The Historic Durham House Inn Bed & Breakfast
By Jordan Venema
Night, Night. Sleep Tight
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Paula Schultz
A B&B is a B&B is a B&B, right? If it’s got a bed and there’s breakfast involved, just about any four walls and roof can pass for a bed and breakfast these days, and as anybody who has traveled the length and width of this great state knows: B&Bs are a dime a dozen.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, a house with historic appeal and period charm, you don’t need to sift through the chaff or drive too many miles to find a truly beautiful home, a living relic replete with all the hospitality and comfort belonging to its era. You’ll find it less than 90 minutes south of Redding at the Durham House Inn.
California Assemblyman W. W. Durham and wife Minnie Van Ness, daughter of San Francisco Mayor James Van Ness, built the Victorian Italianate in 1874. In its heyday, the house likely hosted parties that even Jay Gatsby would have envied, but by the time James and Cheryl Fuhring came across the house, it practically lay in ruins.
“Probably about 16 years ago, we were living in and restoring a big house called Snowball Mansion in Knights Landing,” Fuhring clarifies, when he came across a sale listing for Durham House in Old House Journal. Their daughter then attended Chico State University, “and since it’s right next to Chico, we drove up to take a look.”
“It was in tear-down condition,” says James Fuhring, who bought the Durham House about 10 years ago – more than 100 years after it was built.
“The house was in such horrible condition,” he continues, explaining how the parcel’s original 440 acres had dwindled to its last 13. In the 1990s, a developer bought the home from the Wheelock family, who had bought the house at auction in 1938, after the son of W.W. Durham lost the property to the bank. That developer planned to further parcel the property, using 11.5 of the remaining 13 acres to develop Victorian-inspired houses. The county agreed under the condition the exterior of Durham House was restored.
By the time the Fuhrings saw the house, it was sitting on its last 1.5 acres, and though the exterior had been restored, the interior was, well, not something you’d want to sleep in, let alone turn into a B&B.
“Definitely not,” Fuhring says with a laugh, “though I really liked the floor plan, and it had a lot of possibilities.” As fortune would have it, about five years later, the house went on the market again, “and whoever bought it when the developer sold it had done the inside.” This time, the Fuhrings pulled the trigger. They sold Snowball Mansion and purchased Durham House, becoming its fifth owners.
Though they didn’t initially transform the Durham House into an inn, it was probably a foregone conclusion. They’d already owned historic homes both in San Jose and Knights Landing, which they had transformed into B&Bs.
“We spent our whole lives collecting Victorian pieces,” adds Fuhring, “so we already had all the furniture.” But their interest in period furniture (and homes), Fuhring says, “almost started by accident.”
When the couple married in their 20s, James enjoyed making furniture as a hobby, until “I just happened on an antique store and the quality of the furniture and the price – I couldn’t make it for what they were selling it for.” So, Fuhring began collecting and restoring quality pieces from yard sales, antique stores, you name it.
By the time the Fuhrings moved into Durham House, they already had the furniture to recreate an authentic atmosphere. “Everything in the house was either made in the 1870s or 1880s,” says Fuhring.
From ornately carved bed stands and dressers to finely printed wallpapers and historic prints, the Durham House Inn is a portrait in itself. Every bedroom has its own porch facing separate directions, and no room shares a common wall. A collection of Maxwell Parish prints can be found in every room.
“We have some historic furniture, too,” adds Fuhring. “We have a dining room table and a server that actually belonged to the widow of John Brown the abolitionists from the civil war.”
Durham certainly has an old-era authenticity, but the hospitality and service are as fresh as the hand-squeezed orange juice they serve mornings – made from oranges grown right on the property. Both Fuhrings operate the Inn, though Cheryl handles the breakfast. The house itself, says Fuhring, “there’s a feel about it. If you really like old houses, there’s just a feel that can’t be duplicated.”
Durham House Inn
2280 Durham-Dayton Highway, Durham
530-342-5900 • www.durhamhouseinn.com