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History of The Storyteller's Cottage | How I Transformed an 1891 House into a Bookish Event Venue

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Back in 2016, I bought a commercial property that was once a Victorian home, right on the main street of my small Connecticut town. This house was built in 1891, and had bounced back and forth between being a residence and being a series of offices. When I took over, it was currently in use as a house, but I wanted to use it as a space for my literary-themed event business.

I spent the better part of 2017 redecorating the entire house, so each room had its own distinct theme that could serve as a backdrop for a variety of bookish activities.

The living room became the Victorian-themed Jules Verne Steampunk Library.

The dining room was transformed into the Regency-era Jane Austen Salon.

The sun room became the whimsical Alice in Wonderland Tea Room.

An upstairs office became the Magical Common Room, and we even built a bookcase wall with a secret door into a Medieval Castle Keep.

Two bedrooms were transformed into escape rooms that were themed to time travel and Agatha Christie.

And within months, the whole house was filled with delighted book nerds enjoying enchanted activities like Harry Potter parties, Great Gatsby jazz supper clubs, masquerade balls, Jane Austen tea parties and even live murder mysteries!

The prospect of decorating an entire house in a highly themed way might sound daunting, but it was actually really fun, and because I ended up having to wait nine months for an unusually-long zoning approval process, there was no pressure to rush. I spent a very pleasant year building the essential background settings for all of these literary events, by sourcing used furniture and decorations on Craigslist and at the local thrift shop. I was able to furnish the entire 8-room house for less than it cost me to buy two new couches for my actual house. Never again will I buy furniture full price at the store!

At its peak, The Storyteller's Cottage employed 11 part-time staff members, and became the center of a vibrant literary community. We offered writing classes, poetry nights, live concerts, Victorian parlor magic shows, literary summer camp, themed tea parties for senior citizens and their grandchildren, a Dungeons & Dragons club, family board game night in the castle, midnight dinners inspired by the Night Circus, book clubs featuring fictional feasts, drawing lessons with live costumed models, and we even had a writer in residence who helped aspiring novelists improve their manuscripts. It was a blast, but like all good things, it came to an end.

In 2020, pandemic-related restrictions prevented us from opening at all between March and October. We pivoted to an online model for a few months, and my hard-working staff created amazing literary content from home, but it didn't take long before our PPP loan ran out and it became evident that I needed to let my talented people go look for other jobs that would pay them.

I closed the Cottage in the fall of 2020, and little by little, transferred everything I know and everything I've learned onto a series of YouTube videos and blog posts that I hope will assist and inspire book nerds all over the world to create their own bookish spaces and events.

I really enjoyed my time creating literary events and adventures in Connecticut, and I especially loved meeting so many fascinating authors, readers and creators. Someday, when the world settles back into a predictable routine, I may venture out into the physical world again and channel a few fictional fantasies into real life (I've been mulling over Murder Mystery Weekends!), but for now, please enjoy The Storyteller's Cottage bookish lifestyle blog, or join The Storyteller's Salon, our budding online community.

May all your imaginary worlds become real!

~ Lisa

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