BBOnline Member SINCE 1996

Burlington's Willis Graves Bed & Breakfast Inn

5825 N. Jefferson Street, Burlington, Kentucky 41005
Innkeeper(s): Nancy & Bob Swartzel

Bob Brames 14 Mar 2016, 7:56 pm

It is with sadness that we share with you that Nancy's Dad and Jean's husband, Bob Brames, passed on February 8th. Everyone who has walked through the bed and breakfast has seen Bob's handiwork as a master-carpenter, he poured sweat and determination into the renovation that began in 1991. In August 1995, with the project completed, the inn opened for business with Jean and Bob greeting guests during the early years. We give thanks for Bob's life and his legacy that is part of the entire inn. Nancy found the wonderful photos (below) that show how much hard work went into the Main House renovation - it was a whole family renovation with Nancy, Bob, Bob, Jean, and Mike all involved.


Robert (Bob) Joseph Brames, age 86, and a resident of Erlanger, died Monday February 8, 2016 at Baptist Village. He was a retired master carpenter and proudly served in the US Naval Reserve. Survivors include his wife Jean (nee Wehking) Brames of Erlanger, KY; Paula (Brames) Leifrig & spouse William (Bill) Leifrig of Richmond, TX; Nancy (Brames) Swartzel & spouse Dr. Robert (Bob) Swartzel of Burlington, KY; Michael Brames of Erlanger, KY; Todd Brames & spouse Anza Brames of Sugar Land, TX; Matthew (Matt) Brames & spouse Katherine Brames of Richmond, TX ; his sisters Jean Maloney of West Palm Beach ,FL , Mary Duffy and Ann Brames both of Indiana; and a brother Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brames of Vacaville, CA. Robert was the grandpa of 14 grandchildren and a great-grandpa to 13. A memorial service to celebrate Bob's life will be held on Wednesday, March 16th at the Linnemann Funeral Home in Burlington, KY from 6:00 - 8:00 pm. Linnemann Funeral Home and Event Cente - See more at:


Inn Restoration Photos and Family Memories...

Before - Nancy's Dad, Bob Brames, out front - this photo was take just after the Swartzels bought it in 1991.

Main House Before

Siding Removed

Bob Swartzel applying the vapor barrier under the siding.
Removing Siding and the ugly porch - 1991

Bob Brames hanging doors
Bob Brames working in the Main House
Bob Brames outside with the new addition to the side of the Main House
Bob Brames working on the addition
Both Bobs! Nancy's Dad finding papers on the left, Nancy's husband Bob on the right.
Nancy's Mom, Jean, hammering
Nancy's brother, Mike, and Bob Swartzel behind him.

Just before the paint was going to be burned off. The photo also shows the 19th century construction of bricks, heavy timber and plaster. The plaster consists of animal hair, lime and sand. The ceiling of plaster was taken out by Nancy and her family to do proper wiring and a new ceiling. You can also see the heavy floor joist.

Bob, Jean, and Bob
Nancy inside the Main House

After all of the siding was removed - beautiful!
Nancy Gardening
Playing Horseshoes
Sheets on the line

Nancy's Mom, Jean, gardening
Grandpa's Littlest Apprentice - Bob and Nancy's son, Dan with Grandpa in the background
Making Cabinets
Nancy's parents always up for a fun time!
Bob with his dog; Bob was most likely about 18 years old. 
Nancy's sister, Mom, and Dad (and Nancy!) at dinner - around 2014. 
Nancy's Dad enjoying the front porch of the house that he restored along with the family's help
Great photo with grandchildren, Liz and Dan
Liz (Bob and Nancy's daughter) with Grandma and Grandpa

Dan (Nancy and Bob's son) with Grandma and Grandpa

Nancy's Dad, Bob, with two of his sisters, her mom, Nancy's cousin and Nancy

Hand of a Master Carpenter - Bob Brames

Jean and Bob at the Inn - taken by a local paper.

Nancy was about 4 years old so that makes this photo of her Dad with the sheep about 58 years old.

Tree house Grandpa built with Bob Swartzel and Dan. This was the Swartzels' house in Edgewood down in our woods - before they moved to the inn.

Both Bobs working on an addition to the inn.

Bob and Jean had an day long wedding. This photo was of a brunch that Nancy's Great Aunt had for her parents just after they were married.

The Happy Couple - Jean and Bob on their Wedding Day - they were married for 66 years.

A Note from Nancy and Bob... 26 Feb 2016, 1:56 pm

Dear Guests,
Before you click on the link below, we wanted to share a few things to explain the content so there isn't any confusion... As you will discover in this post, we have decided to list the inn for sale. This process is likely to take awhile.
In the meantime, we want our repeat and new guests to know that up until the day the transaction happens, we are still here and our service will be exactly the same. We love innkeeping but after 21 years as innkeepers, it's time to start another phase of life.
We want all our returning - and future - guests to continue staying with us; it would be sad not to see your faces, as we love welcoming you to Burlington's Willis Graves! 
We look forward to continuing to greet you and provide the experience you have loved over the years. 
- Nancy and Bob
p.s. As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions (859-689-5096).

Nancy and Bob on WKRC News... 29 Jan 2016, 7:29 am

Nancy and Bob were on the WKRC news last night! :)

The video is here: 

Top 10 U.S. B&Bs of 2015 Award by 17 Jan 2016, 1:53 pm

Burlington's Willis Graves Bed and Breakfast Inn has been named one of the "Top 10 U.S. B&Bs of 2015" by popular travel website, This marked the 11th year in which has selected the the country's top ten inns to receive this coveted end-of-year award. Finalists were chosen based on "a qualitative and quantitative analysis of traveler reviews from the past year, and winners were selected by an independent panel of guest judges," the website stated.

Bob and Nancy Swartzel renovated their 1830s Federal homestead next to the Boone County Fairgrounds and opened it for business in 1995. They later made history when they saved a cabin that sat squarely in the middle of a proposed runway at the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, by purchasing it - for $1 - to salvage a second historic landmark. This 1850s log cabin was wrapped in battered white siding and lined with layers of faded wallpaper. Nancy and Bob arranged to have the two hundred and sixteen poplar logs dismantled and hauled on flat bed trucks over four miles to their inn. After two years of reassembly and renovation, their log cabin getaway opened to guests in November 2004. This honor by is a perfect milestone to celebrate their twenty years in business.


Top 10 Winner - Burlington's Willis Graves Bed & Breakfast Inn, Burlington, Kentucky 
"Travelers rave about this B&B's cleanliness, marvelous breakfasts and complimentary snacks, and unparalleled service. In-room features range from fireplaces to hand-carved canopy beds. 'The whirlpool tub was very nice but the show stopper was the steam shower—there are no words to explain how you feel when you take the time to relax in the steam shower,' says a guest. In the morning, choose from a multi-course hot meal or Continental offerings. 'Breakfasts were decadent. I highly recommend the orange marmalade and cream cheese French toast,' says a reviewer."

Gluten Free Twist on a Guest Favorite Breakfast Dish: Bacon and Spinach Two Cheese Quiche 10 Jan 2016, 9:25 am

Loved the Willis Graves' Three Cheese Tart or The Meat-Lovin' Man's Quiche, but you are now gluten-free? A former guest had to omit gluten and tweaked the recipe to be just as satisfying but without the crust. She made the following modified version at home and snapped a quick phone photo of the result...

Gluten Free Twist on the Willis Graves' Three Cheese Tart: 
Bacon and Spinach Two Cheese Quiche

4 bacon slices, cooked and cut into small pieces
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, chopped into small pieces
glug glug white whine
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
half a square block (approximately 4 ounces) Gruyère cheese, shredded
4 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup half and half
Dash ground cayenne red pepper for a little kick
Two springs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
Six or seven leaves of fresh rosemary, chopped fine
Couple shakes of Penzey's Italian herb blend
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place four strips of bacon on a cookie sheet that is placed inside a rimmed baking sheet, and add to preheated oven. After six minutes rotate the sheet halfway. After another six minutes, remove the bacon and squeeze in paper towels to remove extra grease. Chop into bite-size pieces. Turn oven down to 350 degrees.

While the bacon is cooking, take the chopped spinach and add to a small saucepan over medium heat. Add a "glug glug" pour of white wine (we used a chardonnay) to the saucepan and let it come to a boil and cook down the spinach for a few minutes. Drain remaining liquid.

Spread the cooked spinach and bacon in the bottom of a pie dish. Add the cheeses on top.

In a separate bowl, mix eggs, heavy cream, half and half, fresh herbs, Italian herb blend, and cayenne pepper. Be careful with the cayenne pepper.

Slowly pour egg mixture over pie, sprinkle the fresh parsley on top, and then add a couple turns of freshly cracked pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings.

Holiday Gift Giving: Our Gift Certificates are Available Online 3 Dec 2015, 1:16 pm

Shop in your pajamas this year and leave the crowds behind! 

Give your friends and family the gift of a memorable experience by ordering a personalized Gift Certificate for a relaxing getaway at our Inn!

Gift Certificates start at $25 and can be purchased on our website by clicking here, or call us at 888-226-5096 to order by phone. A personalized certificate will be created and mailed directly to you or the recipient!

We can customize gift certificates for any amount over $25 to be used toward a relaxing stay.  Your recipient can choose between two masterfully restored early and mid-1800s buildings: the 1850s log cabin and the 1830s Federal brick homestead. Our goal has always been to understand our guests and deliver a lasting impression that involves all five senses: the sight of antiques and comfortable surroundings, the sound of soft music, the touch of plush towels, the smell of the freshly ironed sheets, and the memorable taste of homemade cookies.

Call us today at 888-226-5096 to give a gift of relaxation this Christmas!
And to view what your gift recipient will experience, click on the photo link below to watch our winter video on Facebook:

Recent Cabin Restoration Details 27 Oct 2015, 12:35 pm

Guests this Fall and Winter will notice our recent updates to the cabin restoration...

It started in early Spring, as we hired a painter to paint the main house and to seal the logs on the cabin. At that time we were only going to seal the logs and repair the chinking (the area between the logs) where needed. We went to a store called Log Home Center close to Noblesville, Indiana. We decided to use their products to seal the logs and the chinking. We bought top of the line products that included a 3-step process, to seal the cabin after fixing the chinking and cleaning the logs. We picked out a nice grey stain for the logs and the chinking. We bought what we thought was enough chinking for the repairs and we were on our way. The rest of the product was mailed to us because we needed to test the color on a section of one of the logs once we got home. 

Bob and I had a trip planned to visit our son and his family to help paint their house months in advance. With rain delays here, the painter had to switch his time to help us. He ended up working at our place a few days before our trip to Virginia. We were here when the first coat of the stain went on one side of the cabin, we all thought that it looked darker than what we thought it should be, but we decided that we liked it anyway and got on the road to Virginia. When we got to West Virginia our painter called and said that the second batch of stain was much lighter.

At that point we didn't know what batch was wrong. As it turned out the first batch was too dark and the second batch was the correct color. The painter was able to blend the light and dark together so it worked out - the good news is that we decided that we liked the new dark grey color.

About a month later the painter came back to finish the porches. We decided to keep the cedar stain that we used 11 years ago when the cabin was reconstructed. That produce is called Sikkens. The contrast between the grey and the cedar looks great.

As for the chinking, Bob and I worked side by side for more than a month on ladders making all repairs to the chinking. Every time we ordered chinking a few days later we ordered more. Not sure how much chinking we bought, Bob thinks about 40 small tubes and about 10 large tubes - that is a lot of chinking!! We worked in the hot sun and sometimes the nice shade. Sometimes we worked when big dark clouds were looming. At one point I told Bob that I would never say the word again (chinking). All the hard work paid off because now that its all done, it looks great. Some of our regular guests arrived when we were still working, so they got to see the changes in action.

Our sources for stains and finishes: The product called Sikkens ( is sold in different places throughout the country. We bought the product at an old hardware store in Cincinnati called Doppes J B Sons Lumber Company ( at 1001 Dalton Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45203. And we visited the Log Home Center ( at 16907 Mystic Rd, Noblesville, IN 46060.

Additional Photos:

"The 50 Best B&Bs in America" - MSN Travel 21 Oct 2015, 1:52 pm

We were surprised and thrilled to see our inn included in MSN Travel/Business Insider's recently released feature article, "The 50 Best B&Bs in America", a great resource if you are looking for travel ideas:

Not everyone has the time or resources to hit all fifty in this article, but it makes for a fun wish list. Also, if you are ever interested in a regional bed and breakfast experience, we do offer a two-stop adventure with our friend, Marsha, for those interested in experiencing two bed and breakfasts during a two-day weekend adventure!

Last-minute Special for THIS weekend: 30% Discount for the Log Cabin Suite 23 Sep 2015, 12:11 pm

**We just had a cancellation so we are offering a 30% Discount for a two-night stay in the Log Cabin Suite THIS FRIDAY and SATURDAY.** Valid for a reservation covering both nights 9/25-9/26, this is the only weekend opening between now and November for this suite, so it is the perfect opportunity to getaway during such mild weather - right now the weekend forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid-70s! The Log Cabin Suite has a private balcony on the back, and a porch with private entrance on the front side. Learn more about the room on our website and give us a call at 888-226-5096 to book the special rate. Happy First Day of Fall!

Notes from an Innkeeper: The Transformation of Thomas' Room 6 Aug 2015, 4:30 pm

Welcome to our new series, Notes from an Innkeeper, which will include a behind-the-scenes view of the inn, room by room with information you can use for your own home decorating projects. It will feature paint colors, furniture and decor sources, our favorite antique discoveries, project tips, and more. If there is anything you've ever wondered about our interiors - just let us know in the comments  or on Facebook. We look forward to journeying through the inn with you and reminiscing about its transformation over the last twenty years. Keep in mind that we are always making updates, so the photos below are from different time periods with decorating elements that have changed since they were originally shot. Please don't be surprised to see different looks in each room upon arrival, as part of the fun is keeping things fresh and interesting. First up...

Thomas' Room in the Main House 

If you've flipped through our photo books in the dining room you might recall that the Main House was built sometime in the 1830s by Willis Graves, a prominent political figure in county government at the time who served as county clerk during the new century's early decades. He built an attractive federal brick home that featured Flemish bond brickwork and federal style mantels. The backstory of our purchase is also published on our website: "For many years, Nancy and Bob routinely passed the home on their way to the Burlington Antique Show at the Boone County Fairgrounds. By then, the house was sporting dirty, white siding and a hip roof over the front porch. One day a 'For Sale' sign appeared in the yard and they took a closer look. In December of 1991, the Swartzels bought the property and began renovation under the direction of Master-carpenter Bob Brames. Brames and his wife Jean (who are also Nancy's parents) worked with Nancy and Bob as they all poured sweat and determination into the project." The two hard-working Bobs...

In August 1995, the inn opened for business. It was declared a National Register of Historic Places Home on June 19, 1979. Inside the Main House, Thomas' Room is just up a set of timeworn, original stairs and to the right.

Some details about this special room post-renovation:

  • Wall paint color - Porter Paint "Antique Lace" 
  • Trim - Williamsburg Gray was Pratt and Lambert - Martin Senour Paints W1090 Purdie House Gray Paint color, Porter Paint matched it. 
  • The Nightstand table was made by Spicer, it is a vintage reproduction piece, but the company is no longer in business. 
  • The queen bed frame is a reproduction by David T. Smith and is a tiger maple pencil post in style. 
  • The sewing was all done at the inn (a curtain tutorial is also on the blog). The fabric was found for the curtains and canopy at Tassle's in Louisville - quite a find at only $4.99/yard! - while on a shopping trip with Marsha, who is the innkeeper at Inn at Woodhaven. 
  • The needlepoint looking rug was found at TJMaxx, but is no longer in the room. 
  • Antique Mirror is a 19th century chippendale miniature from Bob's collection. 
  • The swivel lamps were from Pottery Barn, with new shades. 
  • The fresh flowers and cheese plate are an add-on option for overnight guests. 
  • The bed linen layering system is the same in all the inn's rooms: We begin with 100% cotton sheets, a down blanket, another sheet, covered with a quilt, down pillows (we have PrimaLoft for those with allergies) and then a plate of our homemade cookies is usually waiting on top. A helpful tip is to buy sheets that are 100% all cotton, always avoid poly blends. Our sheets are ironed and often line-dried, weather permitting (Nancy's tips for fresh sheets). The white quilt is a reproduction and covers the triple-sheeting mentioned previously. When sheets pill after washing then that is a sign of lower quality, the length of thread isn't long enough so when it spins it pills. One sheet brand to look for at Home Goods is Ralph Lauren, the thread count is 300 and on the package it says Dunham Sateen. These sheets come in a lot of colors, but we only use white. The inn has other brands too, but this set works well and can also be found at places like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. 
  • The inn's pillows and down blankets are from a line sold to the hospitality trade from Downlite, you can order them through us if you enjoy them during your stay (details about the inn's pillows). 
  • The ice bucket holding the champagne was bought in California at the Domaine Chandon Winery, made in Europe. Guests are welcome to bring their own wine since the inn does not have an alcohol license. Glasses and a bottle opener are in each room. 
  • The base carpet was just a neutral short carpet, it has since been replaced. 
  • The chair has been reupholstered, a tip is to buy well-made pieces and then you can recover them as needed as you redecorate. This red chair is a Baker piece, and is now off-white. Several of our reupholstered pieces were recovered by a gentleman in Louisville, feel free to call Nancy directly at the inn if you would like his contact information. 
  • The nightstand contains books about Boone, Lewis and Clark, and John Adams. 
  • The work desk was one of the first antiques we ever bought at the Burlington Antique Show, and we walked it on down to the house. It was a great find, only $135, with nice old paint. 
  • The lamp was by Turtle Creek Pottery (division of David T. Smith) and the lampshade is from Pallet Studios in Cincinnati. Pallet Studios is like a lamp shade doctor, they adjust the harp underneath to the shade and give excellent advice on which shade to choose. 
  • We have since re-covered the lamp shades since this was photographed, and replaced them with new office white shades. 
  • Luggage stores are a good source for quality luggage racks.  
  • The painting above the work desk was purchased at auction, but part of it needed total restoration. It was restored by Old World Restoration in Cincinnati. Several guests ask if the painting depicts Willis Graves' son, Thomas, for whom the room is named after, but the portrait is of an unknown gentleman. 
  • On the tray, the china is from our collection including Johnson Bros. and Villeroy and Bach pieces, the tea pot is Spode.  
  • The Christmas ornament hanging from the canopy is a reproduction German ornament. 
  • The flat-screen television sits atop an antique green chest of drawers that is part of our private collection, the old paint finish has great character. 
  • Changing the fabric in curtains and canopy covers can change the whole look of a room, Nancy made both the versions in this post, with tan fabric (described previously) and before that the room was dressed in the red version, which was an old decorator fabric, more expensive and most likely from Calico Corners.  

  • The needlepoint stool was bought at an antique auction, probably 18 years ago, and the pole lamp (similar to current Circa Lighting offerings) was from a house auction. 
  • The chest of drawers (in a previous photo) was from the Burlington Antique Show, its unique with an alligator-like finish, but the mirror is no longer on it. 
  • The needlepoint pillows are no longer in the chair, styles have changed and we make updates.
  • The yellow print comforter at the bed's base in the older photographs was a Ralph Lauren bedspread.
  • The long brass antique bed warmer on the wall was used (before heat was commonplace) to warm a bed with coals in it. 
  • The wall print above the chair was a Courier and Ives print of the Summer House Homestead in Spring.
  • Also in the photo to the right: A very vintage computer laptop. :) 
  • The teapot on the tray is used often in the dining room for our guests' breakfast. It has an insulated interior and felt lining under the silver cover, from Williams-Sonoma online. 
  • The wooden antique chair is not currently in room; it was replaced with an upholstered chair.
  • You can see in the photo above to the right, the tricks of the trade... the work desk is a great antique with beautiful legs, but the traditional front side with a drawer had an upturned surface, so we just turned the table around to cover the "flaw" (which really is code for "character" - you can barely see it just behind the lamp). 
Thomas' Room Bathroom

  • Nancy and Bob's good friends used to own a stone and tile store, and you will notice beautiful tile and stone throughout the inn. In the Thomas' Room private bathroom, large porcelain tiles were laid on the floor at an interesting angle, and ceramic was used in the shower/tub enclosure with a rope trim. Brands and names unknown since the bathroom was re-done over 13 years ago and the store is no longer open.
  • Mirror is from Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn.
  • The robe pictured is older, we now have slightly different robes from Robeworks that are branded with our logo and available for purchase through the inn. 
  • A variety of towel brands are used in the inn, one example is Ralph Lauren. We always use white towels to give a spa-feeling to all the bathrooms. 
  • The faucet is Delta, sink is Kohler and the large apron/lip of the surface is intentional - it makes it easy for guests to store toiletries on it or rest a hair appliance. 
  • Many bed and breakfasts, and residences too, use pedestal sinks. If you do, don't forget to look for one with an apron ledge on it, as this makes it much easier to get ready in the morning. 
  • Light fixtures are Restoration Hardware.
  • Paint colors in the bathroom are unknown, it was matched from a paint chip but the name did not transfer to the can. 
  • Information about the Airjet tub can be found in the guest room binders; the brand is Aquatic Serenity
  • Great smelling Hand Soap can be found at HomeGoods. 
  • An example of our continuous updates, this older photo of the bathroom was back when the bathroom had a different mirror, brass light fixture/make-up mirror, and tan shower curtain. 

Other bathroom tips are to have a magnifying make-up mirror for guests, and we put saran wrap on top of the glasses so they don't get dusty and guests know that they have not been used. All our glasses are washed in the downstairs dishwasher in between guests and are topped with saran wrap so you know they are clean. (Nothing like the scary undercover news story about what can happen at some Cincinnati hotel chains:

 Up Next: Catharine's Room across the hall...

The idea for these posts came after following a beautiful home renovation in New England on the For the Love of a House blog. Thanks, Joan, for the inspiration!