I find that now when I travel I seek out small little inns and bed and breakfasts as my places of choice to stay when I'm away from home. They just seem to offer a more intimate setting and, along with the experience of staying in beautiful old homes, they are often owned by wonderfully interesting people with tales to tell and insider info about the area in which they are located.
Sometimes they are overly done and almost a caricature of a period home, sometimes they are clearly opened to help pay the mortgage and are not very charming or hospitable, but then there are those that transport you to a simpler place and time. They are lovingly restored, carefully maintained, and cherished by those who consider themselves lucky to live there and share their good fortune with others!
Royal Oak House is one of those special B&Bs. Owned by Hugo and Carol Rizzoli, it is located on the scenic Eastern Shore of Maryland in a small hamlet called Royal Oak. Situated near the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, it is everything you hope to find when staying at a B&B. The house, which dates back to 1883, was once the parsonage for a "circuit riding" minister who traveled between three nearby churches. It was constructed after the Civil War by the Northern Methodists and remained church owned until the Great Depression when a local Talbot County family purchased it to use as their private residence.
(The home as it appeared in 2001 before the renovations)
When Carol and Hugo bought their home in 2001, it was still in the same family who had purchased it in the 1930s but it was a shell of it's former self. Perhaps it was the very fact that this once stately home had lost its way which made the Rizzoli's want to bring her back to her former glory. You see, both Carol and Hugo were undergoing their own major life changes.
Carol had developed debilitating migraines which threatened her career as a successful editor for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and Hugo's once thriving independent bookstore was now competing head to head with monoliths like Borders and Barnes and Noble. He had already made the transition from owning the bookstore to working as a respected chef on Martha's Vineyard when these life circumstances forced them to reconsider what the future held for both of their careers.
The idea of running a small scale B&B appealed to both of them, and so the quest began to find the perfect home in an ideal location. When they came upon Royal Oak House, located just outside of the charming resort town of St. Michaels, Maryland, they were instantly drawn to it. "It reminded me of my grandma's house," says Carol, adding that "It reminded Hugo of his family's beach house," where he spent summers as a child.
(The side porch as it appeared in 2001 before the renovations)
When they bought the property, it was neglected and had been used as a rental, but the Rizzoli's could somehow see past the dirt, junk, and dilapidation that had overwhelmed the house over the years. Though still owned by the grandson of the family who purchased it in the 30s, it was more like a flop house than a true rental property. When Carol and Hugo decided to try and purchase the house, they were interviewed at length to ensure that their intent was to restore the property and not simply tear it down.
(The side porch as it appears today after restoration)
Armed with little knowledge other than the fact that change was in the cards, the couple began the arduous process of recapturing the grandeur of this Victorian farmhouse. "At times I thought we had lost our marbles," recalls Carol.
When they brought in several contractors to assess the home's ability to be salvaged, one contractor unceremoniously snubbed his cigarette out on the original hardwood floors in the dining room and declared, "Frankly it's a tear down!"
And he wasn't the only one who considered the house to be beyond repair, many in the town though Carol and Hugo were a bit crazy for taking on such a major project.
Undaunted by the huge task at hand, Hugo did much of the painstaking restoration work himself. Gathering tools, learning trade skills, and spending every free moment in the pursuit of restoring the old parsonage, the couple became their own contractors.
What resulted were years of hard labor on both of their parts with the end result being a house brought back to life through love and determination!
"It was almost like we married this house," Carol remarks. "Something old something new, something borrowed, something blue," she adds with a smile.
And their journey to restore the house became more than just a restoration project, it became a life journey as well. With each layer of paint removed, they were getting to the core of who they were as people. With trepidation, they tackled every aspect of the renovation never knowing what tomorrow would bring and whether this labor of love would be equally as well received by strangers looking for a place to lay their heads while in the area!
And as with any successful restoration of a historic property done on a shoestring budget, they were aided by friends and family. Carol's brother re-built a window, while Hugo's brother (a race car driver) fabricated the stainless steel in the small galley kitchen.
And as they set out on this journey to create a new life in a new place, Carol had the presence of mind to write about their experiences. These were mostly personal notes to help them remember the ins and outs of the restoration, but over time it evolved and she decided to compile those writings into a book entitled The House at Royal Oak, published by Workman/Black Dog, New York.
The book, which chronicles the transformation of not only the house, but themselves is a wonderful read filled with heartfelt emotion and humorous anecdotes about bringing the property back from the depths and creating a thriving B&B in small town America!
With the flip of each page you will feel as though you are on the roller coaster ride right along with Carol and Hugo! Taking four times as long to complete and costing six times as much as projected created plenty of fodder for a book!
And for those of you who have always longed to own a B&B in a charming old house, you'll get an insider's view of the trials and triumphs that come with such an undertaking.
It was quiet at Royal Oak House on the day I was there, a rare occurrence during their peak season. Guests had just checked out that morning, and I was able to sneak in before that evening's guests had arrived!
Each room was readied for the incoming guests with fresh flowers and crisp linens.
A mixed berry cobbler baking in the oven filled the house with the most delightful smell, and would be ready for guests during afternoon tea later that day.
The front door waited patiently to be swung wide open to welcome first time and returning visitors alike!
The foyer boasted a tea cart filled with snacks and a carafe of cool, refreshing lemonade for parched guests on a hot summer's afternoon.
And the parlor where a country man once ministered his flock is now a place for guests to relax and catch up on some reading.
There are no TV's at Royal Oak House and Hugo and Carol prefer it that way. "People come really to get away," says Carol. And with books everywhere throughout the house, it really is a respite from the hectic pace of everyday life outside this cozy B&B.
With so many beautifully restored rooms, you really don't need or want television!
With little seating vignettes scattered through the property, and overlooking acres of conservation farmland, you'll never be without something wonderful to look at or a place to clear your mind!
And when you tire of the gardens or have taken in all of the sites that historic St. Michaels has to offer, like the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, mouth watering restaurants, or wonderful and unique shops like Hype (who first told me about Royal Oak House...thank you Fran!), then you can head upstairs to one of the comfortable bedrooms.
Maybe it will be the Elm room overlooking the front lawn...
With it's soft blue walls, comfy bed, plaid curtains, and original oak floors!
And treat yourself to a little drink before heading back out for dinner.
Before you leave to go back to town, you can freshen up in this charming ensuite bathroom!
Complete with plenty of fluffy white towels and lovely toiletries! And if you take a peek behind those curtains, you can look down to the side yard through the original old wavy glass!
Or maybe you'll be treated to a stay in the Linden Room overlooking the side gardens...
Where a pair of comb back windsor chairs invite you to sit for a spell and write a post card or two on the drop leaf gate leg table!
After enjoying a relaxing sail and crab feast arranged by Hugo and Carol, you can settle in for the night in your four poster bed!
Just don't forget to settle in with a copy of The House at Royal Oak for some entertaining bedtime reading!
In the morning you can walk down several steps to your private bathroom to get ready to start your day exploring all the wonderful places that the area has to offer, like taking a trip on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. It's the believed to be the oldest privately operated ferry service in the country!
And although this sign hangs on the bathroom door, Hugo and Carol won't even charge you extra for fresh towels and soap! ;-)
Should the Elm and Linden rooms both be booked, the Acorn room is available to guests.
This special room features a white iron bed, painted hardwood floors, and a dreamy canopy of shear white fabric!
Its monochromatic color scheme provides the perfect spot for relaxation after a long day of sightseeing!
And along with having a private bath, it also boasts a door to your own private second story porch!
Hugo and Carol added this porch during the renovations, and with comfortable furniture and a water feature, it is a special spot to while away the hours even on the hottest summer afternoons!
It is clear that both Carol and Hugo have not only invested time and effort into restoring Royal Oak House, but also themselves! "I want the experience to be more about the guest rather than the owner, " says Carol when asked her philosophy on running a successful Bed and Breakfast. And it's clear from my time spent at Royal Oak House that they have more than succeeded in that endeavor!
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed meeting both Carol and Hugo Rizzoli last week and getting a glimpse into the hard earned life they have created for themselves.
While I was there, Carol offered to give me a signed copy of her book The House at Royal Oak, Workman/Black Dog Publishing, to use as a Giveaway! (Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out how you can win this book!)
This book, which has received rave reviews from powerhouses such as the New York Times, Washingtonian Magazine, and others is about so much more than a couple leaving the city life and high powered careers to start anew in a small town in Maryland. It is a look inside the lives of two very special people who overcame adversity, and with a meager budget, created a place to fulfill their passions and dreams and I know that the lucky winner will enjoy every word!
I think the title and subtitle of the book sum it up best, "The House at Royal Oak...Starting Over and Rebuilding a Life One Room at a Time."
If you would like to find out how you can spend time at the Royal Oak House Bed and Breakfast, click HERE! And for more information about how to order the book, you can click HERE to visit Carol's official site, visit your local bookstore, or go to Amazon to get your copy!
About the Giveaway!!!
1. Leave a comment telling me if you have always dreamed of owning your own Bed and Breakfast.
2. Become a follower of Low Tide High Style and leave me another comment, or tell me in a separate comment that you already follow for a second chance to win this wonderful book!
3. Tweet, Blog or Facebook about the giveaway and come back and leave a separate comment for a 3rd chance to win!
This Giveaway will be open until Monday, July 5th at Midnight PST. Good luck!!!