BRATTLEBORO—There are actually two cats at The One Cat, the bed-and-breakfast on 43 Clark St. in Brattleboro that celebrates its one-year anniversary in September.
Although owners Pat Sheehan and Conrad Feinson said they named the place after Dexter, the one cat the couple brought with them from England in 2012, the other cat, Piper, does not seem jealous.
Lively Piper was adopted from the Windham County Humane Society to keep Dexter company and give him some much-needed exercise.
“Dexter is the big cat,” Sheehan said.
On the airplane ride from Europe to Boston, he slept the whole way, she added.
“I kept poking him to make sure he wasn’t dead,” Sheehan said.
In the foyer of The One Cat, an additional cat rests on the newel post. That one cat never moves of its own volition — it is made of wood.
Feinson said that cat replaced an ill-placed light fixture. “Everybody wants to put their hand there” where the banister begins, he said. Thus, the couple added another cat, or a representation of one.
The One Cat is not the place to stay if one likes generic hotel rooms. In keeping with the tradition of most bed-and-breakfasts, The One Cat is full of personality, and reflects the lives and interests of the owners, and of the house itself.
The circa-1906 house was surrounded by abundant flowers on a recent August morning. Guests could admire them from the cushioned wicker furniture on the porch.
Just inside the front door, what immediately stands out is the gorgeous design of the wooden banister. Sheehan said that was the first thing she and Feinson noticed when they viewed the house with the real estate agent. They knew upon entry this was the house for them, she said, and it was the first house the couple saw.
When Sheehan and Feinson came to Brattleboro in August 2012, “we were here for 12 days, and we had to buy a house” before returning to England, Sheehan said, expressing her relief when the home inspector gave the structure a clean bill of health, thus making way for the sale to proceed.
In addition to the notable banister, the house features original wooden trim and moldings, and a set of French doors separating the foyer from the sitting room, the latter of which also serves as the breakfast area.
The sitting room is comfortable and welcoming, with overstuffed sofas, board games, books, and big windows letting in ample light.
The main guest room, located on the second floor, is called “The Brighton Room,” named after the town where Sheehan and Feinson met and lived before coming to Brattleboro.
The decor is an homage to the town on the south coast of England, where the 1979 film Quadrophenia was shot. Stills from the movie adorn one of the walls, showing black-and-white images of Mods and Rockers on their motorbikes.
The trim around the doors and windows is painted a cheerful blue-green, against white walls. Sheehan said those are the two colors of Brighton’s taxi cabs.
Behind the king-size bed, a wooden headboard shows what looks like a shell of an amusement park structure, with birds flying away from it. Sheehan painted it, and explained it is the remains of the West Pier, a pleasure pier built in the 1860s. It closed in the mid-1970s, and in 2003, caught fire, leaving just the skeleton.
She said local residents love the defunct pier and fight against any efforts to remove it. She said one feature is the murmuration of starlings that take off daily from the West Pier. Her painting on the headboard depicts that event.
The other guest room, The New England Room, and the bathroom, all display a mixture of original features of the house and colorful additions from Sheehan and Feinson.
Sheehan said the couple wants guests to feel that The One Cat “is their own home-away-from-home,” and the comments she has received support that.
In addition to the comfortable accommodations, The One Cat offers home-cooked breakfast, to order, and bread baked by Feinson. “There are no bread machines here!” Sheehan said.
“Every single guest” has been a good one, she reported. Visitors of varied ages have come from all over the United States, some have been British, “we have a Welshman coming in October,” “there were these two guys from Amsterdam,” and “lots of people in their 30s from Brooklyn want to come here,” Sheehan said.
Being just a few blocks from the train station helps, she said, noting they give a hefty discount on rates to anyone traveling to Brattleboro by Amtrak. The One Cat also offers discounts to teachers, and those picking up, dropping off, or visiting students at area colleges.
Although the couple have lived in the house since late-2012, they only opened a year ago September. They needed to find furniture, paint, and fix up a few things in the house, which Sheehan said had been vacant for a year prior to their moving in. They also needed to make sure the house had the regulation fire alarms and signage for a guest house.
Sheehan said the town was easy to work with, and there was “not a whole lot of hoopage to jump through."
The one remaining hurdle the couple sometimes find themselves having to leap is convincing townspeople their neighborhood is a good one.
“I’m used to the snobbery of some New England townspeople” toward certain sections of their villages, said Sheehan, who grew up in West Bridgewater, Mass.
“We don’t like hearing about the stigma against the street,” she said.
When the couple hears it, they ask the accuser, “When’s the last time you were here? Fifteen years ago?"
Knowing Clark Street has had a reputation for being plagued with thuggery and druggery in the past, Sheehan said prior to closing on the house, she requested 20 years worth of Clark Street-related police reports.
“It’s changed,” she said, noting the work the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust has done on the apartment houses.
Sheehan pointed out to a recent visitor every single house surrounding The One Cat, detailing who lives there, the work they have done or are doing on their house, and how helpful and friendly they have been to her and Feinson.
“We wanted a real neighborhood, where people say ‘hi’ to each other,” Sheehan said.
In Clark Street, they found it.
“Occasionally, somebody gets a bit shouty outside,” Feinson said, explaining that other than teenagers calling to one another, and children laughing and playing, the street is peaceful.