After working in Manhattan for 15 years, Roy Ardizzone needed a break from the city. In 2005, he started hunting for a weekend house upstate. "I needed something outside of the city to relax and regroup," he told CNBC.
He eventually narrowed his focus to Hudson, NY, a small town 120 miles north of New York City, because "it was close to the city, you could walk to restaurants and antique stores and shops, but it also had access to farms, open land, the Catskills," he said. "It gave me the best of both worlds."
In 2008, the ad sales exec found the right place: a brick townhouse built in the 1700s, which had fallen into disrepair. When he purchased it, the home had no plumbing, electricity, walls or doors. But working with a blank canvas was part of the appeal for Ardizzone who had an eye for design, but no formal training in architecture or carpentry.
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A year of renovation and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the 5,000 square foot home was fully restored, and furnished, primarily with items Ardizzone had hand-picked from local antique and thrift stores. Having created his dream home, he found himself spending more and more time in Hudson, extending his weekend stays to last through Monday mornings. In 2010, he sold his apartment in the city and made Hudson house his full-time home, though he still commuted to Manhattan for work.
Quickly, Ardizzone realized that his large house came with large expenses, too. He was brainstorming ways to make some supplemental income when a friend stayed the weekend and offhandedly commented that his house reminded her of a bed and breakfast.
Stocking up on extra linens and dishes, Ardizzone began offering a couple of his bedrooms for rent, creating a website and marketing Hudson Merchant House (named for the home's original incarnation as a sea captain's home) via social media. The plan was to use rental income from just one or two rooms to offset his household expenses. But when a guest posted a photo on Instagram and it was picked up by a blogger who counted Martha Stewart among her followers, the reservation book filled up.
"Within a month I had the whole year booked on weekends," Ardizzone explained. After 3 months of innkeeping, he quit his ad sales job to run Hudson Merchant House full-time. Nightly rates range from $250-$500 a night, and past guests have included celebrities such as Zach Braff, Usher and Katy Perry.
A design component was added to the business model when an interior designer staying at the inn wanted to buy a piece of furniture from his guest room. Ardizzone saw an opportunity to earn additional income by selling furniture, accessories, lighting fixtures and artwork to guests.
"Pretty much everything in the rooms and common spaces is for sale, right off the shelves," he said. It also allows him the opportunity to refresh the inn's décor as items depart with guests. Ardizzone also added a design consulting and sourcing service to the Hudson Merchant House business, working with private clients, designers and antique dealers.
Further expansion of the brand would likely mean new Merchant House locations.
"I have thought about Hollywood Merchant House or Miami Merchant House or Montauk Merchant House," said Ardizzone, but for now his focus remains on making his weekend getaway home the same relaxing experience for his guests.
"I was looking to create my home and a place where people would feel like they're spending a weekend at their friend's home," he said, adding, "With an eye towards design."