Carl Markus and Stephan Zweifler wear matching black and gray bowling shirts with red, oval “Inn at 425” patches sewn over their hearts. They’re relaxing with mugs of ginger honey tea and coffee, dogs at their feet, in the sunny conservatory of their bed-and-breakfast. Inn at 425 opened in April.
The couple bought the enormous Queen Anne at 425 Gladstone Blvd. 19 years ago because they liked the entryway, the only portion of the house that was intact. The 1888 woodwork and trim had been restored to its original sheen.
And though two other families had spent 12 years on restorations, Markus and Zweifler still found PVC pipes dangling from coat hangers and a view of the basement through a hole in the third floor.
“Day one when we moved in I realized there was not a shower in this house,” Markus says. The pair called Big Carl, Markus’ father, and, “We had a shower installed before the night was up.”
Zweifler adds, “Big Carl had garages full of tools and said, ‘Let me help you, we’ll do this together.’ ” In the almost two decades that followed, the work was always a team effort, either with Big Carl, a team of plumbers or general contractor Anthony Bartlomi, who continues to work with them.
The grand old house was built by Judge Stephen Twiss and his wife, Emeline Twiss, president of Ladies’ Mutual Loan and Investment, when Northeast Kansas City was the place to be. Almost from the start, the original structure was altered; by 1910 it held eleven apartments, and it steadily went downhill until the early 1980s.
The area along Independence Avenue went downhill, too. But it’s looking up. Zweifler says that recent crime statistics show the boulevard has a lower crime rate than Brookside.
Markus, an ambassador for the boulevard’s Community Improvement District, says, “We wanted to share our community with travelers. Make everyone aware that anyone can afford an old home in this area.” Zweifler quickly puts in, “… and share how wonderful the neighborhood is.”
The home, now fully restored, boasts an award-winning garden featuring a koi pond and café lighting. In January it’s a ghost of its magnificent self.
Speaking of ghosts, the inn also boasts its own ghost. Zweifler has spoken to and accidentally photographed Emeline. Markus is reassuring on the topic, “She only communicates with people who are willing to communicate with her.”
Zweifler, a retiree of the visual merchandising business, has channeled the past in his decorating schemes for the inn. Décor is far from modern, but older pieces are all like new and made to be used.
He explains, “We don’t live in a museum. We don’t want anything that’s so precious you can’t sit on it or touch it or use it.”
The most extraordinary piece is a chandelier in the dining room. Years ago, the two worked at Jacobson’s department store with Helga Szasz, Hungarian artist Frank Szasz’s widow. Zweifler says, “She came to dinner one night and said, ‘I have the perfect thing for your dining room.’ ”
He continues, “The reason the chandelier is so special is that it came from the Royal Opera House in Vienna. It dates to about 1890. It has 26 arms of Austrian crystal. It was originally a gas-burning chandelier, and sometime in the 1930s it was converted to electricity. When they were restoring the Opera House after the second world war they decided to remove all the Victorian additions and take it back to the 17th and 18th century.”
Markus raises his eyebrows and says, “Her husband bought it for her 40th birthday.”
The second story landing is a destination in itself with a stained glass bay window — their friend Liz Dorgan’s creation, copied from a magazine photo of a Tiffany. The centerpiece is a 3-foot-tall royal blue dragonfly.
All three guest rooms, which run $150 a night and up, are on the second floor, and guests have access to a self-serve beverage and snack station; another snack bar is in the conservatory and, in the summer, one is outside.
The Room With a View is the most contemporary, combining Victorian with a boutique-hotel style. The drapery was hand-sewn by Zweifler.
“Do you know what the word bespoked means? It’s a Victorian word that means made to order. If you can find a stitch in that…” he says, turning up the hem and chuckling. His design degree is from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
Emeline’s Room is decorated in antiques and lots of florals and has several black-and-white depictions of stern, prim ladies on the walls, none of whom is Emeline.
The Rose Room is a guest favorite for the screened porch that overlooks the garden’s fountain and pond. Each room has its own bath; the earliest adjoins the Rose Room and retains its original claw-foot bathtub.
As for breakfast, Markus is the chef. He queries guests about preferences but always serves what he calls a “Midwest hearty breakfast”: a meat, eggs, fresh fruit and juice, locally sourced from the Northeast farmers market when it’s open.
If guests stay more than three days he shakes it up a bit by serving coddled eggs, a Victorian breakfast dish that involves a special porcelain cup in which the eggs are both cooked and served. Zweifler points out, “People are fascinated that they’re in this Victorian house and eating a breakfast that the people who built the house might have eaten.”
Open for under a year, Inn at 425 has already attained bronze level on Trip Advisor and is ranked No. 2 of twelve Kansas City bed-and-breakfasts. Markus says that they exceeded their first business plan by 30 percent, and he’s “hoping we’ll do 20 percent over our projection for this year.”
On Feb. 6 Markus and Zweifler co-sponsored the Old House Expo at the Kansas City Museum. The keynote speaker, Bernice Radle, co-host of the show “American Rehab: Buffalo,” stayed at the inn.