Here at The Inn On First, a luxury bed and breakfast inn in Napa, Jamie and I have defined our own style of hospitality. It is more than service as a craft. It is the ability to bring the heart, soul, and mind into alignment with your values and to present an integrated approach in word and action in service to the people you meet.
One of the first lessons we learned was Authenticity.
When we first considered owning a bed and breakfast inn 13 years ago, we met with many innkeepers, stayed at some inns, and questioned everyone we knew about their experiences of what a great bed and breakfast inn is all about. We gathered information, put together a plan, and in 2007 we applied all of those principles to our own bed and breakfast inn we had just bought. Some of them worked well, others failed immediately. After a few months of trial and error we realized that some of these ideas may be nice for other people, but didn’t fit us and who we were as a couple.
Oh, we knew we wanted to get rid of all the doilies in the house (on our first day Jamie ran through each room and threw them away), and we wanted a more contemporary space. We sold off the furniture and brought in our own furniture from San Francisco. It was going to be our house, by the way, so why no make it look like ours? Our living room furniture, though, was meant for a small living room in a 1200 sq ft house, not for the large living room in a 4000 sq ft house. Yet once in place it became obvious the furniture didn’t crowd the room, and in fact permitted people to move, to dance, to be. By staying true to our style we had created a spacious entry way and gathering for people to sit in twos, or as a small group around the fireplace. It was the kind of space that allowed people to simply be who they needed and wanted to be in the moment. For lack of a better phrase, it became sacred space for individuals, couples, and small groups to explore the nuances of their personalities in the context of a homey environment. Jamie put together play lists of music to play softly in the background, we found delicious Port wine from Prager to offer guests in the evening, and set up a coffee/tea bar with house-made cookies for guests to enjoy a late night snack.
Next Jamie worked on the decorating the shelves in the living room. Not an easy task with such a large palate. The first year we invited friends over to help. By the second year Jamie understood the nature of the place, rearranged, and bought new items that were more in line with his style of decorating. Each item was placed carefully, color spread out over the shelves, size and shape considered for where the eye would wander. Then it was the dining room cabinet and the placement of china and glassware. Seasonally he found he liked to change it all up, make it new and fresh, always finding new ideas for presenting an environment that would be enticing yet not overwhelming or gaudy. In many respects, this is the heart and soul of Jamie.
I focused on food, initially believing that 12 to 15 breakfasts would be sufficient to rotate through the year. How often do people visit bed and breakfasts anyway? After one week I realized I would be bored and breakfast would be boring. I learned Thomas Keller kept track of what his guests had enjoyed, and ensured his repeat guests would always find at least one new item on the menu. Could I do the same with breakfast? I set myself up for the challenge and found my creativity engaged deeply, my artistic sensibilities coming alive. Once I committed to the task I made it public as I knew this would bookend my proposal: State the plan, Enact it, and have guests hold me accountable to the plan. They have done so for 12 years. The food is a reflection of my heart and soul: whimsical, comfort food. It is playful, yet not fussy.
When individuals want to buy a bed and breakfast inn I always tell them the same thing: study what others are doing, try it out, but ultimately the inn must reflect who YOU are as a person. Otherwise it will fail. Authenticity is the key to your success. It must be yours, with your heart-stamp on every detail, with your soul-stamp on every decision, with your mind directed to giving your guests the best of who you are on a day to day basis. It doesn’t have to be perfect- ours certainly hasn’t been!- but it must be yours authentically. Make it your own and the people will know it. It is not a home they are entering, but rather your heart and your soul. What they do with it is up to them. Our job is to create the space and environment for them to find themselves and each other. The rest will take care of itself.