Once Were School Days to Holiday Stays

Denise and Frank Kuss had a yearning for a different life from the typical suburban  cycle of work and busy city living.  Here is their  story  becoming  B&B owners of the old  Stanley Grammar School, now their Stanley Grammar Country House, Watervale, Clare Valley.

“I had worked for The Advertiser as a secretary for many years and my husband was a supervisor in the crane industry, but we each yearned for a tree change, to find a total change of lifestyle like the sitcoms on television.

We had no idea how we were goingto do it, so for years  we tried  to feel the vibrations of certain places.   We would pull into a small town and ask ourselves “is this the town? Or we would see a “for sale’ sign and ask ourselves  “is this the house? is this the building ?’’  We looked at old banks, caravan parks, retreats, old pubs and so on, but nothing sparked desire for us.

“One Saturday evening browsing through the newspaper real estate section I saw an historic Grammar School in the country advertised.   So without any real intent I looked  up the property on the internet.  From that moment, I couldn’t get the place out of my mind. There was an open inspection the next day and when I suggested we drive to see it, my husband, Frank, was not at all enthralled at the idea of driving 118 kms to see a property  we couldn’t afford. I said ‘I know we can’t buy it, I just want a little look’. He retorted  ‘woman you’re nuts and your “looks” can be dangerous’. However, I had an inkling and persisted until Frank agreed.

The next morning, Frank tried every trick to stall things. He shamelessly time-wasted – taking the long way to the petrol station, and then slowly cleaning every car window.  I was fuming, but jammed my lips shut to avoid an “argument” which could have stopped the trip.

My stomach was all knotted as we raced against the open inspection closing time and after 90 minutes on the road, we arrived at Watervale 15 minutes late.   As we turned into the street, there in the distance was this beautiful, old  two-storey Colonial building.  It had “history’’ written all over its 19th century stone walls.  Above the arched doorway was etched “Stanley Grammar School Established 1857”.  Our jaws dropped.  The grounds were over-run with sightseers and people  like ourselves, who were contemplating a dream. We were mesmerised with its structural beauty and the enormous opportunities it presented. It was for sale by tender.

Eagerly we walked into the entry foyer and my first thought was “I like this”, and with each step into the billiard room and then the grand classroom,  I knew I was in love.  “I want it!”.   In reality the empty building was very grand and we both knew in our hearts we could not afford it.  We were just Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs living in Adelaide, in a typical suburban house with regular jobs and here we were contemplating grand dreams to match the structure before us. Some miracle would have to occur to buy this place.   When tenders closed , the agent telephoned and said we had not put in a tender, but we said we couldn’t afford it. He suggesting we make an offer.    So we offered what we could afford – almost 100,000 less than the price the owner, a renowned heart surgeon, wanted.  He dropped the price and we edged up our offer.  It was nerve-wracking, but soon the property was ours.

We wanted the old Grammar School so much, and although the price we paid was unbelievable for the beautiful building, we would need to run it as a B&B to afford it.  And Frank had to keep his day job.  We had no B&B or hospitality experience,  just a background in lots of home  entertainment, accommodating friends on overnight stays.  We reasoned that home was rather like a hotel, a café or a restaurant anyway, feeding many people.  Now we would need to be paid for our accommodation.

Luckily, our Adelaide house sold within a week.   WE had renovated the whole house and had lived with dust, dirt, mess and countless renovating disputes with Frank for a long time. I only enjoyed living in the finished, renovated home for three months before we loaded up the cat Spidsey, Lucy our Kelpie dog, and all our belongings to start a new life as B&B hosts – inexperienced and filled with trepidation.

It took us one agonising year to obtain approval to operate a B&B from the local council and the State Government’s Heritage Department.

After four years, we still take such pleasure receiving guests staying  in any of  our five bedrooms, which are all decorated in my own elegant “shabby chic’’ style – a mix of antique, retro and contemporary furniture, furnishings and  special objets d’art.

For further information telephone  08 88430224 or www,oldstanleygrammar.com.au.




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