I first learned about the plans for Buffalo Harmony House bed and breakfast back in 2007. Then, in 2012, David Steele covered the intricacies of the incredible architectural transformation of the 70 Wadsworth Street project, in Allentown. Since that time, owners Holly Holdaway and Daniel Culross have been making significant progress on the full service B&B, which officially opened earlier this year (very soft opening).
Last week I was invited to stop on over to see the completed work. Actually, with a house like this, there is always another project to look forward to. What I found was a real head turner. I had been keeping an eye on the Victorian era Queen Anne style house from afar, but I had not stepped foot inside the structure for years. When I did, I could not believe the transformation – what had once been a full scale rooming house (11 apartments), completely devoid of any aesthetic luster, had been reworked into a fine tuned bed and breakfast, worthy of the most discriminating guests. The incredible part of the transformation, much of which was conducted by Holly and Dan, is that the two are full time parents, and both work full time jobs (on top of running the B&B).
When Holly first bought the house in 2004, it was a mess. Fortunately, when she inked the paperwork at the foreclosure, a new roof had recently been installed. That was the only way that she could afford it. All of the liens had been scrubbed from the property due to the foreclosure, which was also a big help. At the time, Holly was single, but that did not deter her from moving forward with the massive undertaking. It was, in fact, partially the project that ultimately brought Holly and Dan together. Dan was living out in Denver when he met Holly – he was home for a visit. He was a practicing architect at the time, and fell for both Holly and the house. At the start, the two began to load dumpster after dumpster of debris from the house – it had been abandoned for a couple of years, which meant that squatters had removed just about anything worth taking, including newel posts, fireplace mantels, and even pocket doors.
Dan described the work that went into the project as the race between the turtle and the hare, with the couple acting out the role of the turtle. In recent years, Holly and Dan have stripped, painted, built, reworked, and tooled every facet of the house. They have worked with local artisans to recreate the home as it would have appeared at the turn of the century. They ditched all of their furniture and spent years scouring estate sales, to find period couches, mirrors, fixtures, lighting, hardware… you name it, and they have sourced it from the sales. They took down walls, ripped down drop ceilings, scrubbed until the dirt and grime faded away. They laid new wood floors, put up new walls, opened old doorways, and created a B&B called Buffalo Harmony House, featuring five guests rooms with baths. To get a better sense of the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that went into the project, be sure to check out Steel’s coverage of the work (from his 2012 article). Altogether the circa 1885 house had 26 different molding profiles, all of which were recreated for preservation requirements, painstakingly documented by Holly and Dan. Holly commented that it took her 40 hours to restore a sole window.
Aside from being a professional vocalist and a music teacher in the Buffalo Public School System, Holly is a baker. That means that guests at Buffalo Harmony House are always in for a special treat. Everything is made from scratch, including her special gluten-free chocolate cake. Sweet or savory breakfasts consist of three courses – this is not your average Continental breakfast here. For those who want to sit down and take their time, they can grab a seat at the table and munch on scrambled eggs, cold press juices, avocado toast, yogurt, melon, etc. For those who are in a hurry, Holly and Dan will pack meals for their guests. As for lunches, guests will probably not need them after the large breakfasts. And dinners? Well, Dan and Holly will cook dinners for guests that want them, but they suggest heading out into Allentown and trying out the restaurant scene.
Due to the high quality standards of the hands-on experience, Holly and Dan live on the third floor, with their daughter. That way they can make themselves available to the needs of the guests. “People in this day and age no longer know what it’s like to be served,” they told me. “We go out of our way to make sure that everyone is accommodated, by offering the latest in tech conveniences (including radiant floor heating throughout the house), to providing aroma therapy and white noise features in all of the rooms (along with 4K flatscreens with DIRECTV). We are all about keeping people healthy and happy. We even have a rooftop garden on top of the garage.”
In years to come, Holly and Dan are going to transform the basement into a pool room, with full bar (liquor license on the premises – they will be able to cater events), and a projector screen. They want to restore the original porches, along with the rare iron ridge cresting on the roof. The work that they are putting in is meticulous, right down to the room skeleton keys that Holly hand cuts herself. There are no corners cut, unless they are physically cutting corners, upon which time they would add wooden corner guards.
To date, Holly and Dan have won two esteemed preservation awards, deservedly so. Buffalo Harmony House is impeccable. It’s like stepping back in time. To think that back in 2005, Holly and Dan could see through the grit and grime – these two are in a league of their own. “We’re ready to shout from the rooftops,” said Dan. And that’s exactly what they are doing. Buffalo is now home to another sensation B&B that is not only contributing to the city’s renaissance, it’s also providing accommodations to visitors who want to experience Buffalo, at some of its proudest moments over a century ago.
For booking information, and the best rates, head directly to buffaloharmonyhouse.com.