Throughout their 16-year marriage, Ivana and John Newman have travelled the world, from Germany to Hungary and annually to Ivana’s native Italy. But their latest adventure is just beginning in their hometown of seven years as this summer they welcomed their first guests to their Bellport Inn.
The couple learned of the historic home and property over drinks with a friend who happened to be the property’s listing agent.
“We weren’t really looking for an inn,” Ivana said, sitting in the sun-soaked dining room of her new endeavor. “We were curious, and to think we didn’t even know it was here. As soon as we saw it we came to see it, we went home and we registered the domain.”
“We’ve always wanted to start a business together,” John said, sitting across the oval table from Ivana. “We each have our own careers, but we love to travel and everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve kind of fallen in love with some aspect of the travel experience.”
The inn’s location at 160 South Country Road adjacent to the downtown village and a half a mile from Bellport Bay enticed the couple. “It’s a really walkable town, and that’s one of the nice things about this property,” John said. “It’s the first residential kind of house next to the village itself. Having a certificate of occupancy as an inn, this is a great opportunity for us.”
They spent the spring painting, renovating and preparing for their first official guests, who arrived for their stay in the garden suite in late June, while continuing to work their careers, Ivana, 46, in real estate and John, 47, in architecture.
While it has been hard work, Ivana and John believe things will get easier once their updates are complete.
John said the short-term rental industry boom through companies like Airbnb has spawned technological advancements that will allow them to run their inn without being there in person all hours.
Guests can book stays online and will be sent access codes for the numbered keypads on their designated entryways. Instead of checking guests in or out and handling keys, John says he and Ivana will be free to balance time between their business, their careers and their two children, aged 8 and 13.
A brief tour
The Bellport Inn sleeps 21 people in total. While they will rent each room individually in the fall, the couple, for now, is renting three distinct sections of the property, ideal for them as rental rookies and for families and groups of friends looking for a summer getaway.
The first is the two-story main house, which sleeps nine guests and comes complete with a commercial kitchen and a dining room. The second is the garden suite at the back of the house, which sleeps six and has a kitchenette. As the name suggests, it has its own entryway through the garden.
At the back of the property is the cottage. Detached from the main house, it sleeps 6 and has a full new kitchen.
The outdoor brick patio has enough seating arrangements for guests of all three dwellings hoping to enjoy the fresh air. A pair of natural wood-tone Adirondack chairs sporting the inn’s logo graces the garden suite entryway.
The umbrellaed table and chairs as well as the couch share a blue and white color scheme seen in many rooms throughout the property and even matches the scarf draped over Ivana’s shoulders.
A trio of blue bikes are parked against the main house which guests are welcome to ride into the village.
The gardens, curated by Oz Jardim, have plenty of greenery and flowers. “Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll have our own wine,” John chuckled, pointing to the buds of a grapevine interwoven through the gazebo’s wooden slats.
Next to the cottage are new wooden outdoor showers amidst stories-high bamboo. “Who wouldn’t want to take a shower in the bamboo?” Ivanna asked, looking at the clear sky, as John tugged on a low-hanging branch.
“It’s like a little journey.”
The couple began work on the inn with a vision quite different from the fruits of their labor.
“Our home is modern and that’s kind of our aesthetic,” John said, standing in the doorway of a second-floor children’s bedroom. “So we approached it through the lens of our own wishes and design pallet.”
But after working on the property for a few days and learning more about its history in the village, he says they decided to change direction. “We need to embrace what this is and not try and project our own vision on it.”
This meant keeping all of the furniture and furnishings that came with the property, like the bar Ivana said she learned has floated from room to room over the past century and a half, and the piano waiting to fill the living room with music.
Some things, however, required an update, like the dining room cabinet they painted blue and the bathrooms they renovated.
The benches throughout the inn encapsulate Ivana and John’s balancing act of preservation and restoration. “I went to go undo the cushion and you could see that it had been covered in different fabrics six times over the years cause it’s just been here,” Ivana said. Instead of removing it, she decided to add a seventh layer, blue leather, and keep the history intact for the next owner. “It’s neat,” she said. “It’s like a little journey.”
Antiques adorn walls throughout the house and the cottage, from fishing exposition buttons to bowling trophies, and old barometers and thermometers to a porthole mirror, all of which were either on the property or sourced from the village.
“We just sort of hit a goldmine of really interesting artifacts that were in keeping with the character of the place,” John said.
Inside and out, the Bellport Inn is teeming with contributions from people in the village.
The photographs and artwork hanging on the walls are the work of local artists. A retired lobster fisherman donated buoys now strung to the inn’s siding. Villagers who stopped by the property gave the couple old furniture pieces and storage chests they felt could find a home at the inn.
The business duo also reached out to various friends and local business owners for their services. They sought locals like Donna Clarke who designed the inn’s logo, Michele Chiaramonte who engraved that logo onto Adirondack chairs she built for the inn, and Merilyn Konnerth, whose Utopia Bath makes the inn’s soaps.
Ivana and John said people have popped into the inn to share their memories of the place that over the course of its history was a dance studio, a destination for weddings and the Great South Bay Inn.
“The people who have grown up here, everyone has a story about something that happened here,” John said. “It’s been a place that’s been part of the community for such a long time. We really wanted to keep it that way and hence the reason for trying to find anything that we need, we felt we could source from this town.”
“We’re just really honored,” Ivana said “We feel like the next shepherds of the place. It doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to all of Bellport.”