Whim led couple to take on an inn

Victorian: Time, hard work and money have turned an 1896 Aberdeen home into Baker House Bed and Breakfast.

October 26, 2003|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dennis and Lura Riddell were ripe for a change. Renovations to their home in Cool Spring were complete, and Dennis - "the person who has to be doing something at all times," according to his wife - needed a new project. So the self-professed real estate buffs took an impromptu drive along West Bel Air Road last year and fell in love all over again - this time with an 1896 Victorian home that would change their lives and bring something new to Aberdeen.

Lura Riddell, a manager for Lay-Z-Boy in Glen Burnie and a licensed Realtor, knew they were "in trouble" as soon as she walked inside the home at 452 W. Bel Air Ave. "It was absolutely beautiful," she recalled. One glance inside the first floor's music room, dining room and main parlor and they were hooked, she said.

That day, they sat down with the sellers and discussed their plans. They had a vision: converting the single-family home into Aberdeen's only bed-and-breakfast, and living where they could also work together.

Lura, 50, and Dennis, 49, had worked regular, full-time jobs but had never owned a business. They also had never worked together. The couple qualified for a no-interest residential loan for the first five years. So they sold their cars to put the down payment on the house.

The decision, they admit, was a hasty one. "It was just done on a whim," Lura said, "but Dennis and I do everything on whims. We knew each other three weeks before we got married. And it worked out wonderfully. It always works out."

The couple purchased the home in September last year for $465,000. The first three weeks cost them $50,000 in unexpected repairs, after the two ceilings collapsed. Since then, they have spent an additional $50,000 on renovations, including a new roof, railings, porches and landscaping. They also installed wiring in the carriage house, added a driveway and painted the interior and exterior of the main house, with Dennis doing much of the work.

The improvements, said the couple, have been well worth the time and effort - this year the property was appraised for $750,000.

The work began before the sale went through, they said.

Throughout the process, the community of Aberdeen was "wonderful," according to the Riddells. "They were behind us 100 percent. The whole community came out and supported our efforts. Everybody wanted a bed-and-breakfast," Lura said.

Named after canning entrepreneur and Aberdeen businessman James Baker, the original owner of the property, the Baker House Bed and Breakfast is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Artifacts from the house are on display throughout the home, including a framed portrait of Baker donated by his grandson. The Riddells are quick to point out the original interior woodwork and stained glass, as well as period antiques.

Baker House opened in March to a somewhat slow start. "Because people aren't aware that we're here," Lura said. "It just takes time. But once they see what is available to them, once they walk through the door, and after they pick their chins up off the floor, it's going to fly."

Still, Baker House has had a steady flow of guests, mainly couples from the area who are celebrating special occasions such as anniversaries and birthdays, according to the Riddells. The bed-and-breakfast, with four guest rooms, also plays host to murder mysteries presented by a professional acting troupe.

On Sept. 20, Baker House played host to its first wedding. The estate's 2 acres of gardens served as a backdrop to an outdoor ceremony, and the privately catered reception took place on the first floor of the house.

The Riddells are optimistic that, with the help of referrals from a local caterer and through word-of-mouth from guests and clients, the bed-and-breakfast soon will become a preferred location for weddings and other private celebrations.

Rates for overnight stays are between $110 and $125 and include a breakfast of homemade French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage, fresh fruit salad, coffee, tea and juice. It costs $1,200 to rent the grounds and first floor for four hours.

"I never thought that we would ever own such a beautiful house. Dennis and I both love Victorians, but we never dreamed we would ever own anything like this," Lura said.

But the dream has had its challenges.

An office manager at Crown Central Petroleum for 30 years, Dennis had been looking ahead a few years toward retirement. But about a month and a half after signing the papers on Baker House, Crown Central announced it was up for sale.

"We were like, `What are we going to do?' " he said. "I mean, the mortgage is pretty steep."

So he applied for a second job at Home Depot in Edgewood, where he works part time in the evenings for about 30 hours a week. "I'm hoping that in the next year, between my part-time job at Home Depot and what we're bringing in here, it will be enough to offset everything. But it's a five-year gamble right now."

"But it's really no gamble," added Lura. "It's going to happen. I really don't see anything else happening. It's going to take off."

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