by Randi Minetor
It started when two neighbors had a conversation in a driveway – a casual discussion about an old house going up for sale at the crossroads of Fairport, just a few streets over from their own homes. One year later, the neighbors have transformed a historic building into one of the area’s most inviting places to spend a night.
Pamela Renfro and Angela Herrald connected on a fundamental level from the moment they started talking about the Newman-Dean House and its seemingly limitless potential. “Pam said she’d be retiring in a couple of years and needed something creative to do,” said Herrald. “She’s committed her life to hospitality – she’s in the right place at the right time, and conversation flows because of her. And I always saw her puttering in her garage, doing things. That speaks to me.”
“Angela brings the sense of how to make a room comfortable, warm, and inviting – and how to do it resourcefully,” said Renfro. “The challenge of using what you have forces creativity.”
Together, they knew they could turn the old house into a new center of hospitality.
The handsome Queen Anne home stands near the corner of Church and Main Streets in Fairport, just a short walk from the Erie Canal and the shops and restaurants in the village. The original owners constructed the back half of the house in the 1830s, and William Newman, a baking powder manufacturer who purchased the home in the early 1890s, had it moved back on its expansive lot. It made room for the round tower, gabled roof and neatly columned porch he would add to the front of the house. George Dean, MD, acquired the house in the 1930s and established his medical practice in its front room. He saw patients there until the 1960s. “People walk in and say, ‘Dr. Dean, he delivered me!’” said Renfro.
Dean’s daughter, Barbara Dean Stewart, completed an extensive renovation in the 1990s and she sold the house in 2010. For the next five years the home was in transition, never seeming to reach its full potential. When they formed a partnership and bought the house in 2015, Renfro and Herrald knew they had considerable work ahead of them.
Luckily for them, they found the two men who had done the restoration work for Stewart. They were delighted to return to the house for a second round. Dave Carpenter (who, oddly enough, is a plumber) and Chip Clay, the carpenter, recalled where wires, pipes, and air ducts had been run decades earlier, as well as infrastructure that would be due for additional work.
“Dave said the waste line in the basement would be decaying by now,” said Herrald. “We spent a creepy weekend with our shovels and our pickaxes, digging up the basement floor.” Sure enough, the pipes were crumbling, a fact that could have spelled disaster with a house full of guests.
“Dave and Chip really have our backs,” said Renfro. “Their knowledge of the home is invaluable, and their craftsmanship is just excellent.”
“Less doilies, more outlets”
It’s no accident that Renfro and Herrald chose to call their establishment The Inn on Church. While the inn offers a homemade, seasonal breakfast that may include baked oatmeal, frittata, granola, jams, breads and other items Renfro creates in the inn’s spacious kitchen, the owners decided to avoid the “bed and breakfast” label.
“People might think that B&Bs are full of lace, pink furniture and antiques you can’t sit on,” said Renfro. “Our plan was less doilies, more outlets, a phrase borrowed from NPR. We want you to come in, put your feet up, and throw your suitcase on any piece of furniture.”
Contemporary sofas and chairs, modern beds and bedding, and attractive, entirely serviceable tables and bureaus come together to create a relaxed atmosphere filled with natural light. A sprinkling of antiques live alongside unique pieces “upcycled” by Herrald, many of which she discovered in secondhand shops or rescued from the curb. A fresh coat of paint and a stencil of leaves and vines wandering across a vertical surface turn these pieces into fun and functional works of folk art.
Each of the four guest rooms also contains a smart television, plenty of new outlets with updated wiring, and a strong WiFi signal. Every room has its own full bathroom as well; something that the proprietors felt would be key to their success. “The old-style B&B with a shared bathroom is not what the modern traveler is looking for,” said Herrald. “But creating the space for a bathroom in each room, and actually building the bathrooms, turned out to be the most expensive part of the project.”
To fund this effort, they launched a Kickstarter campaign, reaching out to the local community to help them raise the $45,000 they needed. It only took a few days for them to realize that this campaign could be as big an undertaking as the renovation itself. A Fairport recording/film production studio put together a promotional video, and Renfro and Herrald developed a daily social-media calendar, connecting with potential backers on Facebook, Instagram and other sites. The effort paid off: Support poured in until the campaign exceeded its goal, netting the inn more than $46,000.
“The Kickstarter campaign was people saying, ‘We support you,’” said Renfro. “A good percentage of the funds came from local people, some of whom we had never met.”
Now, with the conversion completed and an online reservation system in place, The Inn on Church is ready to welcome guests.
“The demand is there,” said Herrald. “The village of Fairport has identified a need for a guest house, a place where boaters can stay when they dock on the Erie Canal. This has the architectural uniqueness people look for, on the edge of both business and residential areas. Millennials in particular want to move away from chain hotels to find the quaint and quirky; a local, authentic life. The timing is right.”
Randi Minetor is the author of Hiking Waterfalls in New York, Scenic Routes and Byways New York, and other books featuring upstate New York tourism. She lives in Rochester.