Owners of Victorian homes, could you do me a favor and not turn your grande dame into a B&B? The exterior architecture can be nicely overstated, but the precious doilies, the requisite bowl and pitcher and needlepoint pillows on fainting couches make me desperate for a tent. Any tent. My kingdom for a tent. And I don't even like to camp.
Why aren't more innkeepers turning bungalows, ramblers and FlatPaks into Arts and Crafts, midcentury modern and contemporary B&Bs? If you convert it, I'm there. I'd happily hand over my American Express for some relaxation and romance in a place without the gauzy fabric festooning the bed, the sculptures of gold cherubs canoodling and the anachronistic whirlpool tub surrounded by porcelain dolls.
What is it about a Victorian B&B that says "romance" or "relaxation," anyway? It was a time of sexual repression that apparently still lives on with arms folded and legs crossed in remodeled old Vics. Just breathe in the smell of dried eucalyptus and whirlpool chlorine while nibbling on pungent cheese and love will be the last thing on anyone's mind.
To add insult to injury, a couple needing a jump start is likely to find a tiny book of reflections placed just so on the bedside table -- "The Art of Spooning" by Jim Grace and Lisa Goldblatt Grace.
Mid-spoon, you might find yourselves staring at the floral walls, a sea of roses split by gold-leaf frames -- usually oil paintings of a single woman accompanied by those pesky cherubs. She's dressed in a full skirt and a low-cut bodice, looking upward at a dark, foreboding sky, kerchief held plaintively to her lips. She's probably thinking, "You only have to spend a couple of nights here. I'm stuck here in Victoria for eternity."
It's heartening to know that some innkeepers are aware that not everyone shares their appreciation for houses built in the 1800s. "A lot of husbands are not quite wedded to Victorian furnishings," said Mike Robinson, innkeeper of a Stick-style Victorian in Stillwater called the Elephant Walk. Rita Graybill, owner of the Elephant Walk, said that given a moment away from their wives, many men will whisper, "Thank God it's not as bad as it could have been."
They're happy to find things that they can identify with, rather than heavy draperies, lace and china. Graybill has abandoned the Victorian motif inside and outfitted it with furnishings from travels to Spain, Burma, Singapore and Thailand. She didn't want her B&B to feel like her grandmother's or aunt's house.
"I like comfort. If Victorian furniture were comfortable, I'd have it."
It's no surprise that many Victorian homes look less than inviting, Robinson said. People may not remember the history, but after Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria was in mourning. "Houses at the time were designed to be dark. Some look like a funeral parlor, which was no accident," he said.
When I'm in the mood for doom and gloom, maybe I'll come a-calling (using a pseudonym). Until then, spare me the velvet tête-à-tête and the floral wallpaper. I'll take a buttery soft leather sofa. Or a tent.