Historic Iowa City bed and breakfast offers 'a different kind of lifestyle'
Burford House Inn provides comfort, art in historic home
When Mark McCallum first saw the stately house at 113 S. Johnson St. in Iowa City where he now runs the Burford House Inn, he knew it was something special.
Built in 1903, the home was previously owned by Byron and Kay Burford, who bought it in 1968. Burford, an artist and University of Iowa professor, was a student of Grant Wood, and his brightly-colored paintings are displayed at museums across the country — and in the lobby over the front desk at the Burford House Inn, where a stream of guests now stay.
McCallum bought the house in 2013 and spent the next year converting it into a bed-and-breakfast before opening the doors in October 2014. That meant adding bathrooms to each of the five guest rooms and upgrading wiring, plumbing and the heating and air conditioning systems. It also meant adding a landing on the stairs to the attic, a space he turned into a spacious suite.
“I lost like 30 pounds carrying 100 sheets of dry well up these stairs,” he said.
The attic used to be an artist studio and now is popular with families — it features a king bed and another, smaller bed tucked around a corner, along with a small living room area complete with a kitchenette and sofas facing a gas fireplace.
He decorated the suite, and the entire inn, with a mix of new and old. Antique stain glass windows hang on the sloping attic ceilings, wired into unique lamps. Gas fireplaces throughout the house provide warmth and ambience, but McCallum has left the multiple original fireplaces in place as well, each intricately tiled. They don’t function but add historic character and double as shelves for the vases, lamps and knickknacks he has picked up over the years.
He scoured estate sales, Craigslist and antique stores for the pieces throughout the house. Art from every era hangs from picture rails in the inn’s first floor parlors, and original silver-plated chandeliers contrast with modern track lighting, which McCallum installed to highlight the art work. Vintage furniture mixes with modern leather sofas, creating a curated mix of comfort and charm in each room. The aesthetic mixes the historic, 1900s-era origins of the house with the style brought by the Burfords, who hosted lively dinner parties for visiting artists and friends in the 1970s, when people like Kurt Vonnegut and Frank Conroy were frequent guests.
“I call it a ‘transitional look,’” McCallum said. “It’s sort of a balancing act. With inn keeping you need a combination of things, and one of them is ambience.”
Overlooking College Green Park, the house is near enough to Iowa City’s downtown and the UI campus to keep business flowing. Some customers are alumni coming back for a visit, some are writers or musicians coming to the UI or to perform downtown, and others are parents of students, including a large contingent of families from China and other countries to visit their international student children.
The first floor parlors include a sitting room, the breakfast room where guests gather for coffee, tea and food in the morning and a library he has filled with travel magazines and books. A wide porch offers more seating with a park view.
This isn’t McCallum’s first foray into inn keeping. He previously founded and owned the Brown Street Inn, which still operates on Iowa City’s north side. Also a Realtor, McCallum got the listing for the Burford House and immediately thought the home, with about 4,500 square feet, would make a good bed-and-breakfast. He tried to sell the idea to others, but no one bit. Eventually he decided the opportunity was too good to pass up.
His father was a home improvement contractor, and McCallum has done a lot of work renovating properties around town, calling himself a “historic preservation developer.”
“I take properties no one else would touch. It’s what I like to do,” he said. “I had probably as much fun in the renovation process as I do in owning the inn.”
He enjoys working with older homes — they were often built with old growth wood and have strong bones and beautiful details like pocket doors, crown molding and wooden floors.
“The feel of them, the woodwork, the high ceilings, it’s just a different lifestyle,” he said.
STAY AT THE BURFORD HOUSE INN
What: Burford House Inn
Where: 113 S. Johnson St., Iowa City
Details and booking: (319) 430-1461, burfordhouseinn.com