All is quiet on a recent weekday afternoon at the Round Robin Inn bed and breakfast in Mundelein, as guests are out and about shopping, tending to business or pursuing other activities.
The lull gives Laura Sansom Loffredo, the energetic 83-year old proprietor, time to explain how a Victorian-style home along one of the busier streets in town has become a draw for an estimated 1,000 arrivals each year from points near and far.
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Mundelein isn't known as a tourist destination, the former real estate agent acknowledges. But the home of Sylvester L. Tripp, who was elected mayor in 1909, shortly after the town was incorporated as Rockefeller, has character and is well situated for the business people, travelers and others who routinely fill the six guest rooms, she says.
The town name was changed three months after Tripp took office to Area -- and again in 1924 to Mundelein, after Archbishop George Mundelein, who built the first major seminary in the Midwest here.
"It was the location," Loffredo says of the decision more than 25 years ago by her and her late husband, George, to buy the rambling home on East Maple Avenue (Route 176) and convert it into a bed and breakfast as a retirement business venture. Then Waukegan residents, the couple was sold on the B&B experience by their daughter, Nancy, who had stayed near the Wisconsin Dells.
"And she said, 'Mom, that's what you'd like to do.' It was not even a question. It was a statement," Loffredo said.
The couple decided to see what the fuss was about and stayed a single night at a B&B in Whitehall, Mich., which was run by a woman by herself. If she could do it alone, the couple could give it a go, Loffredo reasoned. That 14-hour stay was their only exposure to the business, but it prompted them to look for a home in Lake County that was well-suited for such a use.
They considered several possibilities but were sold immediately when the Tripp home on a half-acre triangular lot east of the intersection of East Maple and Morris Avenue became available.
"I knew right away this was it," said Loffredo, who was raised in an apartment in Evansville, Ind., and relished the camaraderie of a shared front porch. "The location is perfect -- we're right in the middle of corporate business and all the entertainment activities in Lake County."
Aside from moving a wall and remodeling the third-floor attic into a bridal suite, much of the interior remains as it was when Tripp, who served as mayor from 1909 to 1911, built the house. He owned a lumberyard and building-supply business across the street and also sold lath, shingles, millwork, sashes and doors, brick and cement, as well as feed oats and "seeds of all kinds," according to village directories of that era.
Today, guests include corporate employees who live out of state but have business in the Chicago area and include nurses, scientists, engineers and others. Parents of graduating Great Lakes Naval Station recruits are frequent guests, as are weekenders who come for any number of activities, attractions and sights within a half-hour drive.
"I've had people from all over the world. More than 30 countries have been represented," Loffredo said.
Travis Tilton of Wausau, Wis., four hours north of Mundelein, got a job as a sales manager in Palatine early this year. For four weeks, he lived in a hotel and returned home on weekends. Checking his options, he found the rates and ambience of the Round Robin to be more to his liking. He still returns home on weekends but has been at the Round Robin since the end of January and will stay until his house in Wausau sells.
"It's not like a hotel. You get to know the people. It's more welcoming and you have none of the overhead," he said.
While he works many hours, the time he does spend here provides a break.
"It has a good, home feel. It feels like you're staying at a relative's," Tilton said.
Other guests, like Sandy Underwood, a teaching pro at nearby Pine Meadow golf course, splits her time in Illinois and Florida.
"Last year, I was having a hard time finding a place to stay. I've passed by this place a million times. So I moved in," she said.
"It's convenient. Everybody is very nice. I feel comfortable here."
When asked about famous guests, Loffredo offers that former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar had a reservation but canceled when his mother died the day before his scheduled arrival. If there were dignitaries among the estimated 20,000 guests over the years, Loffredo isn't talking.
"To me, everyone who comes is notable, honestly," she said.
The common denominator is that the guests want something different from the typical hotel experience. It has been that way since Round Robin opened as what Loffredo said was the first true B&B in Lake County.
Pen and paper
The inn was named for a family tradition of writing letters in a "round robin" fashion, circulating between siblings and kinfolk, beginning in 1917. This Sansom family tradition has been going on for nearly 90 years.
"We have books and books that are completely filled," said Loffredo. "People drew pictures, wrote poetry. They were just charming."
Letter writing remains a theme for the inn. Feather pens and stationery are now provided on antique desks and Loffredo will provide the stamp for any handwritten correspondence.
Inside the inn, much of the original oak interiors, including floors, moldings and millwork, are intact with period-style wallpaper and decorations completing a picture of another era.
"These are good-sized rooms and it's a very well-built house, so it's quiet from room to room," Loffredo said.
Rooms are named for famous tunes, such as the Yankee Doodle or Stardust, and a Baldwin piano is prominently located in the parlor next to the dining room. Loffredo used to give piano lessons and every weekend plays as guests enjoy a breakfast of blintzes topped with warm peaches, apple pancakes, French toast or other specialties she has prepared.
After her husband died 14 years ago, Loffredo decided to keep the Round Robin running. Aside from the piano playing, she still does all the cooking, laundry and serving, but plans on retiring soon while she still has her health.
"People say, 'Are you tired of it?' No, I'm not tired of it. I still love it. It's an awful lot of fun."