Ken and Shelley,
Just the written word to say again what a wonderfully relaxing and ever-so-attractive B&B you two run. Accomodations superb, food excellent and, best of all, your gracious involvement with your guests rate Belmont Hill "first class."
-R&P, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This has been an elegant and thoroughly hospitable experience. Thank you for all of your kindnesses. I wish you the best and hope to be your guest again!
"What a beautiful place! It's changed my outlook on what business travel should be."
-J, New York City, New York
The girls and I had such a great weekend. I enjoyed the beautiful B&B. The breakfast was elegant, and your taste in furnishing your home and surroundings is of excellent choice.....
-L, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
"Thank you so much for having us in your beautiful bed and breakfast and your loving home. It's so wonderful after such busy days to be welcomed into a family and get a chance to relax."
-Tara and Sue, shedrives.com
Ken and Shelley,
I admire the fact that all you do is done with grace and excellence. I have never seen a couple pull in double harness so willingly and with a step that matches so well. We enjoyed seeing the transformation of your home and bed & breakfast, and we both enjoyed the food, atmosphere, and the company. -R&K, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
"As always, a lovely stay in a beautiful home with a great family."
"A memory to last for years...thanks for your quaint extravagance."
-C, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
"Wonderful room! Slept great." -R&N, Chicago, Illinois
"A great find--great service, nice people, excellent food and bed. Thanks!"
-Dr. H, Seattle, Washington
Press & Reviews
From their home in the Chicago area, Ken and Shelley Sullens watched a five-minute video. On their television screen were images of Belmont Hill--an 1882 northwest Cedar Rapids manse, its grounds and a nearly century-old carriage house--that had just been listed for sale.
The couple, who were looking to change careers, were fascinated by the property. Their eyes kept going back to the image of the brick, 1-1/2 story carriage house. "We wondered what we could do with this wonderful building," recalls Shelley.
The decision to buy Belmont Hill, 1525 Cherokee Drv. NW, was made in a day, the Sullens say. What they would do with the carriage house, which for nearly 100 years had served as barn and garage, became clear. It would become Cedar Rapids' newest bed and breakfast.
In the 18 months since then, the Sullens sold their home, left their jobs and moved themselves and their three children to Cedar Rapids. In some ways, that was the easiest part of their adventure. "It's been a monumental undertaking, but we're almost there," Shelley says of carriage house renovations.
The carriage house, which had been vandalized and burned while the main house sat empty in the '70's, served as a garage for the previous owners. It had a dirt floor, and its' exterior walls, three bricks thick, still showed signs of the fire. While the family moved into the 2-1/2 story brick Italianate home, renovating the carriage house became Ken's full-time job. "It's been 18 months of fun and work," says Ken.
The process of turning a shell of a building into a guest house relied heavily on Ken's 20 years in the wood stripping and refinishing business. He's also an expert salvager.
The couple agreed that if they could find vintage wood, door jambs, flooring, and moldings, that's what they would use. Financially it would help, but "why put brand new in a a vintage house?" says Shelley. "We wanted the carriage house to be in keeping with the rest of the building."
Ken found much of the lumber, some flooring, sinks, and doors in either the Metro Area Housing Program's salvage yard or in houses that MAHP was in the process of salvaging. Each piece of wood was lovingly stripped and refinished, and slowly the building began to take shape.
"We've put a new roof on, done tuckpointing, added new windows, and when the original drive that led to the carriage house was removed, below we discovered a brick path, which we've decided to keep," he says.
The carriage house evolved into three guest rooms--two rooms on the lower level and a suite upstairs. All three rooms have their own baths.
The Sullens' renovations have remained true to the era of the carriage house. Ceilings are 11 feet high, and some interior walls are exposed brick. Utility wires were rerouted underground so no wires obstruct views.
The most drastic change from the original structure was the addition of a dormer, which changed the roof line "but also opened up the carriage house quite a bit," says Ken.
The carriage house sits across from what the Sullens call "the big house." The grounds between the two buildings are a sea of perennial flowers. The estate sits on nearly two acres of land tucked into a fairly modern neighborhood. One hundred-year-old trees stud the grounds separating the estate from modern-day Cedar Rapids.
"There's solitude here in the midst of the neighborhood," Ken says. "You're six minutes from the interstate, but the feel is a million miles from business."
Inside the carriage house, the couple created an atmosphere of comfort and privacy. Solid walnut queen-sized beds from the Amanas, antique furnishings, top-drawer linens and breakfast served with china and crystal are standard.
"We've tried to do something here that is elegant, so that people feel pampered," Shelley says.
Belmont Hill Victorian Bed & Breakfast opened for its first guests on the Fourth of July.
With few bed and breakfasts within the city of Cedar Rapids, the Sullens hope to attract weekend travelers, parents visiting students on parent weekends, honeymooners, people seeking an anniversary getaway, and business travelers "who want an alternative to the cookie-cutter hotel rooms," Shelley says.
Rates start at $95 a night for the two standard rooms, and $145 for the suite. Belmont Hill is a smoke-free environment.
The Sullens considered other locations for a bed and breakfast, almost settling in Hawaii to operate a plantation house B&B. Concern with the island economy and its schools made them rethink their decision to open a bed and breakfast.
"I had gone to high school at Prairie and had family in this area," Shelley says. "When my brother sent me a video of this building, he reminded us we weren't barking up the wrong tree, just in the wrong yard."
** [reprinted with permission by the Cedar Rapids Gazette]