The Guest House

The Guest House
Restored Victorian home puts out a new welcome mat.
Deep navy was chosen for the exterior’s new paint color..

Nine women are transforming the face of travel in Excelsior with the help of one historic Minnesota home. Purchasing the former Bird House Inn Bed & Breakfast on Water Street, the women revamped the 1858 (the same year Minnesota became a state) venue to create The Guest House, a vacation rental for larger parties and groups to house weddings, retreats, reunions and other special events or travel excursions.

Though maintaining the historical integrity this Victorian structure was an important focus, the group also strived to create a more cohesive aesthetic—indoors and out. Experiencing a variety of renovations throughout the years from different owners, co-designer Kurt Weber describes the former home as a “hodgepodge” of elements. “You could almost go by the generation in each room of when they were updated … from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” he says.

Refreshing the space, the team swapped out the dated wallpaper, mismatched wood tones and overworn carpet for clean line elements that accentuate its traditional features, including refinished maple and oak floors and ornate crown molding. “I love to see a space transform into what it could be. It is like I just walk in and see the potential and cannot wait to see it get to that next step and realize its potential,” says co-owner Kelly Olsen. “I love every part of it.”

In addition to the cosmetic updates, other changes included the addition of one and a half bathrooms and the removal of a wall that separated two kitchens, creating a unified space.

The property’s  carriage house offers extra guest space.

In all, the entire property can host 24 guests and features 11 bedrooms and nine bathrooms between the main structure and the additional carriage house, which is a 2,000-square-foot duplex with two bedrooms, one bath, a full kitchen and exterior spaces.

Holding true to the original nature of the home, Weber says the exterior renovations embody the Victorian aesthetic. The home was repainted from a light bubblegum pink to a deep navy to accentuate the ornate detailing. The color was chosen from a list provided by the Excelsior Heritage Preservation Commission to ensure historic integrity. To continue this approach, Weber says they used natural woods to make the outdoor fixtures, such as the former white vinyl fence and iron arbors, more aesthetically on point.

Attention to landscaping was important, as well. During blooming months, guests can expect to find classic rose bushes lining the walkway, and other areas boast shade-loving hostas and the outstretched, welcoming stems of day lilies. The yard will also be home to a variety of entertainment spaces, including a large grassy area, two shaded arbor spaces (one for additional seating), a paved firepit venue and a hot tub. “The ability to have a house or place to stay in downtown Excelsior is huge, but the ability to use the yard for whatever you please, like to play, socialize, party or host events, gives so many added benefits,” Weber says.

Left to right: Jorie Wilkinson, Kari Nokken, Kelly Olsen and Trisha Raich

This space, one of the original rooms, was entirely custom painted to fit the previous bird cage theme.

Down to Business
For Olsen of Mound, this is not her first business venture, including owning for seven years Hans’ Bakery (with four locations) before selling last year. Always searching for new investments, she came across the bed and breakfast and reached out to the listing agent, but Olsen was told she couldn’t see the property for another week and a half because guests were staying at the inn. Seeing the potential of this historic home, Olsen wrote an offer for the venue—sight unseen. She turned to her monthly women’s networking group, The Power of She, to see if anyone would join her in the business endeavor. Eight women stepped up to the plate, including Maria Anderson, Jennifer Dierkhising, Joanna Kelzenberg, Mandy Meisner, Karri Nokken, Trisha Raich, Jorie Wilkinson and Michelle Young. “I thought this would be a great project to do with other business owners because we could all learn from each other, and we have large networks with unique people in each circle,” Olsen says.

Spending time and working with people she cares about is important to Olsen. After her first husband was killed by drunk driver in 2008, she found herself searching for ways to reconnect with those around her. “After he passed away, I had this overwhelming desire to get people to just slow down and spend time with the people they care about,” she says. “So that is a huge driver for me in this project, to be able to create a place where people will go and create these lasting memories.”

Speaking of memories, the owners documented the renovation process of The Guest House for their TV show Miss INNdependent, which they were encouraged to create by a producer for Olsen’s husband, Ben Olsen, a host for the Discovery Channel’s Operation Outdoor Freedom. Airing locally (the channel was not determined at the time this article was written), they hope to have the show picked up by larger networks for national exposure and plan to pitch the show this summer.

With most of the renovation taking place last winter, Olsen thought it would be a great opportunity for the show to also bring attention to what makes Minnesota unique. “We want to highlight Excelsior and highlight Minnesota in general,” she says.

“It is really easy to book up properties around the lake in the summer months because people really have an understanding for lake life and the vibe and the energy, but it is kind of a closely kept secret how fun this area can be in the winter months.”

To illustrate that point to viewers, Olsen and the other women ventured out for ice fishing, the Polar Plunge and Excelsior’s Klondike Dog Derby, which were all set to be filmed for the show. “We are just trying to give an additional perspective, and if we are trying to reach a national audience, it would be great for people … say down in Texas, to see some of the fun things that we may have,” she says.

To highlight these and other experiences and underscore other activities and dining spots that The Guest House guests could enjoy, Olsen says the team created an Excelsior Passport, which features a variety of businesses, restaurants, sites and activities for tourists to do and see.

Back row: Mandy Meisner, Joanna Kelzenberg, Michelle Young, Kelly Olsen; Front row: Maria Anderson, Trisha Raich, Jorie Wilkinson, Jennifer Dierkhising, Kari Nokken; Photo: Northern Pine Productions

The Guest House, 371 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.0196; The Guest House @theguesthousemn 

Photos by: Chris Emeott and The Guest House