A Stylish Sojourn

Sharon and Butch Isselhardt combine small town comfort and European aesthetic at
their Franklin bed-and-breakfast

By Jon Shoulders | Photography by Josh Marshall

In 1937, members of the state Legislature designated “The Crossroads of America” as the state’s official motto, intending to emphasize Indiana’s location as a travel hub with major highways, railroads and waterways within its borders.

Since opening the doors to their Main Street Franklin bed-and-breakfast in late September 2012, Sharon and Warren “Butch” Isselhardt have come to appreciate firsthand why Hoosiers have boasted such an appellation proudly for more than 75 years.

“Since we’re right in the middle of the country, a lot of people choose us as they’re traveling from one end of the country to another,” Sharon says. “We’re starting to get a lot of business travel and people just traveling and sightseeing across the United States. We even had people from England and Sweden stay here as they were driving through the country.”

The Flying Frog Bed & Breakfast, named after a colorful frog sculpture hanging at the end of the first floor hallway that the Isselhardts purchased during a trip to New Orleans, offers guests a choice of four European-themed rooms decorated in celebration of countries the couple have visited throughout their 22 years of marriage.

Sharon, 65, and Butch, 62, purchased the five-bedroom, 5,600-square-foot building in May 2011 and undertook a number of renovations over the next 16 months, including new roofing, plumbing and electrical wiring. “Structurally we didn’t have to do much except add a short wall upstairs just outside the Provence Room, which is the smallest guest room, but we had to bring some things up to code like the wiring, and the entire house got repainted,” Butch says. “All the updating was a little bit of a pain to go through, but now it’s behind us, and it was worth it.”

Built in 1875 as a single family home, the Italianate-style building was converted into several apartments in the early 20th century for use as a boarding house for wealthy widows. According to Sharon, the building’s second owner constructed a Southern plantation-style front porch and railed balcony, which she says have become preferred relaxation spots for her guests. “The balcony had indoor-outdoor carpeting when we bought it, and Butch was down on his hands and knees for a while taking that off,” Sharon says, adding that she and Butch decorated and repainted the entire interior of the building themselves. “We had the wood underneath redone and deliberately made it look imperfect so it looked old and had character.”

Alison Cardwell-Noakes, a paramedic from Australia who found The Flying Frog during an Internet search, chose the establishment for a two-night stay during a month-long U.S. travel vacation with her husband. “As soon as I saw a photo of Sharon and Butch’s house, I knew I wanted to stay there,” she says. “To me it was the quintessential all-American house with the weatherboarding, New Orleans-style balcony and a big red door.”

The Isselhardts added distinctive decorative touches to each of their four guest rooms, all located on the building’s second floor and each with its own bathroom. The French-inspired Provence Room features old crates for end tables, wicker furniture and a headboard made from a louvered door that the couple discovered after moving in. “A former owner had taken down solid wood doors and put these up as bedroom doors instead because they had some children with autism,” Sharon says. “They put louvered doors up so they could get to the kids if they needed to.”

Pernilla’s Room, named after a friend the Isselhardts met while living in Sweden for a year in the early 1990s, is fitted with authentic Swedish antique furniture and a mid-century cabinet repurposed as a bathroom vanity. “We added some nice bathroom touches in each room, like vessel sinks and unique faucet parts,” Butch says. “The faucet in the Giovanni Room cost more than the tub itself.”

To approximate the look of worn, plastered bedroom walls for the Tuscan-inspired Giovanni Room, Sharon stripped off multiple layers of wallpaper from previous building owners and left various edges, cracks and holes exposed. She then added several coats of golden-orange paint and finished with a coat of polyurethane. “It was the most fun room to do, but it was hard work,” she says, adding that the room’s king-sized canopy bed is a guest favorite.

“French and Italian is definitely a style we like, and people always say the place looks very European even though a lot of the pieces and décor are purchases from local places,” Sharon says. “We just have an eye for European-inspired pieces and go to a lot of local auctions and vintage market type places.” The 1940s Paris Room, adorned with red walls, a wrought-iron king bed and black-and-white movie photos, is popular for birthdays, wedding nights, anniversaries and girls getaways.

In the upstairs common room, guests can enjoy after-dinner coffee, tea, soft drinks and desserts prepared fresh daily by Sharon, and can peruse a large collection of old black-and-white photos of the Isselhardt family hung along the upstairs hallway en route.

“When it’s nice out, we typically have breakfasts out on the front porch, which guests really like,” Sharon says. “When we have meals inside, the kitchen table opens up for when we have a lot of people in here. One of our favorite things is standing in the kitchen after we’ve served, and guests will sometimes sit there for over an hour after breakfast laughing, talking and trading emails.”

A self-proclaimed foodie, Cardwell-Noakes says she acquired a few recipe ideas from Sharon during her two-evening stay in Pernilla’s Room. “They left us a couple of desserts on our nightstand for when we got home from dinner,” she says. “The following day we were the only guests, and we helped Sharon carry the breakfast out to the veranda. We had to remind ourselves that we were paying guests and not old family friends. I don’t think I’ve ever had a three-course breakfast before, and we certainly didn’t need lunch afterwards!”

Directly across from The Flying Frog’s kitchen and ground floor common room are Sharon and Butch’s living quarters, complete with a living room, office, bedroom, bathroom and a laundry station, where Sharon says one of the most exhausting innkeeping duties occurs on a daily basis. “The mountains and mountains of laundry are hard to stay ahead of,” she says. “The sheets, towels, the cloth napkins — it never really ends.”

Both Illinois natives, the Isselhardts were married in 1992 and spent their first year of marriage in Sweden after Butch’s engineering job with Rolls-Royce, where he still works after more than 40 years with the company, led to a temporary relocation. Not long after purchasing the house in 2011, Sharon realized running a bed-and-breakfast would require her full-time energies and quit her job at RE/MAX in Greenwood where she spent 16 years as a real estate agent. “We had the thought of doing a bed-and-breakfast about 18 years ago, and it was always kind of in the back of our minds,” Butch recalls. “We just couldn’t find a place in Franklin until now that we liked and that was big enough without being too big. We didn’t want to rush it.”

The couple also stay busy these days spending time with their five children and 10 grandchildren and enjoy hosting the grandkids, ranging from 2 to 18 years old, when time permits. “Some of the youngest grandkids’ favorite spots are the Paris Room, which they call the ballroom because they like to dance under the chandelier, and they love playing on the main level porch and having books read to them on the wicker porch swing,” Sharon says.

Butch adds that constantly meeting new people from all over the U.S., and occasionally from other countries, makes the upkeep that comes with running a bed-and-breakfast worthwhile. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” he says. “There’s always something to do, and when people check out it can be a little stressful when you only have so many hours before the next people come. We still have some work to do, but we love it, and we’ve got it a long way toward where we want it to be.”