A local interior designer breathes new life into one of Ocala’s most historic homes.
To longtime Ocalans, and even newer aficionados of the town’s history, the name Rheinauer conjures images of the days when the newly dubbed Brick City was recovering from a massive fire on Thanksgiving Day 1883 that destroyed much of downtown.
Charles Rheinauer, who immigrated from Germany, moved to Ocala in 1880. He opened a dry goods store on the downtown square, named Rheinauers, with his brothers, which remained in business for 117 years. Charles was president of the LaCriola Cigar Company, vice president of the Ocala Iron & Manufacturing Works, founder of the Ocala Board of Trade, director of the Merchants National Bank and mayor of Ocala in 1906.
In 1895, he and his wife Emma bought the Queen Anne Victorian home at 828 SE Fort King Street, which had been built by Joseph and Linda Lancaster. The residence remained in the Rheinauer family until 1942.
The home is among the many in the sprawling Ocala Historic District and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The magnificent Rheinauer home later gained notoriety as the eclectic Seven Sisters Inn Bed and Breakfast, which also hosted community events such as weddings, historic lectures and tea parties, and, given its reputation as being haunted, provided a unique setting for murder mystery dinner theater productions.
Ryan Batchelor, a former planning manager for an aerospace company, now owns the historic home, which he rents through Airbnb under the familiar name The Rheinauer. He is a real estate investor and entrepreneur, and says he enjoys outdoor activities and living near downtown Ocala, with its numerous opportunities for entertainment and dining.
Batchelor worked closely with interior designer Jennie Holland, of J Holland Interiors, to bring his vision for The Rheinauer to fruition.
Holland, born and raised in Ocala, says she has an obsession with old architecture, so The Rheinauer was naturally a good fit. Her firm specializes in residential design and consulting for large-scale remodels, new-builds and simple one-day makeovers.
From the first meeting, Batchelor could see how excited Holland was that the home was going to get a well needed breath of fresh air and, with her excitement and vision for the home, there was no better choice for Batchelor to design his home.
“Interior design is well outside my skillset and not something I enjoy,” Batchelor explains. “Jennie worked with me, understanding that I had a very tight budget and yet somehow made old and new come together in a way that just works wonderfully. I can’t tell you how many people are just blown away by the decor. I came to look forward to Jennie’s visits to see the progress.
We have a bit of a big sister, little brother dynamic that really made the project enjoyable. By the end of the project, I came to have a much better understanding of design and learned quite a bit. I’m thankful for the experience and getting to make such a great friend.”
“One recurring magical ‘thing’ that happens on 99 percent of our projects, after we wrap-up a design, is that we walk away with new friends,” Holland reveals of the phenomenon that Batchelor describes. “Since interior design is so very personal, my team and I pride ourselves on getting to know our clients in their private world…their beloved homes. We strive to determine how they live within those four walls, what things they like to do, and how they utilize the space. Bringing life into rooms takes a bit more time, and lots of tweaks, than most people realize. Throughout the design phases, which can take months to years (depending on the scope of the project), you naturally become friends. The connections we make with our clients is our strongest tool.”
Holland also had a special connection to the house itself.
“My obsession with old architecture is no secret to those who know me well. There’s just something about historic homes that speaks to me,” Holland explains. “When I walk in, I instantly picture how former families lived within the space, how it all looked back then, the vibrant colors, the music playing, all of it!”
But to get a clear picture of that early history, Holland had to look past the elaborate themed decor that the innkeepers of the Seven Sisters Inn had installed to transport their guests on a “mystical excursion to the four corners of the earth.”
“People remember the outlandish designs and have fond memories of celebrating an anniversary there, a baby shower, and many other milestones,” Holland explains of her and Batchelor’s nod to that period. “Our objective was to bring comfort and clean lines to each of the five bedrooms while also highlighting some of the history that was left behind. We focused on working towards a more relaxed, understated and muted color palette in each bedroom to create a sense of calm but to also allow the focal points, such as the five fabulous fireplaces throughout the home, to take center stage.”
But their game plan also included embracing the eccentric destination-themed touches still found in the en suite bathrooms.
“The plumbing fixtures were high-end and fully functional, so it just made sense financially and aesthetically to keep that element of surprise for guests,” Holland reveals. “We were also able to find photos of each room that showed the over-the-top furnishings. We framed and hung those in each bedroom for a fun, simple touch. We then sourced one or two subtle accents that carried the theme forward in a fresh way. For example, in the Morocco suite, we used Moroccan-inspired throw pillows and, in the Paris suite, we used a small vintage vanity/writing desk to bring a French flair to the space. Just a simple nod in each room allowed us to connect the bathroom decor and the house’s history.”
Holland explains that, above all, visitors have all the comforts of home when visiting.
“Obviously, we wanted them to have a really great bed, simple yet luxurious linens and a sense of calm when they came to stay,” she notes. “We focused on procuring elements that gave each space a feeling of being ‘home,’ such as cozy seating where they can unwind and kitchenettes with natural stone countertops that we designed with Ryan and he personally built.”
The common areas, such as the front entry, foyer and parlor, were approached with a similar formula of embracing the old, finding new ways to maximize comfort and providing on-budget options to bring the aesthetic together. Holland says that aesthetic includes effectively mixing vintage and modern elements, natural textures, thoughtful touches and pops of color while providing comfort above all else.
“The parlor is my favorite spot in the home,” Holland admits. “We added statement drapes, new lighting fixtures, ample seating and some great accent pieces to give the space some personality while still retaining a slightly formal vibe, as we envision it would have been years before. Since the bedrooms all have a worldly appeal, incorporating an Ocala theme into this main gathering area was our goal. So, with a little nudge from us, Ryan ventured out to our beautiful downtown to take photos of popular places, beautiful buildings and other unique spots. We printed those on supersized canvases and loved the overall impact so much that we carried this concept throughout the home.”
Of course, guests who rent the house, whether for a family getaway or a special event, can also take a short stroll and enjoy those views firsthand as they navigate downtown, the historic district and the many pleasures of our fair city.