My name is Ashley Margilyn Barnes, but I have gone by Margie my whole life. I am from Conway, S.C. where I grew up and went to school. I was never much of a student but enrolled in Coastal Carolina College outside of Conway and wound up getting a B.S. in Business Administration with a minor in marketing.
I started out as a Business Office Associate at Lexington Medical Center in Columbia, S.C. and worked my way up and into sales over the course of 8 years. I got to do a lot of travelling all over the Eastern Seaboard during the latter part of that time, originally staying in nearby hotels. But a friend at Lexington told me that she finds nice Bed and Breakfasts often real near the office she is going to and enjoys that a lot more because it is more personal.
So I decided to try that, somewhat apprehensively, and really enjoyed my first experience with it in Asheville, N.C. The people were friendly and I had a great time there, so this became a regular occurrence whenever it was practical.
Eventually I left Columbia and took a job at Reynolds Metals in Richmond Va. in their sales department. It was there that I met Curtis, who was in the business side of Reynolds. Curtis and I eventually got married, and we were in Richmond for about 15 years.
We both have always liked to travel and so we would take vacations each year to wherever we could afford to go. Then were mostly in the US though we did travel to Italy one year. He had never stayed in a Bed and Breakfast, but after some convincing decided to give it a try. Our first experience together was at a lovely home in Brunswick Georgia. We had gone there to participate in a Chili Cookoff. He absolutely loved it. The home was warm and inviting, and the owners were wonderful people.
With that experience under our belt, we stayed in B&B’s every opportunity we could. Over time we decided we wanted to own a house that was conducive to having our own. We did a LOT of research, learning about every facet of this type of business, from location, to regulations, insurance, costs, everything. We owned our home in Richmond, which we got at a goot deal because it was a fixer-upper. Curtis is a good handyman but many of the issues were beyond his capabilities, like plumbing, electric, siding, and insulation just to name a few.
Plus we found we would rather be on the road having fun than stuck at home working. We were both making decent money, so the savings from the Do-It-Yourself efforts seemed less and less worth it.
We decided to get married in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Actually, as a side note for anyone thinking of doing this, weddings in Mexico are not recognized by the US government, so we needed to get officially married here, either before or after, to have it recognized by the IRS and other governing bodies. SO we did that.
Anyway, we had a wonderful wedding in Playa with a lot of friends jumping at the opportunity for a trip there. The wedding was at a place which offered either rooms or little bungalows up on stilts in the sand. They were expensive but most opted for them anyway because they were so warm and cozy. But Curtis and I stayed in Playa after the 4 day extravaganza was over and moved from the hotel to a B&B we found called Vainilla, which was very inexpensive and highly rated. It was absolutely beautiful, with little cozy nooks and crannies everywhere.
All the walls, inside and out, were painted with watery themes and there were little tables and comfortable chairs scattered around the property. Roberta, our hostess, was absolutely amazing and we learned a lot from her about how to run a B&B, information that would be real helpful to us in the future.
Our room had hanging shelves with books on them that we could read if we wanted. It was about a 10 minute walk to the beach and the 5th avenue area, which was a popular tourist area. The breakfasts were wonderful, comprised of coffee or tea, fresh juice, eggs, and lots of fruits. She seemed to have thought of every single detail. The longer we were there, the more the fire was stoked in us to one day own and run one of these.
We grudgingly returned to Richmond and started back to work, sometimes heading out on weekends for very short stays at B&B’s within a few hours drive, mostly in the Western part of Virginia or North Carolina. Throughout this period, it became a running joke between us that B&B’s were really Margie Land because I felt more at home there often than at our real home. This name would re-enter our lives later, unbeknownst to us.
Coincidentally, some very close friends of ours who would travel with us from time to time decided to retire and open their own Bed and Breakfast. We were really excited for them and we all spent a lot of time researching things like locations, laws, and making a huge list of the things we all learned from our decade of staying in these places.
After an inordinate amount of time and study, David and Shelly concluded that they would get a place is a small town and stay in Virginia since they were very familiar with the rules and regulations here and also could look at a lot of places since you can drive anywhere in Virginia from Richmond in a few hours tops. They also did not have an unlimited budget and wanted to be sure they could afford to finish it out properly. Our research taught us that all the nice touches could really add up, but you do not want to skimp on any of them.
After many trips to Roanoke and Western Va, south to South Hill and the Lake Gaston area, and east to the Chesapeake Bay area, they finally settled on a beautiful old home in a town called Deltaville, on the Chesapeake Bay. The prices were very affordable there and there were a lot of nice old homes with a ton of character. And our research told us that, while somewhat remote (about an hour from Richmond), a lot of people from both Richmond and the Northern Virginia area had second homes there due to the proximity to the Bay and the Rappahanock and Piankatank rivers. As a result, lots of people came to visit and often stayed in one of the three B&B’s located in the town.
The house they bought was built in 1860 and had a lot of charm and character, though it was in need of work. We learned that after the Civil War a Union warship cruised slowly up the Piankatank River lobbing cannon balls at every home along the river and didn’ move on until they scores a hit. In this particular home, one of the ceiling rafter beams had a half-moon chunk taken out of it, ostensibly from the cannon ball. The house was otherwise undamaged, so presumably the other damage caused by the ball was repaired.
Curtis and I had so much fun helping them build out the house into the perfect B&B. It was on an acre of land with about 100 feet of river frontage and a lot of big pines and a couple pin oaks on the property. Shelly and I went through the inside and came up with dozens of great ideas on how to make it cozy and warm. The kitchen needed to be expanded , the hardwood redone, and lots of furniture and rugs bought. The guys were focused on the outside and came up with some great ideas, including a nice gazebo out by the water with a chiminea in it to keep warm on cooler nights. The chairs they got were big heavy colorful Adirondack chairs because the wind on the river can get real strong real fast. Metal things on this salt water river rust out and lighter things, even tables and chairs, can get thrown all over the place by some of the storms that come through there.
It took the better part of six months to get all the renovations done, but they had budgeted for this and everything went well. Along the way we all learned a lot of helpful and valuable lessons that I intend to impart to you on the appropriate pages in this blog.
I mention this story because it was our first hands-on experience at actually doing the necessary things to a home to make it a great B&B, starting all the way back with choosing the right home and location. It was a soup-to-nuts experience.
After 20 years, Reynolds offered Curtis a pretty decent early retirement package and we had saved heavily into our IRA’s so we were in pretty decent shape and decided it may be time to pull the plug on corporate America and set out to achieve our dream. I’ve never been so excited. We pored over maps and books to try to come up with the perfect spot. One thing we learned while in Mexico is that property and the cost of living is cheap down there and the views are stunning.
So after some serious soul-searching we made a trip to Cancun to look around. We traveled all over the area but nothing absolutely hit us. Then one day we took a boat ride over to Isla Mujeres and we were both suddenly struck at the same time with the beauty and serenity. The people were wonderful, properties reasonable, and cost of living very affordable. We had found our new home!
We spent an extra week there looking at properties and finally found one that simply took our collective breaths away. It was called Villa La Bellisimo and it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. We spent some time at a bank and before long the arrangements were made. We flew home, put our house on the market, and started packing. We were not in a good negotiating position because we were both SO ready to be out. Thankfully we had an offer within a couple weeks and we took it even though it was below our relatively low asking price.
A few storage unit trips and trips to see family out of the way, and we were headed South. Once there we had so many things to do. First, this property was different than anything we had seen in the many years we had been doing this, so there was some inventing of the wheel. We had to prepare the place for weather, and since everyone would almost always be outside, had to focus an inordinate amount of time on outside amenities. There is a lovely pool but we had to build a big wraparound bar and put up tiki huts. We set up chairs on the beach and offer snorkeling and partnered with a local business to set up jet ski and paddleboard rentals on a corner of the property.
I could go on and on about this experience. It was the most exhilarating thing either of us had ever done, and when we finally finished and got our first customer, it was the best day of our lives. We have owned Villa La Bellisimo now for 8 years and have had the time of our lives. This became the ultimate Margie Land, and when we decided to put together this blog to share our experiences, MargLand (pronounced with a soft G. Margie Land just didn’t flow right) was the name of choice.
I only wish that more people would look into this as a life. You do not make a ton of money and there is some work involved, but nothing is more fun or satisfying. Hosting a wedding and being around all the happiness and love is really something special.
I hope we can do justice to all involved with this type of endeavor and I hope you enjoy the blog.