What Makes a Perfect B&B?

You never know what you’re going to get when you book a bed and breakfast. I’ve had delightful experiences, where I stayed up late with the owners, drinking wine and swapping stories. And I’ve had bizarre visits, such as the time when I watched a cat walk across a table full of food — and the owner did nothing.

So I was a little apprehensive when my husband Don told me that he’d booked a night in a bed and breakfast during a trip we took last year to see his family in Iowa. To make matters weirder, he chose the Heavenly Habitat in Madison County, a church that the owners renovated into a inn. The potential for awkwardness seemed very high.

It turned out that our night at the Heavenly Habitat was one of the highlights of our four-day trip. That’s because the owner, Steve, did a few things right that all B&B owners should keep in mind:

Privacy: No one likes an in-your-face host. We arrived on a rainy Thursday night, carrying a pizza and beer that we had picked up at the local Casey’s (an Iowan equivalent to 7-11). We were tired, hungry and in no mood for chatter. Steve welcomed us into our wing of the church, showed us where the silverware and napkins were and then left us alone, without feeling the need to chitchat. Bliss.

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Appropriate decor: The last time we visited Don’s family in Iowa, we stayed at a B&B where the entire room — no lie — was covered in flowers. We’re talking flowers on the wallpaper, flowers on the bedspread, flowers on the carpet. It looked like a greenhouse had exploded.

The Heavenly Habitat had a few themes going on in its decor: Madison County bridges in the living room; roosters in the kitchen; churchy objects, such as a pew, here and there. But it never felt over the top or obnoxious.

Space to spread out: When Steve and his wife bought the church, they took one half — the chapel — as their own to live in. The entire second half, which included the fellowship hall, is available for guests. So we had our own kitchen, living room and bedroom. The inn only has two rooms, and we were the only ones there that night. It felt nice to have some space, without feeling like we were intruding in someone’s home.

A glorious breakfast: It doesn’t have to be fancy. But one of the pleasures of staying at a bed and breakfast is having someone else make your eggs — and when it’s done right, you can stay full through mid-afternoon.

An upbeat, informative host: We had not planned on going to Winterset’s John Wayne birthplace, but Steve talked us into it — and we found it a worthwhile stop. He also made sure that we had maps to find the Madison County bridges. We appreciated Steve’s upbeat attitude as well — a stark contrast to B&B managers we met in Sedona once who told us how much they hated running an inn.

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Now, the Heavenly Habitat wasn’t perfect. There wasn’t any Wi-Fi, for example (although the owner said they’d be adding it in the future). But I felt like we got a very good deal, as our room was only $80 (Monday through Thursdays; the price goes up to $100 on the weekends), especially when I saw our next hotel, the rather grim Days Inn in Atlantic, Iowa.

What do you think? What makes a perfect B&B?

— written by Chris Gray Faust

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at

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