Home & Garden

Mount Vernon's new bed and breakfast is designed for the LGBTQ+ community

Thistle's Summit a place to welcome all, owners say

MOUNT VERNON — Thistle’s Summit, 812 Summit Ave. SW, unexpectedly opened three weeks early.

Owners and partners Marti Payseur and Ash Bruxvoort intended to open their bed-and-breakfast — the first in the area designed for the LGBTQ+ community — on Aug. 22. After Kae Apothecary, 100 First St. W, listed Thistle’s Summit to their clients, the B&B began receiving a “wild” number of bookings and had to open Aug. 1.

“It’s good because we just had to jump in and do it,” Bruxvoort said.

She added that they originally aimed to have three bookings a month. Instead, they had three bookings within a week and have guests from across the country slated to stay well into 2020.

“We’re going to be more busy than we thought,” Payseur said with a laugh.

Payseur said she was starting to feel stuck in her career when she and Bruxvoort, who lived in Des Moines at the time, began talking about starting a B&B in Eastern Iowa. Bruxvoort had a garden that produced items Payseur was beginning to use in her cooking, which “became a source of joy in our relationship.”

Bruxvoort has since taken up the role of gardener and Payseur of chef at Thistle’s Summit, which they officially bought in August 2018.

“It’s a fulfilling way for me to honor Ash’s work,” Payseur added. “If gardening was easy, everyone would do it.”

The B&B is partly named after the couple’s three-year-old black lab Thistle, who the guests love, but Payseur added the name also symbolizes the B&B’s purpose and brand. Thistles are commonly viewed as an invasive plant that people want to get rid of, she said, and a summit can be defined as a meeting of heads of government, or minds. The name is a way of saying that queer people may feel out of place at times like thistles, she said, but Thistle’s Summit is a place for people to meet and evolve.

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“Some would like to eradicate queer people, but we like to have our rainbow flag outside,” Bruxvoort added.

Payseur and Bruxvoort said they’ve had some intimate, frank conversations with straight couples who have stayed at the B&B about what it’s like being a queer couple in Iowa. Some are surprised to hear that Iowa was the third state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage, Bruxvoort noted.

“We’ve had some really intense conversations at breakfast, sometimes before they’ve even had coffee,” she said.

Some of that conversation may include why the couple wanted to build a B&B for the LGBTQ+ community. When Bruxvoort and Payseur have previously traveled, they’ve had to say they were sisters because they didn’t feel safe saying they’re a couple. They’ve also been asking “if they were sure” they wanted one king bed instead of two separate ones.

“(Thistle’s Summit) is designed to not have that awkward barrier,” Payseur said.

Bruxvoort also noted the lack of accommodations that center around things queer people enjoy. In 2014, she traveled cross-country working on farms and had a hard time finding these activities. If they existed, she said, they were mostly geared toward gay men.

Recently, Payseur said, the hospitality industry has been taking steps toward making queer couples more comfortable. Once Marriott International announced a new diversity initiative, more big hotel chains began following suit. Airbnb also started featuring a box hosts can check saying they’re LGBTQ+ friendly.

“We thought, ‘Why can’t we have skin in this game?’ We’re certainly capable,” Payseur said. “There’s a difference between clicking a button and designing something specifically for this community.”

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The home they designed is covered in books and feminist artwork. The couple made many of the stands and shelves seen around the house, and the furniture was either pieces they already had or from a furniture store owned by Payseur’s grandfather.

Thistle’s Summit includes three rooms, each named for an important text by a queer author. Both Bruxvoort and Payseur were English majors at the University of Iowa and Drake University respectively.

The Rubyfruit Jungle room, named for Rita Mae Brown’s book, is full of bright colors and gives off a bohemian feel. An attached screened-in porch connects to the room that includes a hammock and overlooks the yard.

The other double room, which Payseur said could be a small, intimate space for couples, is called Martha’s Room after Audre Lorde’s coming out poem “Martha.”

The adjoining single room — called “a room of one’s own” after the work of Virginia Woolf — can either be rented with Martha’s Room or separately. The space was imagined to be for writers or other creatives, Payseur said, and it includes a chalkboard wall that guests can write or doodle on.

The B&B also includes a library and yoga studio as places for guests to unwind. Bruxvoort also offers astrology readings and teaches hula hooping tricks to those who want to learn.

The property includes a garden of “infinite possibilities,” Payseur said. They try to grow most of the food they need for breakfast, but anything else is sourced from local farmers. Since the couple also owns the woods behind the yard, she said the garden can continue to expand without the fear of a new development by the property.

In addition to breakfast, Payseur makes snacks for the guests. The sea salt chocolate chip cookies she leaves on pillows have developed a bit of a cult following, she joked.

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Payseur said the experience of starting Thistle’s Summit has already given the couple more than they expected, and people have really been valuing their message. People will believe in anyone who shows passion and puts their honest selves forward, she said.

“This is more than just a brand. This is how we navigate the world,” she said. “As divided as our state and country is, we’re still here.”

l Comments: kayli.reese@thegazette.com

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