"The couples who stay here are ones who don't like doilies and teddy bears," said John O'Reilly, innkeeper at Woodland Trails in Hinckley, Minn.

Back in July, I fantasized about a place like O'Reilly's -- a doily-free B&B, where guests could stay in an inn, maybe even a Victorian one, without precious lace curtains, needlepoint pillows, velvet upholstery and creaky staircases.

Something about the B&B model needs to change, said Kate Muhl, a consumer strategist with Iconoculture in Minneapolis. Guests want accommodations with personality, and B&Bs have always provided that, she said. But now boutique hotels such as the Burnham in Chicago, Chambers, the Ivy and the W in Minneapolis project a cool individuality that guests want.

Some travelers, young and old, will always search for the Old World refinement found in classic Victorian B&Bs, but mainstream consumers want a sleeker feel, said Muhl. They want a cleaner, more modern, contemporary environment.

Younger guests also want more control over service, said Muhl. The B&B concept of eating breakfast with strangers is foreign to most Millennials (age 30 and under). They and Xers (ages 31 to 43) want flexibility, not controlled seating at a communal table.

Some younger travelers who like the B&B experience, minus the strangers as dining companions, travel with friends. Innkeepers such as Dean Cooper of the McCormick House in Hayward, Wis., have upended the communal table by offering guests a breakfast menu delivered to their room or the common spot downstairs. Although McCormick House is an 1887 Queen Anne, the simple, exquisite Cape Cod-style decor is calming, not cluttered.

Norm Sorensen of Naperville, Ill., a frequent visitor to the Hayward area, found McCormick House on the Internet. He was skeptical of a B&B in northwest Wisconsin that looked sophisticated and upscale in its photos. "I couldn't believe that the muskie capital of the world, where B&Bs have eight patterns of wallpaper on the walls and ceiling, and locals throw pulltabs on the floor at the Moccasin Bar, could have a Manhattan-style B&B," he said.

Like Sorensen, I wanted to find a B&B that a guest could call understated. My theory is that a few people love Victorian inns, a few hate them and most of us tolerate them. People often return to Victorian inns because they love the area, the hosts or the food. The decor isn't as important, said Beth Gauper, editor of Midwestweekends.com, an online guide to Midwest travel. Is asking for all four too much?

Nancy Johnson of St. Paul wrote, "It's not only the guys who get the hives just thinking about B&Bs with full-frontal ruffles. Some of us gals would die for a classy, sleek, smart hideaway."

Exactly. I checked more than a dozen recommendations made by innkeepers and guests, then went to the websites and narrowed it down to three, which I visited. All three offer what Gauper says a B&B guest wants: good hosts and good food in a good location.

But they also offer decor that doesn't call for a docent or a declutterer.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 • jewoldt@startribune.com