Lois Fox’s transformation from executive to B&B owner began 20 years ago, over a glass of wine in Santa Ynez.
Fox was enjoying an afternoon of wine tasting with family when the subject arose: What would you do for a living if it weren’t about the money?“Everyone had an answer except for me,” Fox recalled.
Her sister suggested that, with her penchant for decorating, cooking and entertaining, she might be harboring an aptitude for inn keeping. Fox returned to her life as an executive vice president for a community management company in Orange County. But the suggestion planted a seed that would germinate six years later when Fox and husband Ron Boehner were traveling to Monterey and spent a night in Paso Robles. On a whim, they decided to look at a hilly, 40-acre lot for sale off of Peachy Canyon Road.
“It was about twice the size we were looking for, but a bed and breakfast needs ambiance,” she said. “When we saw the view, it was one of the few times in my life where I absolutely knew it was right.”
The property is dotted with oaks and overlooks vineyards, including land originally owned by famed pianist and vintner Ignace Jan Paderewski. The couple purchased the lot and Fox began to dream up a vision of a restful, wine country retreat.
“Back then, nobody was doing Tuscan — B&Bs were all Victorian,” she said, “I wanted a little bit of a villa feel, but more like a big Italian farmhouse with a little bit of flair. Not over-the-top fancy.”
She and Boehner worked with architect Jeff Schneidereit to put their vision on paper, and then general contractor Joseph Mac Gregor to make it a reality.
Five months after breaking ground, things took a tragic turn. Boehner was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor and a subsequent surgery caused a stroke. During his remaining year, he was limited to a wheelchair, but was able to witness some of the construction. He passed away in February 2007.
“I never even considered stopping,” said Fox. “It was actually good therapy — it kept me extremely busy.”
Still working her corporate job, Fox traveled each weekend to Paso Robles to oversee construction, get hands-on with the finish work, and head up the interior decorating. She faux painted several rooms, laid tile in an upstairs balcony, and hand-selected every fixture and finish material.
“I did things I never thought I would do,” she said. “Working with something on this scale, it’s very humbling. I realized you had to stay focused.”
To keep herself on course, she named each of the seven guest rooms after a different wine region: Italy, Spain, South Africa, Chile, France, Australia and, of course, Paso Robles.
The France room, for instance, is decorated with French provincial furniture and miniature chandeliers instead of bedside lamps. The South Africa room has a safari feel with animal prints and bed canopies that resemble mosquito netting. The Paso Robles room features shabby chic vintage furniture, quilts and beadboard wainscoting in the bathroom.Color was an important foundation for each room.
“When you watch HGTV, there are no white walls in those homes,” she observed.
She used magazines for color inspiration. Then, in a trial-and-error process, she purchased quarts of paint for each room, brushing on large swatches before choosing the final color.
Fox watched television design shows religiously, toured model homes, and read home design magazines for ideas. From a Home and Garden Television show, she learned how to make fabric-covered headboards. A magazine gave her the idea to add pizzazz to bathroom floors with contrasting tile borders.
Some decorating ideas were entirely her own. She came up with the concept of creating inexpensive but impressive-looking bathroom vanities with parts purchased from a builder’s supply store. She is also handy with a sewing machine and created curtains for four of the rooms.
Fox made sure that the inn paid tribute to the memory of her late husband. The inner courtyard was an idea he had picked up on a trip to Italy — an ideal solution for protecting guests from afternoon winds. He also had requested that their private bedroom be tropical in theme. Fox complied, using the room as a showcase for many of the couple’s favorite travel mementos.
The inn, named Belvino Viaggio, which is Italian for “beautiful wine journey,” welcomed its first guests in April 2008, after a one-week decorating marathon that Fox pulled off with the help of friends and family.
Just over a year later, Fox decided to enroll in dating website match.com. It was here that she met widower Mark Wilson of Madera. After a nine-month courtship, Wilson proposed last August and moved to Paso Robles to help her run the inn.
Operating a bed and breakfast is harder work than Fox anticipated. However, she has is delighted to finally have a definitive answer to the question posed two decades ago.
“If feels like I’m getting paid for having fun,” she said. “It’s better than I ever thought it would be.”