By Maura Keller | Photography by Holly Leitner
There is no question — today’s American family is seeking a different kind of vacation rental. A cabin or lake home is no longer just a place to store your clothes, throw some meat on the barbecue or head out swimming. Modern vacation rentals need to transport guests to an entirely different mindset. Because of this, the most popular vacation rentals are usually teeming with character and aim to meet the eclectic needs of couples and families who are looking to get away from it all, in a “home away from home” atmosphere. And that’s exactly what At the Lake Digital Editor Holly Leitner-Marquis and her husband, Sean Marquis, have created with their unique vacation rental homes in the heart of Williams Bay.
When Holly first stumbled upon the Bay Chalet, a delightful log cabin built in the 1970s, with a towering, two-story vaulted living room and lofted second bedroom, she knew that it was exactly what she was looking for in a home for herself. With its rustic charm, surrounded by giant pines and a mere one mile from the Williams Bay Beach, the home stole Holly’s heart, and she made an offer during the Christmas season. “I couldn’t stop dreaming about the potential,” she says. “The Bay Chalet needed some sprucing up and TLC. I love a good project so I immediately got to work on updating the house.”
Out went the tired bronze and red brick fireplace, replaced instead with a stunning, floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace that anchors the two-story great room. “It really pulls you in as you enter the house, creating that ‘up-north’ feel,” Holly says. She also built a new kitchen island; updated the lighting fixtures, faucets and outdoor fixtures; and replaced exterior doors. Today, Holly and Sean continue to complete many of the maintenance projects themselves, but often turn to local carpenters, electricians and plumbers for additional help. “Log cabins are a lot of maintenance — every couple of years things need to be stained and treated,” she says.
So how long did it take before Holly decided to transition the Bay Chalet from her private home to a vacation rental? “I lived in the house for two years before I transformed it into a vacation rental,” she explains. After she met Sean and they moved into a home they found together, they decided to rent out the Bay Chalet — adding beds and upgrading finishes to accommodate a high-traffic environment.
Holly had already owned another vacation rental located in downtown Williams Bay, so she knew the specific features that would be most appealing to vacationers. As she explains it, the home fit the bill perfectly: it has charm and character; it’s cozy but boasts enough space for couples or small families; it’s private and quiet,yet close to town; and most importantly, it’s located in an area with the proper zoning to comply with local laws regarding vacation rentals.
In order to obtain the necessary vacation rental permits, Holly and Sean had to first file the proper paperwork with the county and then consult the Town of Delavan about the local laws pertaining to vacation rentals. A state inspector came through the home to evaluate the property and ensure compliance with health and safety standards. Once these terms were met, the couple had to apply for a state permit, which they reneweveryyear.
In fact, the Bay Chalet property supports two vacation rentals. “When I bought the home, it also had a rundown ‘guest cottage’ on the property that I updated by turning it into a separate, beautiful tiny-house vacation rental,” Holly explains. Called the “Tiny Bay House,” this structure complements the Bay Chalet and features a separate yard. “It holds its own feel and style,” she says. “Sometimes people book both properties when they want to have family get-togethers but in separate living quarters.”
In the Bay Chalet, Holly has embraced a Northwoods design style, with rustic-yet-elegant details throughout — from modern black fixtures to varying shades of wood accents to a wealth of natural elements, including stone. “I want it to feel cozy while also feeling a little elevated in style,” she explains.
“Think salt-light candles, plaid blankets, ceramic mugs and nature-themed artwork. Decorating is like a puzzle, and I like to play with the pieces until it’s just right. I don’t like log cabins that feel too kitschy and overly decorated. Less is more.”
Both Holly and Sean maintain full-time careers, so their vacation rentals are a fun and rewarding side business.
“Sean is very involved with the maintenance,” she explains. “He’s great at woodworking projects and fixing things.” Holly is involved with guest relations, marketing, décor, online listings and bookkeeping.
She’s also quick to point out that this is a hospitality business above all, so the guests’ enjoyment is the number-one priority. “It really helps if you’re handy and able to make a considerable time commitment because there are always things to [do for] upkeep and questions to answer about the rental property,” Holly says. “Sean and I are both very actively involved in it and thankfully we make a good team. Our primary home is in Lake Geneva and I’m a fourth-generation family member of this lake community. It truly feels very special to be able to share our love of this area with our guests.”
How to Get the Look
Creating an “elevated Northwoods” vacation feel is the cornerstone of Leitner-Marquis’ vision for the Bay
Chalet in Williams Bay. “I wanted the Chalet to be the kind of place that people can’t wait to return to year after year,” she says.
To get that classic look, the cabin boasts plush leather couches, over-stuffed plaid pillows, unpainted wood finishes, a towering stone fireplace and nature-inspired accents.
The rental also offers guests plenty of classic diversions: board games, card games, floor checkers and a record player, as well as modern-day amenities like cozy beds, smart TVs, state-of-the-art appliances, high-speed WiFi and central air conditioning in the summer. Outside, a propane fire pit table encourages guests to enjoy the gorgeous, wooded setting.
As the Bay Chalet demonstrates, you don’t have to move to the wilderness to get that log cabin vibe in your own home. The right choice of flooring, wall treatments and furniture can set the tone of any space. Select warm, cozy finishes including natural hardwoods, stone accents and rugged-yet-inviting furniture, such
as rich, dark leather pieces. And remember, accent pieces including rustic antiques, plaid-wool blankets, plush rugs, wrought-iron lamps and nature-and wildlife-inspired artwork are easy details that can enhance the rustic look you’re craving.