Before Hilary owned a B&B, she received an MBA from Wharton and she spent 20 years in business, first in corporate life and then as an entrepreneur. Her last venture before the B&B was a mail order company called The Wooden Spoon. She and a partner started it in 1976 and then sold it to the Campbell Soup Company in 1989. At that point she thought that she had “retired” to raise her kids – only four of them then, ages 2, 4, 6 and 8. She purchased the house in 1991 because it was large enough that each child could have his/her own room, and lived in it as a family until 1995 and at that point turned the house into a B&B.
She started the B&B in order to be home to raise her five kids, then ages 3 to 14. She became a single parent at that point, and told the kids that she would always be able to feed them, but that if they wanted to continue to live there (it had been a B&B when they bought it, it’s huge and is on 16 lovely acres, and is only 6 or 7 minutes from schools and town) the house had to pay for itself. She said to them “We’d give it a year and then re-evaluate. If we decided to continue it as a B&B, I would find each of you your own bedroom again.”
At that point they moved to the back part of the house which used to be a barn and which their predecessors had converted to their living space with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Hilary was thrilled that her kids were VERY supportive, and would delight in carrying bags and telling guests about restaurants in town and giving them driving directions. She says “On the very rare occasions when a kid complained, I reminded them that we didn’t have to do this. I have a strong resume and would have had no problem getting a job that would support us all…but we would have to sell this house and buy a much smaller one, and I’d probably have to travel, and they wouldn’t see me as much. Well – 20 seconds later they’d be staring at the phone wanting it to ring so that they could take a reservation for me, or for a guest to pull up so they could show them to their room.”
After a year, they had the promised family meeting. She knew the B&B was financially viable, and the kids decided that it was family friendly. A local carpenter turned the garage and the back shed into the “girls wing” with three bedrooms and a large bathroom and each child ended up with his/her own room once again. The family side is very separate from the B&B side. It’s like having two separate houses that each adjoin a large kitchen. The kitchen is open on the family side, and separated from the B&B by a butler’s pantry and doors that say “private.” She says it works very well and enables both family and guests to have plenty of privacy.
Hillary says the most challenging part about running a B&B is the constancy of it. There’s never time off when you’re there. It’s 24/7. She feels she doesn’t get “time off” in any meaningful sense. She does try to make time to play tennis a couple of times a week, and always makes it to every one of her children’s performances and games. Until last year, her family friendly solution to having time off was to take summers off. She would hire a summer innsitter and she and the kids would move down to the east end of Long Island where they have a small house right on the Great Peconic Bay. It’s been in her family for almost 90 years. The kids could be KIDS for the summer, and have arguments and actually raise their voices! They would bike to the local deli for breakfast or to the library to borrow books. The stretch of two months away from the B&B made it much easier to come back to. She always felt refreshed and ready for foliage season!
Last year her innsitter retired and with the bookings at the B&B down due to the economy (and her kids mostly older and off doing their own things), she rented out the house on Long Island and stayed at the B&B for most of the summer. Hilary said this was tough year to get through. This year, her youngest daughter is going to innsit for her for the month of July and then she’s headed for the beach! She says, “Margaret will do a fabulous job innsitting – she covered for me for a couple of weeks when my mom was ill in the spring. She’s as good a cook as I am, and knows the computer inside out, and is much more outgoing than I am! She’s a natural, and is only 19. She has asked me to keep running the B&B for another 14 years by which time she’ll be ready to take it over. We’ll see, I say.”
Hilary says one of her favorite things about owning a bed and breakfast is the flexibility it provides her and the very family-friendly nature of it. Hilary mentions that locally for visiting guests, Dartmouth College is a big draw. Hanover is a beautiful New England college town. There are plenty of good restaurants, the Hood Museum, the Hopkins Center for Performing Arts, the Lebanon Opera House as well as a trail system that traverses the Trumbull House property and links in to the Appalachian Trail. She says people come to stay at the B&B for the breakfasts, the rooms, the 16 acres with pond, meadow and maples. But they come mostly the location…Hanover.
Hilary feels that in order to make a stay at her B&B special, she provides the best level of service that she can. Guests appreciate that they can have a sumptuous breakfast, ordered from a menu, at 6am or 10am depending upon their schedule for the day. Rooms are spacious and clean and comfortable. Sheets are high thread-count all cotton (and ironed!). Towels are thick and fluffy. They also have high speed WiFi and a business center for guests’ use. Her inn appeals to all kinds of travelers, business, newlyweds, retirees, families and people just looking for a romantic getaway.
Hilary mentions her breakfast policy, which is a bit different from how most other B&Bs offer breakfast. She will serve it pretty much whenever a guest wishes. She served one guest at 4:30 am, as it was during Ramadan, and he couldn’t eat between sunrise and sunset (she said he ordered two generous entrees!). When asked what she considers her signature dish, she says there are about a dozen entrees on her breakfast menu and she doesn’t really consider any one of them her “signature” dish. Her blueberry scones probably receive the greatest number of compliments. Just two days ago a girl around ten years old looked up at her adoringly and said, “These scones are AMAZING.”
She says she thinks B&Bs differ from hotels because B&Bs tend to be run by the owner, who has a strong vested interest in being sure that guests’ needs are met and that they are having a good experience. She thinks people don’t get that level of concern in most hotels. When asked what she would say to people who have never stayed in a bed and breakfast before, she said, “The Hanover Inn refers dozens of guests each year to the inn, many of whom have never stayed in a B&B. Almost every one confides in her that now, they’ll look for B&Bs first.”
Trumbull House Bed & Breakfast