MARSHALL — A pitter-patter of footsteps could be heard approaching the bridal suite of Villa on Verona before Logan Novess charged through the doorway with a book in each hand.
The 1-year-old then plopped on a couch and snuggled onto her mother’s lap, where she listened to her favorite lines from a Dr. Seuss book. Despite a few visitors on the weekday afternoon — a contractor remodeling the kitchen and a landscaping crew outside — the toddler appeared more than comfortable being in the presence of strangers at the bed-and-breakfast she’s called home since she was an infant.
“We wanted her to grow up here and learn hospitality and meet people,” said Mason Novess, Logan’s father.
Virginia and Mason Novess stayed at the Villa on Verona as guests along with their wedding party when they were married in 2019, the first year the home at 1110 Verona Road had been converted into a bed-and-breakfast. In March of 2021, the couple purchased the 8-acre property and business, diversifying it by promoting the site as an event venue while sharing their residence as innkeepers and Airbnb hosts.
“How the (B & B) industry has changed, that’s something I’ve definitely heard with more properties needing to get into these extra events,” Virginia said. “Sometimes the overnight revenue isn’t enough, especially with a property like ours that is huge and expensive to maintain, keep up and improve upon all the time.”
Airbnb lets people book a room or entire house for private rental, whereas a traditional bed-and-breakfast serves guests on a more intimate scale, often with scratch-made breakfast provided by an innkeeper. The Novess’ said that along with added revenue, being an Airbnb host allows them to book guests without having to be at the villa at all times, such as when they travel.
“The timing is right for that too, because people are pretty comfortable with the Airbnb method. It’s not like we want to do that all the time; we certainly love meeting people and being part of the hospitality of this place. It just gives us a little flexibility, so it’s nice to have that option.”
The pandemic brought numerous challenges to the hospitality industry, and the Novess’ purchased the property during a difficult time for for B & Bs nationally. According to market research firm IBISWorld, Bed and Breakfast was a $1.37 billion industry in 2020, down from $2.36 billion the previous year.
“Assuming (the pandemic) was going to be ending, a big assumption for sure,” Mason said. “There was some risk involved. If there is another shutdown after we buy it, we’re screwed. It’s a big mortgage. But there’s a bottleneck of people waiting to get in. The day we closed, we had guests. Did a wedding two weeks within closing.”
According to the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association, there were 240 B&Bs in Michigan in 2021, down 30% from four years prior. Today, there are at least five traditional B & Bs in Calhoun County, including two in Marshall among the city’s 800 historically significant homes and buildings.
Villa on Verona is a Registered Michigan Historic Site as the Butler-Boyce House. Constructed between 1857 and 1861, it sits on land once owned by James Fenimore Cooper, author of ” The Last of the Mohicans.” The Italian villa was later the summer home of W.D. Boyce, a Chicago publisher and founder of the Boy Scouts of America.
The Villa on Verona boasts first-floor common areas with chandeliers, marble floors, wood floors and fireplaces. There are five guest rooms located on the second floor, including a honeymoon suite, and a basement with a lounging area, fitness room and bourbon bar. The seasonal outdoor spaces include a gazebo, tennis, pickleball and basketball courts, a saltwater pool and an arctic spa hot tub.
B & B guests at the villa can also enjoy breakfast with poppy seed and banana bread made from scratch by Mason’s grandmother, who lives a mile away.
“She’s really cost-effective,” Mason joked.
The Novess’ private residence is located on the upper level and is accessible through a coded door and back entrance. It has three bedrooms for the growing family, with the pregnant Virginia expecting a baby girl to arrive this summer.
While Mason is originally from nearby Homer, Virginia hails from Lansing and said she never envisioned small-town life until being charmed by the villa and surrounding community.
“I love Marshall. Never would have chosen to live in a small town,” she said. “Marshall has been so welcoming and supportive. Everybody we have met has been happy a young family has purchased it vs. some venture capitalist and they are excited we will be part of the community. It’s a great place to have a small business, for sure.”
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley
VILLA ON VERONA
Where: 1110 Verona Road, Marshall
Built: 1860 (Butler-Boyce House)
Guest Rooms: 5
Info: villaonverona.com; 269-382-1796