When John Taylor and Elizabeth Thompson purchased the towering brick home at the top of Delta's 4th Street hill in early 1994, they had no idea they were embarking on a "never-ending fix-up campaign."
Eighteen years have passed and still their to-do list outlines projects for indoors and out.
But when they feel overwhelmed, they only have to flip through their "before" pictures to appreciate how far the Fairlamb House has come under their loving care. Today they operate a bed-and-breakfast from their prominent location on Garnet Mesa.
The house retains the name of Fairlamb — with the permission of the family — because it was occupied by that family for more than 70 years. The home was built in 1907 at a cost of $4,500, and was reportedly the first house to be built in Delta on an eight-hour day basis. Today the house is listed on both the local and state historical registries.
After passing out of the Fairlamb family, the house was owned by the Pflums and then Roger and Carol Van Atta. They lived in the house less than a year before Roger Van Atta, an anesthesiologist, decided to move his family to Arizona. Renters occupied the home at one point, but it sat vacant for long stretches of time, and as imposing, vacant houses tend to do, gained a reputation as haunted.
Surrounded by overgrown trees, it was indeed dark and spooky looking. Still, when Elizabeth Thompson drove by, she couldn't help but think what a beautiful place it could be. And when she had a chance to look inside, she immediately appreciated the underlying pinnings — despite the laundry hanging from the banisters and the puppy "puddles and piles" on the hardwood floor. She and John, who were dating at that time, made an offer on the house just slightly lower than the asking price but it was rejected, and the house sat vacant for another year. Finally the Van Attas agreed to lower the price and fortunately for them, John and Liz were still intrigued by the possibilities. Unfortunately, there was still a big hurdle to overcome — the IRS had liens on the property that exceeded the home's value. John enlisted the aid of his good friend, attorney Mike Schottelkotte, to help sort out the mess. At closing, when John and Liz realized they were still shy of satisfying the IRS lien, the two real estate agents representing the buyer and the seller each threw in a portion of their commission so the sale could go through.
The thought of a bed and breakfast did not enter their minds until John and Liz visited their accountant, David Lane, and he pointed out that some of the expenses associated with renovating the house would be tax deductible if they were operating a business. They obtained a business license and soon the phone started to ring with bicyclists looking for rooms for the Ride the Rockies tour coming through Delta later in the summer. "We had all the rooms booked and they were a total mess," Liz says. "We worked frantically every weekend, every evening." She was using a blow dryer to dry the paint in one of the bedrooms as their guests walked through the front door that first August.
Liz and John started with a blank slate — even the light fixtures and smoke detectors had been removed prior to closing. But the essential elements were in place — the high ceilings, unique inlaid wood floors, beautiful windows, spacious rooms, and story after story from Sky and his two sisters who grew up in the home. "The historical component is what makes this a great bed-and-breakfast," John says. "You can't buy history."
Other than the floors, which were professionally refinished before Liz and John started moving in, they did all the work on the house themselves with the help of Liz's dad, a plumber, and John's ex-father-in-law, a carpenter.
After closing, Liz said at least 50 people told them they'd looked at the house but decided it was too much work.
"In hindsight, I don't know that we would have gone through with it," John says.
"Ignorance is its own just reward," Liz says. "If you knew how much work something would be, you wouldn't tackle it."
As the rooms were pain-stakingly stripped and painted, the house began to fill with treasures as Liz searched antique stores for "just the right piece for just the right place." Family heirlooms were collected and strategically placed throughout the three-story home. Many items are gifts from friends and neighbors who had vintage pieces that didn't fit into their decor.
Liz brought her own collections out of storage and put together attractive displays of butter pat plates, wooden shoes, hats and more. They joke they didn't have a sheep between them when they moved into the house, but two young guests recently counted over 200 lambs in all shapes and sizes. Everyone, it seems, thinks the FairLAMB house should have a whole flock of the fluffy white critters.
Nearly every penny Liz and John have made from the B&B has been put back into the house. One year proceeds went to erect a fence, another year they purchased a hot tub. Liz and John are now in the process of scraping and repainting the windowsills, and they have applied for a state historical grant to reinstall the home's wraparound porch. A backyard water feature is also on the to-do list.
Though their business hasn't made them rich, they have gained a wealth of new friends and a lot of great stories of their own. John tells of a Lakota medicine man and his wife, in Delta for the pow wow, who reported seeing five female spirits standing at the foot of their bed in the middle of the night. With the permission of John and Liz, the medicine man rid the house of the spirits using sage and an eagle feather.
The Fairlamb House has every modern convenience from air conditioning to Wi-fi, but the television, sound system and John's CD collection are secreted behind built-in bookshelves. "We try to be sensitive to the style of the house," said Liz. "We want it to feel like you've gone to visit an old friend; sometimes John says it's like living in a museum."
At breakfast, John is in charge of artistically arranging a platter of fresh fruit and brewing premium coffee. Liz is generally the cook, preparing some type of egg dish or casserole, served with bacon or sausage. A guest favorite are Liz's "Golden Delight Pancakes," which are featured in a collection of recipes from bed-and-breakfasts throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Returning guests are treated to their favorite breakfast.
"We pride ourselves on being a home away from home," Liz says. "We make sure our guests have exactly what they want. We accommodate people's food allergies, what they like, what they don't like."
After nearly 20 years in the hospitality business, Liz says she can size up her guests pretty quickly — whether they want to relax in their rooms or they're eager to chat and learn about the area. With warm, intelligent hosts like Liz and John, it's no surprise they have a high number of returning guests.blog comments powered by Disqus