Owners of Sunset Hill B&B Lori Conzatti and Doug Nichols stand in front of their business with chicken in hand
At Large in Ballard: Sunset Hill B & Bee
For the 24 years that I’ve lived in Ballard I have struggled over where to put out-of-town guests, especially when I lived in a one-bathroom house. For all that my mother loves of almost every aspect of Ballard, she has long lamented the lack nearby hotels or motels, and that was even before the time I made my parents stay on Aurora Avenue North. (The homicide at that motel was later.)
I’d been to Christmas Bazaar at Dibble House from time to time and I’ve certainly admired the exterior of Hotel Ballard. Then about two weeks ago I suddenly noticed a sign on 32nd NW that read Sunset Hill B & B. Seven blocks from my house. How had I missed it?
When I told Martin I’d seen a Bed & Breakfast near our house, he’d commented that it certainly wouldn’t have private baths. He was soon proved wrong. When I visited I was impressed with the owners’ design abilities, in architecture and landscape, but it was the bathrooms that were unbelievable for Ballard. Lori Conzatti and Doug Nichols have found a way to remodel a 1904 Ballard Farmhouse so that it now has four bedrooms with private baths. I think Doug should start a bathroom consulting business.
But it’s not just about bathrooms, there are also bees. Lori and Doug want everything to revolve around being an urban farm. They keep bees, raise chickens, make their own soap and are attempting the Urban Farm Challenge as suggested in Joshua McNichols and Annette Cottrell‘s The Urban Farm Handbook. Although they both work full-time in the technology field they have an eye toward future retirement as inn keepers. Their son Chad is resident manager.
Lori and Doug are Washingtonians who raised their family in Seattle. Lori is a Master Composter, longtime Tilth person and has been on what she calls The Chicken Email practically since it started. When their own nest was empty Lori & Doug lived and worked in Amsterdam for several years but felt pulled back to Seattle, with Ballard the neighborhood where they wanted to live. They found a 40’s home and did a tear-down and new construction at the corner of 59th & 32nd that still has people trying to peer through the slats of the fence. Across the alley they endured years of renters, while eyeing the southern exposure potential of the farmhouse and large lot.
As travelers who loved the intimacy and camaraderie of B&Bs they had talked about starting their own. They convinced the owner across the way to sell to them rather than do his own remodel. Thus began the puzzle of creating a charming guesthouse out of a gutted old house using as many reclaimed materials as possible. Their own garden is very private; they wanted the southern lot to be more of a public space where visitors are welcome to visit the chickens and make their own discoveries, whether it’s the view or the marionberries.
Plucking over the calendula petals that will give Doug’s homemade soap its color, with bees homing in on the hive, and the patio Lori designed in full bloom, their life seems unreal to me. The fresh eggs almost always factor into one of Doug’s breakfast menu choices. A former guest sent a watercolor of one of Doug’s scones. The gluten-free guests left a rave about his shiitake mushrooms on their web site. Although they opened for guests last October, the Sunset Hill B & B signs just went up in May.
The first guests were referred by friends and neighbors but their accommodations are being discovered by strangers, most of them on-line. One guest had an event at The Canal so he used Google to see what was in the neighborhood; others were in town for a Qui Gong conference. They have brochures, perhaps there will be more advertising ... all in good time. The weekends are booked.
As for the bathrooms in every private room: each bedroom needed a different solution, a closet-like bath with drain sloped down, a triangular water closet with sink outside, a step-up bath. Throughout the guesthouse are doors and materials from Second Use or Habitat for Humanity, items that friends realized they could better re-purpose.
On one corner Lori Conzatti and Doug Nichols have a discreet modern home with an open floor plan. On the south corner, past the garage and studio, their signage now proclaims Sunset Hill B & B: An Urban Farm.
Although they are not the ones traveling, as they stand high above 32nd NW on their corner lot, with Red Chicken under one arm, Magnolia starts to look a little bit like the coast of Northern Europe and Ballard like a place where you can encourage visitors to stay the night.