Victorian Village. Sprawled on the floor beside him is golden-haired pug mix Micki, a round, panting old girl who’s alternately energetic and lethargic. Jones, who is approaching 90, rests comfortably with his legs crossed, hands clasped in his lap, as he recounts the three decades he and his late wife, Marjorie, operated the Victorian Bed and Breakfast a few blocks south at 78 Smith Place. He’s selling the stunning 3-story 1880s-era Early Queen Anne manor, emptied of the eclectic furnishings, lively conversation and unique rotating visitors that established it as a neighborhood gem. It’s waiting for its next guest—this time, one who’ll be there to stay.

“I would have never dreamt that I would be doing it,” Jones says of running the area’s first bed and breakfast. It certainly wasn’t their plan when the Joneses came to Washington, D.C., from their native England in 1980 to visit their daughter, who had married an American military man and was preparing to move to South America with him. But they decided to stay when Marjorie found a newspaper ad placed by someone seeking an estate manager for his Columbus home three weeks of every month; they landed the job and moved to the Midwest.

Not long after, they bought the 5,600-square-foot corner house on Smith Place, one of the oldest blocks in the neighborhood. It had already been converted into four suites, each with its own kitchenette, full bathroom and bedroom. They moved in—the first-floor suite became their permanent living quarters—and opened for business, but it would be two years before they welcomed their first paying guest.

To earn money in the meantime, they cleaned houses and Marjorie sold her belongings—trunks’ worth of items she had shipped over from England—at flea markets. Even after business was steady, she frequented flea markets and tag sales. “She loved it,” Jones says. “Delving into other people’s trash.” Eventually, 78 Smith Place was overflowing with items she had collected. Some might have called it junk—or clutter, as Jones prefers—but the artwork, decor, china, books and other knick-knacks that adorned walls, lined shelves and filled every corner of every room gave the place a sense of comfort, like visiting your packrat grandmother’s house. It wasn’t just a roof with a bed; it was home.

For some guests, it was home for months. A visiting Ohio State professor and his wife and two children once rented the two-bedroom suite on the third floor for a year. Jones recalls hoisting a piano upstairs so the children could practice. For others, it was a place to stay while visiting the city or for a romantic evening. (Jones withholds the names of some notable guests whose overnight stays weren’t always with a spouse.) Two guest books are filled with the names of travelers from all over the world—England to Japan to Germany to Connecticut—who stayed with the Joneses from the early 1980s through 2011. Notes of gratitude line the pages, thanking them for their hospitality and company. Jones was a member of the British Army for 35 years, and the pair had traveled the globe during his tour. “[Marjorie] could talk, talk, talk,” Jones says. “She had so many stories, and people were enthralled sitting down listening to them all.”

Each morning, the Joneses prepared a traditional English breakfast for their guests—eggs with tomatoes, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit and tea. They cleaned up after them, made their beds, delivered clean towels to their rooms and washed personal laundry for those who stayed longer than a week. “It really was a family affair,” Jones says. “I think everybody loved it, really.”

Even empty, the house is a pleasure to tour. Original wood floors and pocket doors, one grand staircase and another narrow, winding one, and high, angled ceilings remain as they were more than a century ago. Meanwhile, features like 16 stained glass windows (according to a guide from the 1984 Victorian Village Tour of Homes, the trellis window above the front door is believed to be Tiffany glass) and six original fireplaces, each with hand-carved wood detailing and ornate ceramic tile, conjure images of stately residents chatting fireside with guests, servants ascending stairs with fresh linens and bustling in the kitchen preparing food, and a family gathering around the table for a meal. It’s an image perhaps not unlike that of the Victorian Bed and Breakfast in its heyday.

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