How to Furnish Your Historical Bed and Breakfast

How to Furnish Your Historical Bed and Breakfast


The bed and breakfast are becoming a more popular choice with travelers every year—and for good reason. These institutions take the comfort of home with the luxury of hotels, and they blend the best of both worlds into a charming, cozy and indulgent experience that draws guests back for more each year. There’s an air of romance and intimacy that comes with the bed and breakfast experience, and when done right, you’ll have a real money-maker on your hands.

But a good bed and breakfast doesn’t just fall into your lap. There’s a lot of work that goes into making this business a profitable one. If you own a historic home, there is likely a lot of renovating that you’ll have to do in order to bring the house up to code. Older homes are often lacking when it comes to proper insulation and proper electrical wiring. They may need work to solidify the foundation or repairs to stop the roof from leaking.

Once you’ve seen to it that your roof, walls, and flooring are up to snuff, and then you need to turn your attention to providing the proper furnishings. Every aspect of the house should be designed for that wow factor that draws the guests in, which means that no public room of the house can be neglected as you make your plans.

Now there are several things to keep in mind as you build up your collection of B&B furniture. First, your bed and breakfast should reflect a certain theme. It should have its personality, and all of the furnishings inside of it should support that. Second, you’ll want to make sure you don’t deviate too far from established guidelines. Guests go to a bed and breakfast with a certain vision in mind, and they expect to find some certain, basic amenities. Straying too far from the tried-and-true formula, so to speak, will ensure that your guests don’t come back.

So just how do you go about decorating your bed and breakfast? Start with the basics and take it one step at a time. Decorating and acquiring just the right look is a process rather than a destination, just like decorating your home. Some people are never finished and are constantly updating, searching for new pieces, and rotating the furniture in and out to keep the décor looking fresh.

Measuring and Planning

It is vital if you plan to buy a lot of furniture at one time, that you plan out where you’re going to put everything. All too often people will buy a couch or a table, and while it looked great in the showroom, it didn’t fit in with the smaller dimensions of their living room or dining room. So take measurements of the rooms of the house you intend to furnish, and draw a map to scale. That way, when you take measurements of the furniture you intend to buy, you can see just how it will fit in.

You’ll also want to make sure that there’s plenty of room for walkways between the furniture. Your guests won’t be too impressed if you have a fantastic set of chairs and tables all crammed in together. Nor will they be very impressed if they end up banging their knees and shins against everything as they try to walk around it just to sit down. Leave a minimum of a couple of feet between everything; that should be enough room.

In planning the décor of your house and furnishing a bed and breakfast, look for pieces that fit in with the theme of your business. This may be stating the obvious here, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who get caught up in the thrill of the moment and make an impulse purchase. Then, after bringing home the new vase or table or whatnot, they find that it doesn’t blend in at all with the rest of the furniture. That’s wasted money, right there.

If you don’t have an eye for interior decorating, consider hiring a professional. It will pay off, in the long run, especially if you hire a good decorator who can make the most of what you have on a tight budget. When you aim to please your guests, and when you want to give them that charming, rustic experience that they’re paying for, you want to make sure you deliver. Get help if you need it.

Where to Buy Your Furniture

There are a number of different ways to go about getting some great B&B furniture, but just where you go depends on what kind of business you’re hoping to run. If you’re going to a completely authentic, historic bed and breakfast complete with furniture from a certain era in history, you’ll want to browse many antique stores and auctions to boost your collection. This is, of course, going to be extremely expensive. Antiques don’t come cheap, and if they’re damaged or broken by your guests, they might be impossible to replace. Furthermore, if you do an amateur job in repairing or restoring an antique, you can severely damage its value even more.

If you’re willing to put replicas into your bed and breakfast, there are a lot more options available to you. There are many retail shops available which may be willing to offer you a deal if you’re prepared to buy numerous pieces, so be sure to ask. Check out all of the options to look for the best deals before you put down any money.

Don’t be afraid to look at second-hand or refurbished furniture either, and be sure to inspect it yourself and judge its quality before you purchase it. While you don’t want to pick up any furniture that is obviously cheap or broken, many pieces get sold secondhand that have no visible damage to them and are available at bargain-basement prices.

The one item you should never buy secondhand, however, is the bed mattress. Always purchase a solid, comfortable, clean new mattress for your guests’ beds. Nothing will turn away business faster from a bed and breakfast than uncomfortable or dirty mattresses. In this day and age, with social media so prevalent on the Internet, if word got out that you offered your guests old mattresses, your reputation will be ruined.

Last, but not least, you can look for furniture from reputable online sources. There are many furniture companies out there that specialize in solid wood pieces that would fit in well with a historic B&B, such as The Rocking Chair Company. Buying online can save you the time and hassle of having to travel to find the right pieces.

What Furniture to Buy

As mentioned before, you’ll want to provide furniture for every room in the house where guests will go. This will include any living rooms, parlors, bedrooms, bathrooms, halls and the front and back porches.

Everything you buy should be a reflection of the personality of the home, the vision you have for its future and your own personality. But as mentioned before, you’ll also want to make sure you don’t deviate so far from time-tested expectations that your guests are left feeling uncomfortable.

The Bedroom

Obviously, you’ll want beds in the bedroom. However, what size of bed and what style of bed you’ll provide depends heavily on the size of the room and on the style of the bed and breakfast you’re running.

A king-sized bed is a luxury that is best-suited to a very large room, and your guests will be thrilled if they can get one, but obviously, this won’t work at all if the room you have is a cozier, tighter, Victorian-style of chamber. You might not even be able to get the door open! If your room is just too small for a king, provide the largest size of bed that you absolutely can. Aim for queen.

You’ll also want to set aside a room or set aside an option for double beds. Some guests might not want to sleep in the same bed: traveling siblings or friends, for example. There are several ways to tackle this problem. You can have one room provided with twin beds, you can provide a rollaway bed, have a daybed that doubles as a sofa in the room, or provide a sofa with a pull-out bed.

It should go without saying that you should provide extremely comfortable mattresses for your guests. If you’re going to be using family furnishings for your B&B, check the quality of the mattresses. Are they comfortable? Do they sag in the middle or on one side? Are there any stains on them? If so, it’s time to throw them out and invest in new mattresses. If you wouldn’t want to sleep on that mattress, your guest surely won’t want to pay to do it.

In addition to having beds with new mattresses and fetching headboards and footboards, you’ll also want to provide a few other amenities for your guests’ comfort. They’ll need a nightstand on each side of the bed or beds, a reading light, alarm clock, dresser or bureau, closet or wardrobe, full-length mirror and somewhere to sit. Armchairs and a couple of straight-back chairs are good choices, but if the room is large enough to allow for it, provide them with a loveseat or sofa. A table will be a necessity– and extra chairs too–if you will allow guests to have meals in their rooms.

The Kitchen and Dining Room

You’ve got the bed part of the bed and breakfast handled, so now it’s time to turn to the other half: the breakfast. One of the biggest reasons that guests turn to the bed and breakfast instead of the hotel is for the breakfast that comes after a pleasant, cozy night. They will expect to be served something more than coffee and a doughnut.

They will also be expecting a touch of elegance here, whether it’s the full, formal elegance of a Victorian table or a more rustic, down-home, country charm. That means you need to have a full set of dishes, tableware, glasses and other accessories appropriate to the theme of your bed and breakfast. Make sure you have enough to accommodate all of your guests, as well as a few extras on hand, in case something is accidentally dropped and broken. You don’t want to be caught without and forced to serve your guest a mimosa out of a plastic cup.

Now how you serve them is going to depend entirely on the size of your house, whether it’s in a large and spacious dining room or in a smaller breakfast nook tucked off to the side of your kitchen. In either case, you’ll want to provide a table and enough chairs to seat everyone. For those sunny, summer mornings, you should also consider providing an outdoor table and chairs for the porches and patio. If you plan to allow guests to have breakfast in their rooms, plan to invest in thermal carafes or tea pots for each room as well as serving trays or carts to take the food to them.

If you have the space for it, you might also consider investing in an extra refrigerator in your kitchen for the guests’ use. Frequently, they will have leftovers from picnics or visits to restaurants, or they will want to store cold drinks in there. Providing them with their own refrigerator will keep it very clear just what belongs to whom, and it will keep your own fridge from becoming overburdened.

The Living Room or Parlor

Whether you call it the living room, the parlor or the drawing room, this is where you will really set the theme and the tone of your B&B, so it’s important that you’ve decorated it and furnished it with everything your guests could need. If you have a larger, formal home, you might set out a front desk and counter where your guests can fill out the paperwork at check-in time. Many smaller businesses opt for a writing desk in a corner of the living room or bring guests to a small, private office room.

For the rest of the time, you’ll want to make sure you have ample sitting room for your guests. Strangers don’t usually want to sit very close to each other, so be sure to provide a little extra space with a sofa, loveseat or a scattering of individual arm chairs. Rocking chairs are especially wonderful, especially when set next to a fireplace on a chilly winter’s evening.

Side tables should be provided for resting books and drinks on them, and you will want a coffee table or a smaller table with chairs, so that guests can lay out and play board games or card games. Have extra reading lamps at the ready, in addition to an overhead light and ceiling fan.

In the entry hall, the foyer, or just near to the front door, you and your guests will likely find it useful to have a coat rack and an umbrella stand so they have somewhere to place heavy winter or rain gear.

The Porch or Veranda

It’s been said many times that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. That is why you should pay especially close attention to the exterior décor of your home, and you should never neglect your front porch. A porch or veranda will set the ambience of your B&B even before your guests step one foot inside the house. It will draw the eyes of anyone who drives by the business, and an attractive façade and porch will draw in the guests like flies to honey.

Set out a few rocking chairs and tables where your guests can sit down, relax and enjoy a glass of sweet iced tea or a morning cup of coffee. Warm summer mornings are a great place to let your guests enjoy their breakfasts, as mentioned before. You can also provide your guests with a porch swing, where couples can sit together and enjoy an intimate moment. These little touches are what they’ll remember, and they’ll spread the word.

If you go with wood furniture, be sure to inspect the pieces regularly and keep an eye out for any signs of mold, mildew or rust. If your furniture begins to fade, you’ll have to repaint it, and that can take a lot of work. Polywood is a relatively new development that you can consider as an alternative, as it’s virtually maintenance-free and looks fantastic for outdoor use. It’s made from recycled HDPE plastics, making it eco-friendly, and the colors never fade.

What Little Things to Provide

While you’re busy furnishing a bed and breakfast with everything it’s going to need, don’t focus so much on the big pieces that you forget to provide all the little extras that your guests will need. Running a B&B means more than having a great bed and a table. It also means that you have great linens, soaps and dishes. In short, be sure to provide your guests with all the comforts of home. You’re in the business of providing hospitality, and that means making sure your guests have everything they need to feel welcomed and at home. A hotel has a bed and a table, and it doesn’t have much more. You’re providing something extra.

You’ll really impress your guests when you provide them with some entertainment options. This doesn’t necessarily mean a TV and a VCR. Instead of falling back on technology, offer them books to read—especially novels from your chosen period in history. If you expect to have children as your guests, don’t forget to provide books for them as well. You can fall back on the old classics like The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Don’t forget to provide some games too, like board games and decks of playing cards. Checkers, chess and Chinese checkers are all great options, as are the more modern board games for families.

When it comes to decorating, don’t be afraid to put a few unusual pieces out as accents for a room. Small, vintage or antique toys, paintings, vases and flowers; all of these give a room life and personality, setting them apart from the cold, bland sterility of a hotel.


Getting all of the B&B furniture that you need can be a daunting process. It will take some serious organization and budgeting in order to pull it off and see eventual profits, but the B&B industry is a growing one. People are growing tired of the hotel experience, which often makes them feel as though they’re not much more than one of a million warm bodies, getting pulled in and then pushed out, drained of their cash to keep a bloated business going. Hotels provide disappointing continental breakfasts that aren’t much more than stale coffee and cold cereal. Today, people want more than that.

The bed and breakfast business provides what many people are looking for. So with some careful planning and a whole lot of research and work, you too can get in on this lucrative, growing industry.

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