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Courtesy Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast and Dapple-Gray Antiques
This impressive log house near Copper Harbor is home to Ruth and Ole Van Goor and can be your home away from home, too, since it is also Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast.
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A view from the second floor balcony gives a sense of the great room below that opens onto the outside deck.
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Pink calla lilies enhance the arrangement of a Victorian satin-glass ewer beside a circa 1850s Copeland parian statue titled “Go to Sleep.”
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The rose garden and a sauna are available for guests to enjoy.
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The dining room is accented with intriguing antiques and views of Lake Superior.
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The Lincoln Bedroom features antiques from the period, some connected to that president.
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The antique dolls come out at Christmas time.
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Summer petunias accent the rose garden.
A Keweenaw Log Home Makes a Splendid B&B Inn
Imagine living in a majestic log home you designed on a hill overlooking Lake Superior. Surrounding your house, tall pines murmur gently with every wafting breeze. Each evening a gorgeous sunset tints the sky. A rose garden blooms by your back door and curious critters visit daily. Now, what if you could live in this paradise and earn a living?
Then you would be Ruth and Ole Van Goor. They found their dream a couple of miles west of Copper Harbor, Michigan, and took a leap of faith … a leap that has paid off. Their Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast and Dapple-Gray Antiques are thriving enterprises, providing Ruth and Ole with a dream home and the means to live in paradise.
Settling in paradise took some doing.
For years, the Van Goors were firmly ensconced in Kirkwood, Missouri. They were familiar with the Keweenaw Peninsula because Ole graduated from Michigan Tech University in Houghton. When their son, Abraham, was a teenager, the three came up north on a fishing trip in 1989.
“Our fishing guide took us here, where The Dapple-Gray now sits,” says Ruth, “because his friend owned a cabin and he was trying to help him sell it.”
The tactic worked. Ruth and Ole bought the cabin and its 6 acres. Right next to the cabin, in what is now The Dapple-Gray, was a small resort, Coates Cabins at the Devil’s Washtub, owned by a developer.
Ruth and Ole returned home feeling totally guilty. “We had such strong ties to Kirkwood and couldn’t believe what we’d just done. Who buys a cabin on a whim?” Ruth says.
But just six months later, they were back in Copper Harbor to spend a month at their new cabin.
“And even for only a month, we still felt guilty leaving our friends in Kirkwood, not to mention all our businesses there,” Ruth says. Ole had a contracting business, and Ruth owned The Dapple-Gray Antiques plus she taught seminars on antiques. They also owned and managed several historic commercial and residential buildings.
When they arrived for vacation at their cabin, they found there’d been changes in the neighborhood. The developer had torn down the resort cabins, cut down the trees and was selling that property.
“It was right next to us, and it was obvious that anything might go in there,” recalls Ruth. “So we decided to buy those 21 acres. And at the end of that month of vacation, we didn’t want to leave. We wanted to be here, not in Kirkwood.”
They spent more and more time in Copper Harbor and by 2005 closed their Kirkwood businesses to commence work on The Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast. They moved north.
Ruth and Ole designed the home themselves. “We knew what we wanted, so we figured it out and then gave it to the log company, and they put it on CAD and produced it,” Ruth says.
Ruth and Ole needed several functions within the structure: a private home for themselves, a bed-and-breakfast inn with four individual suites and space for an antique shop.
But first and foremost, The Dapple-Gray was designed to be a home – a home with a lot of guests coming and going.
“I’m fine with having people all over the house,” says Ruth. “The only door that has a ‘private’ sign on it is the door to our personal bedroom. The whole thing is our house, and guests are permitted to go wherever they want … and they usually do!”
The kitchen and great room are the heart of the home, where people gather and eat.
“The kitchen is just a normal, large kitchen, we didn’t alter anything just because it was going to be part of a B&B. The only concession we made was to put a larger table in here because we wanted guests to be able to sit with us.”
The kitchen opens to the great room with its magnificent windows that soar nearly three stories and offer an unsurpassed view of Lake Superior. Guests have their choice of seating that faces the large limestone fireplace or overlooks the Lake. An outdoor deck runs across the front of the house, also with tables and spectacular views.
The Dapple-Gray’s open floor plan makes it easier for everyone to enjoy all areas of the house. The Van Goors toyed with the idea of designing a Victorian structure – “It is my specialty, after all,” laughs Ruth – but discarded that in favor of an open design using logs, which seemed a natural for the area. “We didn’t want it to feel like a motel. We wanted it to be a welcoming home.”
In November 2005, Maple Island Log Homes in Twin Lakes, Michigan, began replicating their design and numbering the logs that would produce the roughly 6,000-square-foot structure.
The logs were delivered, March 13, 2006, the day a storm dumped 32 inches of snow on the area. “We hired four local carpenters for most of the work on the entire house: John Meilahn, Steve Peters, Dan Fosner and Jeff Twardzik, and, right from the start, those four guys worked all day in that snowstorm,” says Ruth. “It was a whiteout, the crane would lift a log off the truck and it’d disappear from sight. You couldn’t see a thing.”
It took five days to get all the logs off the truck and placed according to plan. There were no cuts for windows, and there were only teeny holes where the doors would be, plus no roof.
“It was a giant stacked log shell,” recalls Ole. “It was actually claustrophobic to stand inside it.”
The roof was on by the middle of June and then interior construction started. Walls that weren’t left as log have natural finish, tongue-and-groove planks.
During every phase of construction, space was left between the logs to accommodate the “chinking,” or filling between the chinks in the walls. The corners of the structure were not immediately chinked; they got chinked a year later, when everything had settled.
Even so, the house has shrunk and expanded so much that the two-story chimney has been re-done three times.
The logs are finished with stain. The Dapple-Gray uses a water-based stain, which requires more upkeep than an oil-based stain but doesn’t stain the chinking. Their logs have been stained three times since 2006.
“It’s just something you live with in a log home,” says Ruth. “Now, we’re dealing with sawdust. The logs have dried, they expand and it creates sawdust. Things are always shifting, expanding and settling.”
The Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast opened for business the day after Christmas in 2006. “Some people were driving past, turned around and asked if we were open,” says Ole. “I thought about it for a moment, and said, ‘Sure.’ We weren’t really prepared, but opened anyway.”
Why ‘The Dapple-Gray?’
As Ruth Van Goor explains it, the name comes from an antique steeple-chase horse – similar to a carousel horse, but it goes on a race track.
“We found the horse in San Francisco in 1968. It had been designed for the Pan-American Exposition in 1915. When we stripped him down, the first coat of paint was gray. And then when we opened the antique business we needed a name, and the horse, along with the old nursery rhymes, came to mind. So we called it The Dapple-Gray, after our gray horse. When we moved north, the antique business came too, and the name attached to the B&B as well.”
In addition to the four interior suites, Ruth and Ole kept the original cabin that attracted them to the property. It has its own special history, being created by Victor Oja, the region’s premier designer of Finnish log-style homes. Locally, Oja also designed the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church in Copper Harbor. The 11⁄2-story cabin can be rented by the week, coming with all amenities, including a canoe, and sleeps nine.
For Ruth and Ole, running a bed-and-breakfast inn is a calling and a passion. “We love having people stay here,” says Ruth. “People ask us what it’s like having all these people in the house, wondering how we deal with it, and I say, ‘It’s great! Everyone is so interesting.’ Before we opened, my daughter-in-law sent me a quiz about whether you should run a B&B, and I scored 100 percent.”
Ole has a more humorous take on their passion for the business: “It’s a mental disorder. We should probably be on medication.”
Every guest suite at The Dapple-Gray has a unique theme, such as the Seashore Room or the Lincoln Bedroom, which features several Lincoln historic souvenirs given to their son, Abraham (named for the president), every year on his birthday. Each suite also has a balcony or deck with panoramic Lake views. The suites have a queen bed or have one or two double beds.
In the backyard, the Van Goors planted a large rose garden and vegetable gardens. Guests may use the backyard sauna or stroll the grounds.
The Dapple-Gray welcome extends to pets – of any almost species. “We’ve had a monkey stay here, and a 40-pound rabbit,” says Ruth. “That rabbit was huge. It’s not always about dogs, but it’s always fun. We’ve had to make it clear to people that there are animals on the premises because some people don’t like animals. But our guests’ animals are better behaved than our own. We put ours away if guests or visitors to the antique shop are uncomfortable.”
Antiques figure prominently in the interior design of The Dapple-Gray. As an antique dealer, Ruth has her own collections on display throughout the house. Antique dolls nestle on shelves in the common areas and display cases of Victorian glass line the walls.
“I taught college for years and still offer seminars. My specialty is Victorian antiques. What you’re seeing on display are the examples I need to effectively teach, as well as what I need for a book I’m writing. Plus it’s just fun to collect these things.”
If you are looking for antiques, Ruth’s original business from Kirkwood has its own designated space. “I’ve been in antiques for more than 40 years. The only way I’ll quit is when I die. So wherever I am, there’s going to be an antique shop.”
Even during the off seasons, the Van Goors average a dozen people a week visiting the antique shop or stopping to see the home. In summer, the numbers jump substantially.
“They see it from the road,” says Ole, “come up the drive, and ask if they can look around. It’s great, you never know who’s going to walk in.”
Dapple-Gray Antiques features all sorts of antiques and taxidermy, but the majority of its wares are Victorian. Ruth stays active in her field by attending three or four shows a year, which means packing up a large part of the shop and driving to the show – sometimes 1,000 miles away.
“The shows are fun, and by attending them I stay active in the network. I have a huge inventory, and I’m always buying more.”
Running a bed-and-breakfast inn is a 24/7 job. Add in an antiques shop, a large rose garden, a separate cabin, and 27 acres of property, and it all equals Ruth and Ole Van Goor as a busy couple. They don’t regret the workload.
“We’re workaholics,” says Ruth. “But at the end of the day, when we’re sitting on our deck with cocktails, I say, ‘I feel sorry for everyone else.’ We live in paradise, and we love it.”
The Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast and Dapple-Gray Antiques, near Copper Harbor, Michigan. 906-289-4200, www.dapple-gray.com.
The B&B has four guest suites, plus a summer cabin. Rooms run $150 to $175 per night. The cabin rents by the week for $1,200 for two and $1,400 for more.
Ruth Van Goor offers four seminars to her Dapple-Gray guests. Each seminar costs $75, runs for 12 hours over a weekend, and participants receive a 10 percent discount on their room fee. Seminars are “Victorian Glass Identification,” “American Pressed Glass of the Victorian Period,” “The Basics of Victorian Ceramics,” and “Transfer Printing on English China.”
Lesley DuTemple is an award-winning author who would love to stay at The Dapple-Gray, but she already lives in paradise, just 15 miles down the road.