One of Napa’s longtime bed and breakfast inns has pulled back the curtain on a 20-month, multi-million dollar renovation.
And what a reveal it is.
Sparkling chandeliers, plush couches and chairs, new linens and draperies, soaking tubs, walk-in showers, a showcase kitchen, outdoor gathering space, original art and golden accents are just a few of the “luxury” touches that the McClelland House inn now offers overnight guests.
“It’s been a labor of love,” said partner and innkeeper Choolwe Kalulu.
In 2019, longtime owner Celeste Carducci-Ahnfeldt sold the downtown mansion, previously known as the McClelland-Priest Bed and Breakfast inn.
Listed at $3.995 million, the B&B sold for $3.273 million. The 1878-79 Victorian-Italianate mansion, at 569 Randolph St., has operated as a B&B since 1991. It was originally named after its first two owners.
Since then, Kalulu said they’ve invested “way more than $1 million” into the property, including an earthquake retrofit, adding a basement, an elevator, an additional suite, a new kitchen and more. There are six suites total.
“This property was very iconic to us,” he said when asked what drew them to the mansion.
“You cannot replicate a property like this,” said Kalulu, citing the home’s architecture, history and downtown location. “We really value the history. We thought it had a very unique story to tell.”
And with downtown Napa growing as it has, “We felt this was the best time to do this; to ride on this wave.”
In addition, the owners felt the Napa area could accommodate an inn that is both very luxurious “but also approachable (and) very Napa-like.”
“We’re not selling rooms per se, we’re selling an experience,” he said.
In 2019, the inn's new owners had been operating as is for several months when COVID-19 hit. For lack of a better word, the pandemic came at the “right” time, Kalulu said. He and his partners had already planned a renovation, and now they had the opportunity.
“We loved the property for what it was but it was Celeste’s vision,” Kalulu said. “We just needed it to have our identity and stamp on it,” while still respecting the historical nature of the home, he said.
Of course, “That drove the cost up,” he admitted.
Along the way, there were other surprises.
“We found some old medicine vials from the 1800s underneath the stairs. We found a bottle of Robert Mondavi wine from when they were just starting out.” They also found out “that we used to have a well on the property,” inside the former garage/carriage house.
Actually, “The surprise was that we managed to achieve the vision which was to create a warm place that didn’t feel like Grandma’s house.”
Kalulu oversaw the renovation, which covered from top to bottom, literally, he said.
Originally from Zambia, Kalulu came to the U.S. to attend Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. For a time, he worked as a private pilot. Later, he worked at an inn in San Francisco where “I just fell in love with hospitality,” said Kalulu.
After meeting a woman from the area, in 2004 he moved to Napa. Today, Kalulu keeps his eyes on the inn 24/7: he lives next door to the mansion. He also works at Napa Valley College as an IT specialist.
The McClelland House “is not your typical anonymous hotel,” he said.
The goal is to create “a unique experience,” by offering upscale amenities but also services such as a 24-hour concierge, luxury vehicle on call, electric bikes and free mini-bar items. Culinary and wine experiences are another key ingredient.
Yes, “Sometimes it’s not economical for us, but we’ve found out that when we go all out, it somehow comes back.”
“We knew this concept would work.”
So far, he’s right.
“The weekends are super busy — a full house every weekend,” said Giselle Luce, the hotel general manager. “The weekdays are lower, which is normal for a small inn.”
Luce said rates currently range from $499 to $989, depending on length of stay and day of the week.
To compare, according to hotel data service STR, the average rate for a Napa County lodging room in August was $462.76.
Rates at The George, another historical home also remodeled into a luxury inn, range from $375 to $825, depending on length of stay and day of week, according to its website.
Where are guests at the McClelland House coming from?
Before the pandemic, “it was a mix,” of visitors from Europe, the east coast and elsewhere, said the innkeeper.
Today, many are coming from the Bay Area, such as San Francisco. After the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, “I think they just want to get out,” he said.
How does it feel to finally open the renovation for guests?
“It’s a huge relief but now it’s mostly the anxiety of making sure we live up to the dream of rebranding,” said Kalulu.
Former innkeeper Carducci-Ahnfeldt said from the photos she’s seen of the renovation, “They’ve done a phenomenal job.”
She especially noted the work in the kitchen.
“I’m happy,” said Carducci-Ahnfeldt, who now lives in Bozeman, Montana but travels to Napa about once a month.
“It went into very good hands that could definitely put more money into it and take it to the next level,” she said.