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Warm Springs Inn and Winery: A labor of love and a peaceful haven

By on July 25, 2017 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments

 

This big front porch, pillars and predominantly brick and ivy exterior contribute to the storybook charm of Warm Springs Inn and Winery. Rockers and rattan chairs welcome guests to the cool side in mid-summer.

 

 

 

 

 

By Susan Lagsdin

Warm Springs Inn and Winery is easy to like, hard to forget.

A traveler seeking respite from city stresses feels immediate peace after turning on Lower Sunnyslope’s Love Lane, then driving down toward the river on a narrow shady drive lined with roses.

Like many of Wenatchee’s oldest stately homes, the structure and grounds have prevailed nobly through a century of varied use, deferred maintenance, and major remodels. Most owners appear to have cared for it lovingly, so as it approaches its hundredth year the trees and flowers thrive and the big old house glows with good health.

First built as a family home, it was used as a sanitarium from World War I until 1940; then it became a working orchard, Arabian horse farm and dog facility and again a family home. Ludger and Julie Szmania are the fifth owners to run Warm Springs as an inn.

With generations of European hospitality tradition and sought-after chef status in his background, and a high-powered business degree with finance and property management experience in hers, the Szmanias prospered and raised their children in Seattle, running their well-regarded Magnolia restaurant for 25 years. In 2007, seeking, Julie says, a late life challenge and “an escape route from the restaurant,” they discovered the Wenatchee area.

In 2007, they purchased 20 acres of wine-growing property and a farmhouse up Brender Canyon in Cashmere as an occasional getaway for themselves and as a vacation rental. Their vineyard made excellent wine, and became, as Julie describes it, “A hobby that got a little out of hand….” Its award-winning 2012 vintage led them to conceive of a more elegant venue with room for catered events, so they acquired the Warm Springs Inn the next year.

The idea of hosting B&B guests seemed like a natural segue for Ludger and Julie as they looked toward their retirement years. A piece of cake: six bedrooms on the river and hearty breakfasts.

It may come naturally, but it’s not, however, a piece of cake, and it’s considerably more complicated than it looks.

Months of cosmetic improvements to the old house — opening and brightening and redecorating — ensued. The serenity and comfort of the inn caught on, showcasing their estate wine (now from their own on-site winery) and Ludger’s creative cookery, whether it’s breakfast from the small kitchen, crudités for a meeting, or festive meals for huge events.

They soon found that travelers were eager to explore eastern Washington, regional businesses and industries saw the value of introducing their people to a fine Wenatchee experience, and local couples and families saw a perfect place for reunions, weddings and even private anniversary overnights.

The Szmania’s still expect to be surprised with every reservation. “It used to be mostly middle-aged people in B&Bs, but they are such a hot item with young travelers now — 50 percent of our customers have never stayed at one before. People from Europe and Asia know us only online, so the whole demographic seems to be shifting.”

Six rooms are available for guests, and the couple lives in their small private quarters at the inn. Mostly. They’ve made both the Cashmere farmhouse and their big Seattle home available for short-term rentals, but they and their grown children use all three properties for their own pleasure when possible.

Julie acknowledged that, “Ludger is the chef and wears the toolbelt,” and she spends her days in the Inn’s office or on the road managing, with the help of a part-time event planner, the intricate interplay of people and goods for the three popular properties.

The Szmanias have grown to love Wenatchee for shopping and socializing and are sometimes torn between their big city obligations and their smaller city pleasures. Asked jokingly, “So, where’s your best toothbrush?” Julie answered, “They’re everywhere.”

She can troubleshoot a business crisis — or westside family obligation — adroitly, any rootlessness assuaged by being content exactly where she is at any given time.

“This is year three of a very clear five-year plan,” she said. “In two years, we’ll know exactly where we stand.” And, presumably, where they’ll sleep. Nice choices abound.

Meanwhile, she and Ludger are consummately conscientious hosts. When they are at home, Julie said, they are at work, giving attention to their guests.

Ironically, Julie confessed, “We have never in our lives stayed in a B&B.” But they are avid learners and members in good standing of the state B&B guild. They love to entertain and keep bound photo journals of every big event that’s been held at Warm Springs, dominated by the glitter and joy of wedding parties.

Five stories from cellar to tip-top apartment, the house gracefully retains the warmth of history with thoroughly modern updates. Big bedrooms, four of which early in the 20th Century already had bathrooms and either closets or nurseries, are all furnished in antiques and country chic décor, and Julie adapts their colors and fabrics seasonally. Comfy living room couches and river-view dining tables are always open to guests.

As innkeepers, the Szmanias have learned to estimate their visitors’ tolerances and needs. “Some people immediately feel comfortable, as if they live here full time. Others may want to come and go without much interaction, and for them it’s like a nice hotel,” Julie said. Rooms with level outside entrances suit some; others love going up and down the staircase in the central foyer.

Most people head for the lawn in good weather (to Adirondack chairs in pairs at the riverbank); others rarely leave their rooms. Julie reminds prospective visitors to bring their “toys” to match the season: kayaks, bikes, snowshoes, fishing gear and birdwatching binoculars, and she encourages them to enjoy local culture and local nature.

She said more than once people have curtailed plans to move on down the road to add another night or three.

“One honeymooning couple from Denmark was actually scheduled for the Tetons and Yellowstone, but they stayed here the whole week instead,” she said. “The Inn was booked, so we gave them the farmhouse.”

Julie knows that a few nights at the inn can have a powerful effect. She said, “Every once in a while, I’ll be at Pybus or downtown and I’ll recognize someone who’s stayed with us — and they’ve decided to leave the city and move here. That always feels good.”

 

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