It was architectural love at first sight for Lois and Dean Humpal, who originally launched Decorah's iconic B&B on Broadway.
The beautiful old house at 305 W. Broadway seemed to them perfectly poised for a careful restoration and the B&B subsequently opened in 2005. Eleven years later, Matthew Nahan and Melissa Koch also fell in love with the place, not to mention the town of Decorah itself. And in August of 2016, on their very first visit to Decorah, the lifestyle change that had been beckoning them for years, suddenly began to take root right here in the Driftless.
Matthew and Melissa had wanted to leave the San Francisco Bay Area and their tech-based jobs for a slower lifestyle in a place where they would have easy access to hiking, canoeing, and wide open spaces. Combine those dreams with the urge to begin their own business and explore their other passions (children's nonfiction book writing for Melissa and developing outdoor adventure equipment for Matthew)-- and they'd found their next chapter. Of that day, Melissa remembers-- "We sat down outside the co-op with our bowls of delicious tomato soup on that August day and Matthew said, 'This may be the first day of the rest of our lives.' Translation: 'You had me at co-op.' The beautiful architecture, rivers, open spaces, open minds, music and arts, and great schools of Decorah sealed the deal."
Their inspiration for the B&B was drawn from a natural extension of the home itself and the Humpal family who had so lovingly cared for it. Both Melissa and Matthew like to cook and bake, Matthew can fix anything, and Melissa has experience running businesses. They share a belief in making what's old new and useful again and old houses specifically, are a shared passion. The couple is also committed to local and organic foods and deeply enjoys sharing their love for restoration and sustainability with B&B guests as well as the Decorah community. Matt and Melissa believe in the practice of being lighter, kinder stewards of the planet and when you visit the B&B, it shows. Getting the place off of the ground, however, wasn't without challenges. In order to fund their renovation plans, the couple decided that Matthew would keep his aerospace job. Melissa thought she could start a business with only a little help from Matthew, and then write full time. That's been challenging, however, as has been renovating while working three jobs and raising a child.
Still, Matt and Melissa aren't wavering in their Midwest dreams. They see Decorah as an amazing town and emphasize how happy they are to be here. They hope others see the possibility of a Decorah lifestyle in their own lives. According to these two-- "We need more communities like Decorah in Iowa and the nation."
This is the house that Hartvig Engbretson and Thea Peterson Engbretson built. They, along with many other early Iowans, were change-makers. In that spirit, the guest rooms are named after Iowa entrepreneurs and innovators. Melissa and Matthew may change the name of those rooms from time to time to highlight different innovators. Currently, the rooms are Noyce (Robert Noyce), Wilder (Rose and Laura Ingalls Wilder), Carver (George Washington Carver), Myers (Virginia Myers), and the Inspiration Suite.
When asked to describe their customers, Matt and Melissa write:
"Our customers are your relatives and friends who visit as well as people who just love Decorah! People tell us how much they love the B&B and our hospitality. One of the most meaningful was from a male guest who said this was the first B&B where he felt truly at home and comfortable. Matthew had that vision from the start. While women often love B&B’s, men often do not. They may feel that there are too many rules or things are too much like a museum where they'll get in trouble if they touch something or, heaven forbid, they break something. We wanted to have a B&B that feels like a beautiful, comfortable home for all."
Melissa and Matthew credit thinkers, innovators, and activists as their inspirations. Specifically David Sadker, a Courage & Renewal facilitator, author, and lecturer on eliminating gender bias in schools. They are also deeply inspired by the legacy of Mother Theresa. Of particular note for them is a poem that was etched into the walls of her home in Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.