Scott and Katie Runyan believe in doing things the right way the first time.
That’s why it took them several years to find the right piece of property for their vision.
And another year to plan and build the transportation and utilities infrastructure for the 26-acre parcel in Harpersfield Township.
Plus months to select floor plans, furnishings, décor and siting of the first two buildings, a three-unit villa and two-bedroom cottage.
“And we’ll from there,” says Scott of their plans for Vineyard Woods, a premiere couples’ retreat off Route 534, just north of Kosicek Vineyard. “It’s set up so everything is in place if we decide to build more.”
The 16 acres of woodlands could accommodate up to nine more of the storybook cottages, depending on the number of bedrooms in each one. Scott says they want to maintain privacy for each cottage, so even at maximum concentration, guests will have about 1.5 acres of woodland for their little slice of forested bliss.
A 10-acre buffer of vineyard separates the forest from the highway. The vineyard is planted in four varietals that inspire names for the three suites in the villa. Each suite has a view of the vines from a private patio/deck.
Two one-bedroom suites are on the first floor, while the lower level has a two-bedroom suite for couples or families traveling together. The design allows each couple to have their privacy.
“It was designed to get away from the hotel feel, even the bed and breakfast feel, where you have that shared area,” Scott says as we peek inside the construction project.
It will be another six weeks or so before the villa is completed. Meanwhile, the storybook cottage is nearing the point of occupancy; granite countertops slow progress in the kitchen, where Scott’s mother, Kathy, is cleaning. Scott and Katie says their families have assisted them on the project in so many ways — from Scott’s father, Al, helping cut down trees to his sister and brother-in-law, Heather and Jon Moon, helping select antiques for the guest rooms.
The project is Scott’s full-time job. He previously worked in the financial industry, but after 15 years was ready for a change. Currently, Katie was between teaching jobs. They started looking at entrepreneurship opportunities and decided tourism and lodging were a safe bet in Ashtabula County. Their inspiration for a project came from their weekend getaways to Hocking Hills and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“Every time we’d go there we’d think ‘This is exactly what our area needs,'” Scott says.
Scott grew up in Kingsville Township, Katie in North Kingsville, both of them close to Lake Erie. It was something they took for granted until they started going to Niagara-on-the-Lake and saw how that town made the most of its lakefront geography. Likewise, they saw how private cabin developments had transformed Hocking Hills from a day-trip to a weekend or week-long vacation destination. With Ashtabula County offering rural, lakefront and vineyard environments, the couple felt it was time to introduce a new option to the county’s lodging scene.
They began their search for the right piece of land about five years ago. “We looked at farms, places with woods, trying to find the right place for our vision,” Katie says. Scott estimates that they looked at two dozen or more properties before he walked the 26 acres in Harpersfield Township.
“I called her and said ‘This is it. This is what we’ve been looking for,'” Scott says.
They closed on the land sale in October 2015, then began working through the details of zoning, septic and access. Scott says they made the decision to invest in a 1,600-foot-long looping road through the cottages area and get all of the utility runs to future cabin sites in place during the initial phase of construction. While this approach inflated the cost of what is basically a five-bedroom lodging operation, it will minimize disruption to the landscape when future cottages are built while holding the line on construction costs.
While Scott and Katie had originally planned on doing cabins, they shifted their plan to a villa/cottages model in keeping with the area’s heritage. Scott says he probably looked at 400 floor plans before they came up with one that felt right. He and the family have been involved in every detail of the business, right down to the thread count of the sheets.
“There will be a lot of personal touches,” Scott says.
The 10-acre vineyard that is part of the property is managed by M Cellars and provides grapes for several area wineries. Scott says he will not be adding a winery to their lodging development.
“I really just want to focus on high-quality lodging and work with the local wineries rather than take business from them,” Scott says. “I’m going to do all I can to focus on being good at lodging.”
Vineyard Woods was recently opened for reservations, with bookings starting for mid-May. More information is online.
“There are already a lot of people coming out here, but I think there is a big opportunity for more lodging out here. I think this area can be a combination of Hocking Hills and Niagara-on-the-Lake. We just happen to be in the middle of it,” Scott says.