Last week my husband and I had an opportunity to stay at a B&B in Astoria, one of our favorite towns. We were unsure what to think when we arrived at the curb before Clementine’s Bed and Breakfast. I was a tad surprised to find that the stairs to the front door appear to rise as vertically as a ladder. This first photograph was taken at street level, so you can see how steep the climb to the front door is.
Grandma had trouble climbing them. Yes, the steep steps were daunting for us old folks, but once we were registered, we were shown the gentler way in through the pleasant, lush garden, which completely bypasses the two-story climb out front.
Our room was a soothing, pleasant retreat called the Garden Room.
Yvonne, the innkeeper, and her spouse, Stephen, were absolutely wonderful hosts. Generous with wine, Perrier, and snacks, these two go out of their way to make sure their guests feel like members of the family.
While I sat in the comfortable front parlor, listening to Stephen perform his incredible and original compositions on the baby-grand piano, I realized the owner had gone to a lot of trouble to create a sense of place, a certain ambiance of Old Time Comfort.
I looked around, seeing a relaxing Victorian home that feels as if it’s being lived in by many generations of a single family. Established in 1993, Clementine’s looks as if it evolved gradually over many generations—although it did not.
In the early 90s, the house was in danger of being torn down. It was built in 1888 By William Ross and is one of the oldest houses in Astoria. The original owners were long since gone, and it had fallen into disrepair. The new owners put a lot of work and thought into the restoration of the old mansion, and it really paid off. They named the inn after the original owner’s wife, Clementine Ross.
That is a case of using the appropriate name to give the visitor a sense of time and place. I stumbled across the name when searching for places to stay in Astoria, and immediately it evoked a Victorian aura and made me curious.
This is a lesson writers should learn. When we name our characters, we have the opportunity to convey a great deal of information without resorting to explanations. (But please, keep the names pronounceable.)
The owner/decorator achieved a feeling of tradition and continuity the same way we achieve a sense of place and familiarity in our writing. She used layers, small, deft touches. She had a good sense of what is too much detail, as she stopped adding to it once the atmosphere was established, quitting well before it turned into a Victorian parody.
The front parlor is a quiet, restful room. Victorian-era style transitions to Edwardian in terms of furniture; and both eras coexist well with pieces from more recent times, the nineteen-forties, and later. This offers the visual feeling of being a guest in someone’s old family home.
Again, the atmosphere is created on the surface level, with the large comfortable settees and the huge, gentle cat named Bruno, a Maine Coon, who belongs to the inn.
But it is also created in subliminal ways.
Smaller visuals, things that guests subconsciously absorb in the first glance set the scene. A few old-fashioned doilies placed here or there protect the antique tables; not too many doilies, but just enough. The front parlor is decorated with carefully placed objects, many that seem to hail from the far-east, impressing the maritime history of Astoria upon the visitor.
The walls are hung with antique framed pictures and hand-embroidered samplers, their homey simplicity lending truth to the atmosphere of a seafaring family’s long-established prosperity and comfort.
It was easy to believe we were visiting the family home of a long-lost relative, sharing an evening of music and conversation. Yvonne’s talent for making her guests feel both welcome and cared for is without peer.
She and Stephen served a wonderful multi course family-style breakfast, providing well for six sets of guests and going far out of their way to serve me—the vegan who has become a little cynical about dining away from home. I felt as if my company was wanted at the breakfast table, instead of the usual “oh, dear God—she thinks she’s a vegan” attitude that is usually directed my way.
Greg and I like to stay at bed and breakfasts for the same reasons we select certain books. Sometimes we’re looking for something different from the usual chain hotels; something outside established genres. We want to visit a place with a story and have a little adventure. We also want good food and a friendly welcome from people who feel like they could be close friends. Clementine’s more than satisfied us on all accounts.