Old House Journal - - Learn More - By Regina Cole

Like English aris­to­crats rent­ing out their cas­tles on Airbnb, Amer­i­cans who covet a stately his­toric house may look for it to pro­vide in­come. Va­ca­tion rentals have never been more pop­u­lar; other home­own­ers rent for wed­dings and fundrais­ers, or to the pro­duc­ers of movies and com­mer­cials.

When Chris Walker and Cliff DeVito were hunt­ing for the right house, they knew that it should be big enough to serve as a bed-and-break­fast inn. At For­est Oaks in Vir­ginia, they saw the ideal prop­erty for not only rent­ing out rooms, but also for other in­come, al­low­ing them to live in this gor­geous house.

“With only six bed­rooms to let, we knew we had to have a multi-faceted ap­proach,” Walker says. “Our sep­a­rate cot­tages are a won­der­ful plus. In the house, we can’t ac­com­mo­date pets or chil­dren, but the cot­tages can, and they’re very pop­u­lar. We’re do­ing well with lodg­ing: we have book­ings into 2021.” The cot­tages, he says, are in de­mand year-round. The rooms in the big house, on the other hand, see a huge surge on hol­i­days.

“I was sur­prised by how big all of Valen­tine’s week is, as well as the de­mand for New Year’s Eve. At For­est Oaks, we pro­vide a quiet get­away, not a rau­cous party.”

Walker and DeVito have made barter an im­por­tant el­e­ment in their econ­omy. “We lend the pas­tures to lo­cal farm­ers who make hay. We make no money, but it keeps the fields mowed and keeps us in farm prod­ucts or ser­vices. We also barter with the lo­cal tree per­son: he cuts our trees to keep them from hang­ing over the house, and he keeps the wood.”

The own­ers have de­vel­oped an ex­ten­sive fi­nan­cial strat­egy. “We have done wed­dings and other pri­vate par­ties, although that can be tricky; it’s awk­ward if a wed­ding is go­ing on in which other guests have no part,” DeVito says. “So we fill the sched­ule care­fully, tim­ing for lodg­ing or a wed­ding, but not both.”

They’re plan­ning to host mur­der-mys­tery week­ends to in­clude can­dlelit din­ners and scavenger hunts among lo­cal busi­nesses. Wine-pair­ing meals, or­ga­nized along themes, will be catered, as will the mur­der-mys­tery meals.

The two also plan to con­vert the orig­i­nal base­ment kitchen into a bak­ery run by DeVito, who trained as a pas­try chef. “We’ll bake cakes, pies, pas­tries, brioche—at first for our guests, but as we pro­duce more, we’ll sell baked goods through lo­cal farm­ers’ mar­kets and to restau­rants.”

The base­ment once held the ser­vants’ hall. That area is be­com­ing an an­tiques store open to guests, and to the pub­lic by ap­point­ment. For years, Walker has col­lected cos­tume jew­elry from the 1920s to the 1950s, which will be fea­tured in the base­ment store. Then, “we’ll add a larger an­tiques store in what used to be the garage,” he says. “That gives us space for big items.”

The way to make the money work, Walker says, is to “go full steam ahead all year long. We will just keep try­ing things to find out what works.”

Walker and DeVito praise the Con­ser­va­tion Fund. (This is a non-profit that seeks to fos­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal preser­va­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment: con­ser­va­tion­ “We part­nered with them for our fi­nanc­ing: they take risks that banks won’t. ”

TOP What bet­ter place for an old-fash­ioned wed­ding?

RIGHT The Nat­u­ral Bridge has been a lo­cal at­trac­tion since Thomas Jef­fer­son’s time.

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