Tight ship near the academy

Inn: Their five-year anniversary of running Annapolis' Flag House Inn unfolds as just another busy day for owners Bill and Charlotte Schmickle.

March 23, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Innkeeper Bill Schmickle turns on classical music and leads Ted and Bobbie Herring to the dining room. It's 8:30 a.m. Breakfast time.

As Charlotte Schmickle serves squares of egg casserole with sausage links, Bill tells his guests how he and his wife of 30 years came to be making breakfast for strangers in a large Victorian home in downtown Annapolis.

It's an icebreaker, a story the Schmickles often share during the mornings at the Flag House Inn bed and breakfast. It's a tale that begins when their son was a Naval Academy plebe and when Bill and Charlotte were guests here themselves, looking for a change.

"We took a picture of him on the front porch on induction day, never imagining his graduation photo would be on the same porch," Bill says. "We love it, and we've never looked back."

Bill, a political science professor, and Charlotte, a nurse, gave up careers at a small North Carolina college for a chance to live in Annapolis and run the Flag House. On St. Patrick's Day weekend in 1997, the couple joined an avocation that celebrates old-fashioned hospitality, where the house is open to strangers and the morning meal drives the daily routine.

The Flag House is one of about 20 B&Bs in the state capital, most of them on the historic district's narrow streets, near the Naval Academy, the State House and the Main Street shops. The inn, a tan, three-story, 19th-century home with shuttered windows, dormers and a wide front porch lined with flags, sits between the academy gates and City Dock.

Here, Charlotte, 54, is the foundation, and Bill, 56, is the flair. She takes reservations and makes breakfast and beds. He decorates the home in striking fabrics, and is the one most often schmoozing with the guests.

Last weekend, the Herrings were joined by their friends the Chicoines, a middle-aged couple also there for the academy's Founder's Day Ball. Kevin and Karen Carr of Cleveland, whose son is a midshipman, were visiting the inn for the seventh time. Ann Agnew and Trey Lundy, a 1996 academy graduate, were headed to a friend's wedding in Washington. Before they left, they would be planning a wedding of their own.

At a B&B, every morning begins like the last and every afternoon demands the same chores. But the Schmickles have developed a system that makes this life work. They keep a section of the house private. They organize. They prepare.

The work that culminates in Saturday's breakfast begins the day before.

By 4:30 p.m. Friday, Charlotte is setting two dining room tables with brightly colored Portuguese china for the next morning's meal.

She gets as much done in advance as possible so she doesn't have to wake at dawn. In the large kitchen on "their side" of the house, Bill chops oranges and grapefruit for Saturday's fresh fruit bowls. Apples stew in a crock pot to go with Sunday's waffles. Charlotte often bakes muffins the night before, a trick that has saved breakfast twice when the electricity went out in the morning.

In Annapolis, the only food or drink B&Bs can serve is breakfast. That's fine with Charlotte.

"You have to have some sort of life," she says.

At 5:45 p.m., Nadine Chicoine and her husband, Rene, a retired naval captain and a program manager with an engineering firm, check in. Bill parks their car in the back as Charlotte welcomes them.

The Chicoines, from St. Mary's County, last stayed at the Flag House about a decade ago, shortly after the former owners converted a duplex into a B&B.

"Why, you are a different person!" Nadine croons as she is greeted by Charlotte.

Charlotte shows them the guest parlor, where four red leather chairs surround a table covered with brochures and books about Annapolis. She takes them into the dining room, explains that breakfast is served from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and notes their choice of drinks. In the hallway, they linger over a photo of Charlotte and Bill's son on a Naval Academy sailboat, one of several decorations in the inn with nautical or patriotic themes.

Before escorting the Chicoines to their room, one of five upstairs that cost $160 to $200 a night, Charlotte shows them the white folding doors marked "private." These doors separate the Schmickles' living room from the inn's foyer and guest parlor. Though she tells guests that the doors are there to keep in Sparky, their 10-year-old Shetland sheepdog, she later admits that they primarily serve to keep guests out.

"We need personal space," Charlotte says. "I couldn't do this kind of work and be with my guests all of the time. My guests may be here two, three nights, but we are here 365 days a year."

Their living room, where they can most often be found by guests, is as impeccable as the public areas of the house. But behind the closed door of their small first-floor bedroom, a queen-sized bed that nearly takes up the room remains unmade in late afternoon.

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