Isabel's House owners eye carriage house office/rental space

Steve Nauta and Jan Esh, the owners of Isabel’s House in Spring Lake, hope to rebuild the on-site carriage house and transform it into office space on the first floor and short-term vacation rental space on the upper story.

The owners of Isabel’s House plan to rebuild an original carriage house on their property at 107 S. Division St. and use it for office and short-term rental residential space.

Husband and wife Steve Nauta and Jan Esh have owned the old house since 2001. They said they will expand their counseling offices to the first floor of the 25-by-35-foot carriage house behind Isabel’s House.

“We’ll have three offices downstairs,” Esh said. “They’ll be therapy offices just like at Isabel’s House. We have a couple of therapists working part time who want their own offices.”

Upstairs, Nauta and Esh plan to offer a short-term residential rental to be advertised on the Airbnb website.

The original carriage house that was part of the Bilz homestead, built in 1872, was damaged in a storm. The home was owned by the Bilz family and was named Isabel’s House after Isabel Bilz, who lived in the home until the 1990s when she moved into a care facility.

The original two-story carriage house lost its second story during a windstorm. Esh and Nauta plan to rebuild a similar structure with colors matching Isabel’s House. Tall windows and flower boxes are part of the plan.

“Isabel Bilz was the one who loved this house so much,” Esh said. “She lived here from the time she got married until almost the time she died. She got the home on the federal, state and local historic registers. She really loved the house, but didn’t have the energy or money to fix it up at the end.”

When Nauta and Esh purchased it in 2001, Esh said “the bones were good but everything else was bad. We kept the downstairs very much like it was with the original woodwork, windows and stairwell. We redid the whole upstairs.”

The couple have lived in the upstairs since purchasing the historic home.

“We feel like this house is part of the community because it’s such an old house and so many people knew (Isabel),” Esh said. “She was a teacher and librarian. She had a card club and played the organ. She did everything in the community. People come up to us all the time and say, ‘We knew Isabel.’”

That’s why they named the home Isabel’s House.

“We wanted to have a little sense of history,” Esh said.

Esh said the plans also include a copula on top of the roof “to make it look like a carriage house and a covered area where you can drop people off at the door.”

She said if ever she and her husband sell Isabel’s House, they would consider keeping the carriage house as a future residence.

“We want to keep all of our options open,” she said. “Whatever we do, it’s going to be cute.”

Last summer, developer Kim Van Kampen relocated the historic Lilley Mansion from Savidge Street to the lot immediately south of Isabel’s House. The structure is expected to open next year as the Lilley Mansion Bed & Breakfast.

“We think with the Lilley Mansion going in, we think this goes well,” Esh said of the Isabel’s House plans.

The Village Council has given tentative approval of the project, according to Village Manager Chris Burns.

“The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to council for rezoning,” Burns said.

The council is expected to give final approval at its December meeting.

“They will have to go through the process of being approved for the AirbnB, but I don’t see any stumbling blocks for them,” Burns said. “As a former council member and current planning commissioner, Steve (Nauta) is well-versed in how the application process works and needs very little guidance in that regard.”

Burns said she’s excited about the project.

“The village has been on seemingly every developer’s radar since Epicurean Village launched,” Burns said. “I speak or meet weekly with developers who want to be part of this resurrection. The Nauta’s project will be a great addition to our downtown as it will undoubtedly be a destination for visitors, especially during the summer months.”

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