Good Life

Bed and breakfast brings international interest to Osceola Mills

A view of the Windbalm Bed and Breakfast guest bathroom in Osceola Mills.
A view of the Windbalm Bed and Breakfast guest bathroom in Osceola Mills.

The top floor of Windbalm Bed and Breakfast in Osceola Mills is proof that the right interior decorator can bring you the world at wholesale prices.

Many, if not most, of the fixtures here have been purchased secondhand at yard sales, scavenged and reassembled on site for maximum effect — which in this instance is “grandma’s house” with all of the warmth and none of the stodginess that may imply.

That all of these disparate lighting fixtures and end tables have folded so neatly together is another reminder never to underestimate the value of a unifying theme, even if that theme has been gently used.

Guests certainly don’t seem to mind.

“They say they feel at home here,” Gina Raymond, Windbalm’s proprietress, said.

Whether that has provided Raymond with an edge remains to be seen. It’s comfort, not character, that drives the hospitality industry, a mass-produced blandness with broad appeal and limited personality.

This of course flies in the face of what Raymond has learned in just more than a year as a semi-professional innkeeper.

“Everybody is different. Everybody has a story and comes for a different reason,” she said.

When Raymond herself arrived at the old house’s doorstep, it was because she didn’t have many other options. Severe health problems had prevented her from working a full-time job, a situation that was not conducive to any kind of living arrangement.

“I was worried about where I was going to sleep at night, that’s where I was at,” Raymond said.

She couch surfed with family and even lived for a while in her car, a two-door BMW that had seen better days, or at least warmer ones. After the heating system died, Raymond reached out to a friend for help and wound up living in a two-story house boasting views of a chicken coup and an apple orchard.

Eventually the house’s owner got married and moved out but offered to let Raymond stay — and pay rent.

At was at this point, a little more than a year ago, that she made her first post on Airbnb, an online marketplace where people can list or find accommodations located off the beaten path.

It was a whim really, a viable alternative to an extensive search for a full-time roommate that was single, female and pushing 40-something. All Raymond wanted was to break even, pay some bills and keep that nice roof that had landed oh so fortuitously over her head.

“Within three hours I had two reservations,” Raymond said.

Today, business is good — not booming, but not flat-lining either. Between the months of March and October, she had zero vacancies, which even to novice ears sounds more or less on mission.

A world map hanging in a hallway on the second-floor reinforces this notion. Pushpins stretch across the seven continents, a pointed reminder and point of origin for every guest international or domestic that has ever stayed at the small house in Osceola Mills.

In doing so, they have traded a mint on their pillow for a stay that is less a commodity and more of an experience, picking apples, making s’mores or just sitting in nature.

Still, for all of the added value of being able to meet the chicken that laid your breakfast, there’s no beating the simple pleasure of having some place to crash at the end of the night.

One of the pins on Raymond’s map is a stand-in for a man from Syria, a father to a Penn State freshman who was going through a difficult time.

The man searched for accommodations throughout town but couldn’t find a vacancy. He was planning on sleeping in his car when he discovered Windbalm on Airbnb.

Raymond gave that to him — because she knows what a night out of the cold can turn into.

“I’m paying bills and I have a place to live and that’s what I’m thankful for,” Raymond said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready