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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

The Amber House in Sacramento


In the Emily Dickinson room, there was a heart shaped whirlpool bath with a waterfall faucet and a roaring see-through fireplace. A line of Victorian stained glass skylights brightly illuminated the room. In a cupboard sat the collected works of the poet. Set on a small table beside two wicker chairs were freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and hot coffee. Classical music drifting in the background added to a mesmerizing calm. This was our introduction to Amber House.

The Amber House (800-755-6526), with rates from $149/night, is a charming bed-and-breakfast just a ten-minute walk from the capital in Sacramento. The inn consists of three homes with fourteen rooms. Although it is a comfortable destination for business folk during the week, on weekends, as when we arrived, it is more of a romantic destination. A honeymooners' car, customarily garishly painted with "JUST MARRIED," was parked out front when we arrived.

'As I read through the guest book in our room, I felt a little like an impostor. This was a place where many lovers have spent their honeymoons and anniversaries. "It's a special place to celebrate love," one wrote.
I was here because I had read it was a delightful place to stay and Sacramento was but a fifteen-minute drive from Davis. I was making another trip north visiting my son who was starring in a school play at U.C. Davis. Not very romantic, but it was an important mission.
The Amber House is set in an historic preservation neighborhood still very much in the process of renewal. Michael and Jane Richardson have been its proprietors since 1986. Theirs is perhaps the archetypical story of how many come to the business of managing a B & B.

"We had a baby," Mike began, "and we were both working evenings and nights. We didn't see much of each other. So we decided to get out of the fast lane." And so their adventure with the Amber House began. The original inn they bought at 1315 22nd Street was a craftsman style home built in 1905 as a wedding gift for a local doctor's bride. In a craftsman home the rooms are all very boxy and neat. There's no gingerbread. But the main living room in Amber House is remarkably comfortable with plush seating before a large fireplace. In a smaller nook library, you can read at a window seat. I enjoyed relaxing on the wooden swing on the veranda. And although there's a formal dining room where breakfast is served on an antique Duncan Phyfe table, most guests choose to have breakfast in the more private and romantic setting of their rooms, or on the veranda, or in the gardens out back. Breakfasts vary from sweet to savory and change daily with perhaps waffles and strawberries served one day and a special quiche served the next.

Jane Richardson chose to name the rooms of her inn after poets and so there's the Emily Dickinson room, the Wordsworth room, the Chaucer, Longfellow, and Lord Byron. Each is uniquely decorated. Each contains a collection of the poet's works.

Over the years, the Richardson's expanded. They bought the colonial revival home across the street and themed it for musicians - Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Vivaldi. Each room contains collections of "cd's" with the works of those musicians. The musical motif is carried along with special wallpaper in the rooms and a spinet piano in the foyer. The Vivaldi room is the best choice there with its outdoor deck, a fireplace, and Jacuzzi tub.
Their third house is the "artist's manor" across the street. It's a prairie style home themed after the impressionists - Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas - and decorated accordingly. Should I ever return to Amber House, I would choose the Van Gogh room, not just for the replica of "Irises" on the wall, but because it has a huge solarium bathroom with another heart shaped tub. In fact, 11 of the 14 rooms in houses have jacuzzi bathtubs.
At this writing, the Richardson's are renovating a fourth adjoining old home. The theme? It will be a "writer's haven," I'm told.

What makes this a wonderful "bed and breakfast" is not only the uniqueness of each setting but the immediate rapport the hosts establish with their guests. As soon as you open the front door, you become family. Everybody knows your name. And the service is superb. There's the coffee and cookies set in your room in the evening. There's coffee and a newspaper set on a table outside your door in the morning. When I asked him what he thought was most special about the Amber House, Michael Richardson was quick to answer. "We offer the ultimate service in a b and b environment." As they progress in their latest expansion, the Richardson's have proven they have a knack - a knack for turning old homes into unique, comfortable, and welcoming retreats.