The Jewish Georgian
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Georgian
In Virginia Highland, a B&B rises from the ashes
June 6, 1995 was an unremarkable night for Adele Northrup. She made her usual preparations for bed, and drifted off to sleep to calming music. The next morning, she left her Virginia Highland home for work. That was the last time anything in Adele's life would be ordinary.
At 8:00 p.m. Adele drove up to her house, and was disgusted to find piles of trash on the curb. She couldn't imagine how her normally kind neighbors could be so thoughtless. However, as she pulled into the driveway, she realized that it wasn't their trash. "It was my bed, my nightstand, all my bedroom furniture. Then I looked up and saw that the window frames were charred." Neighbors ran out of their houses to meet a stunned Adele at her car and tell her what had happened.
It turned out that the tape that lulled Adele to sleep the night before had become jammed in her tape deck. Instead of shutting off, the tape deck overheated until the stuck tape finally ignited. The resulting fire gutted the bedroom, and there was extensive smoke damage throughout the rest of the house.
The time after the fire was grueling. Adele moved to a nearby apartment, where she lived for the next year as she haggled with insurers and contractors.
The fire should have been a nightmare, but instead, Adele Northrup turned it into a dream, a long-held dream of owning a bed & breakfast.
"When there's a fire, the city closes down your house and cuts off your utilities. Even if you think it's inhabitable, they won't let you move back in until they consider it safe," she explains. "I figured that my life was going to be completely disrupted anyway. Why should I just put the house back the way it was, when I could remodel it into something I really wanted?"
Not that it was easy. Adele trudged to the house every day to monitor the work, went to endless zoning meetings, and negotiated with architects, contractors, and inspectors. She was often depressed and overwhelmed. "It was such a bad time, I thought I'd never get over it. But, now I rarely think about it. The B & B allowed me to retire early, to have a good life in a beautiful setting."
The Virginia Highland Bed and Breakfast opened in May 1996. In the following two months, Adele entertained one lone guest. Then came the Olympic onslaught, and suddenly Adele's charming craftsman-style bungalow was a hot little property. "Things were so busy that I could have rented tent sites in the yard," she says. Her guest book from that time only begins to hint at the excitementÀit bears the signatures of Olympic Torch Relay organizers; US javelin thrower Nicole Carroll and her coach; swimmer Bjrn Zikarsky, the bronze medallist in the 400-meter relay; and families from Brazil, Nicaragua, and France.
While Adele feels privileged to be in what is widely acknowledged as "America's #1 dream profession," she says that few people understand the pressure and tedium it entails. "You are always on stage. You can't come in and throw a pile of groceries on the floor, you can't toss your mail down, you have to do the dishes immediately. It's like having the house on the market all the time. The moment a guest leaves, you have to get the house back in order, because you never know when the phone is going to ring."
In her small operation, Adele is the chef, maid, gardener, publicist, decorator, raconteur, and bookkeeper. It is up to her to maintain everything from sparkling toilets to sparkling conversation.
In her former life, Adele was known around town as the Plant Lady, the name of her popular interior landscaping business. Her most famous clientãin fact, the person she was working for the day of the fireãwas Halle Berry. "She was a lovely young lady inside and out," Adele recalls. "Despite her wealth and fame, she wasn't uppity. We ate out a few times, she took me to baseball games, and she even hired my son to do some hardscaping. Working with her was the culmination of my plant careerQa nice note to end on. I lost touch with her, but recently I saw a photo of her garden in Los Angeles, and I'd like to think I could detect a bit of my influence."
Adele never planned a career in the house and garden realm. She studied English literature and history, and obtained a master's degree in library science. "But I lasted just two years as a librarian. I can't sit still for long. When I was growing up, a woman didn't have many choicesãshe could be a teacher, a nurse, a social worker, or a librarian. I never thought I'd have my own business. But, when women's lib hit in the '70s, and I found myself divorced, there were many more opportunities. It was a whole new world, both frightening and exciting. It was like being a pioneer."
Adele's children have been an integral part of her new endeavor. Her son, Benjamin, now an architecture instructor at Yale, designed the hardscape for her cottage garden, built the elaborate fence, and helped with plans for the house. When daughter Stephanie was little, Adele casually mentioned to her the idea of a B & B. Years later, when Stephanie was 15, she gave Adele a ceramic soap dispenser for Chanukah, and told her, "This is the first furnishing for the B & B." "She took my dream seriously, long before I did," Adele says.
Her daughter also inspired her mother's return to Judaism. After graduating from the University of Virginia, Stephanie, an aspiring screenwriter, moved to Europe, where, from her base in Prague, she traveled and wrote for two years. While there, she herself became interested in Judaism. So that, when Adele visited her in January 1998, they attended shul together in the old Prague ghetto, and next traveled to Poland to visit Auschwitz. "It was very moving," Adele says. "In the previous 15 years, I had been completely disassociated from my Judaism. But now I had a sense of history and belonging." Adele is now a member of Anshe S'fard, the quirky Orthodox congregation in Morningside.
Next time you're in the area, take a spin past the Virginia Highland Bed & Breakfast at 630 Orme Circle, N.E. You can't miss itãthe cottage garden beckons from the street. Or you can check it out in cyberspace at www.virginiahighlandbb.com. For more information or reservations, call Adele at 404-892-2735.