Last weekend, David and Virginia Nissenson welcomed their first guests to Elmwood House, which they have spent the past year renovating from the bottom up. Meaning they and their daughter, Xanat, worked every weekend except for a short break to avoid burnout.
"We arrived on Friday night and left late on Sunday," David said.
David and Virginia, who live in Cave Springs, Ark., have been eyeing the house since 2008, he said, when they walked past it and saw the 'for sale' sign out. Virginia is a property manager in the Bentonville/Springdale area. David worked for 15 years as sales manager for Wrigley -- he opened the Mexico City plant and was the international sales manager -- then as a vendor to Walmart for M & M Mars, which bought Wrigley.
Xanat, who is 16, was 15 when they bought the house. She gave up weekends with friends to sand, paint and fetch. David, who worked summer construction jobs in school, did everything except the masonry and structural work on the balconies. One of the biggest jobs -- cutting and hand-lathing more than 300 spindles in the balcony railings to match the originals, a job that took four months, he said. The work as a whole was almost overwhelming at first, he said.
"You have to start somewhere," he said. "You get to the point where you could just replace everything, but you learn to prioritize. You decide what to rebuild and what to replace."
He also pulled out the water heaters, replacing them with on-demand units, and removed and replaced plumbing fixtures, flooring and subflooring, including retiling the entry hall. Beams that that could be salvaged were reused, the rotten ends cut off, he said. All the lighting fixtures are Tiffany-style reproductions, and he and Virginia tried to find furnishings from the 1880s and 90s. The new owners kept the names of the suites given by previous owners -- Catherine's Suite, Margaret's Parlor, Annie's Place.
Last weekend, David started removing overgrowth from a retaining wall that he didn't know existed until he saw it in an old photo. Still to be discovered is the entrance to a storeroom that can be seen through a window in a closet off the hall.
The couple has also renovated the lobby/gift shop on the main floor, and plan to sell coffee and pastries, a business David has roots in t -- his grandparents started California Doughnuts, at one time a 52-store chain. When he was a senior in high school, his family moved to Hollywood Hills, where his father, Ronald Nissenson, established a homeopathy practice in their home -- Lucille Ball was one of his patients -- and also used to play backgammon with his father, David said. David has lived in San Diego, Riverside, California, Mexico City and Chicago before moving to Arkansas six years ago.
A Civil War lieutenant, Elwood moved to Eureka Springs in the 1880s, the name of the house he built changing by popular usage to Elmwood over the years, David said. Being brick, it survived all three fires, and was built well -- the corners are square to within 1/16th of an inch, better than modern construction.
Elmwood House 1886 Bed and Breakfast is located at 110 Spring Street. Children ARE allowed in main floor suite, which also accommodates pets on the balcony. For reservations, go to www.elmwoodhouse1886.com.