Spotlight: Bed and Breakfast owner puts name in her work

BY BEN SCHUFF | MARCH 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Nila Haug sat on a burgundy couch in her bed and breakfast. Located at 517 E. Washington St., she blended right in with her surroundings — the color of her long-sleeve shirt matched exactly the color of the couch.

As the 69-year-old talks about her experiences over the past 20 years with her bed and breakfast, it becomes clear that her home is her passion. It is quiet — cars going down the street or people passing down the sidewalk aren’t heard.

What is heard is a nearby neighbor’s dog barking, releasing a sense of home. And that is just the way Haug likes it.

“It’s fun; it’s the best job ever,” Haug said, and then paused. “It’s simply the best job ever.”

The Golden Haug Bed and Breakfast opened in 1990 with one room. Now, 21 years and two additional houses later, 15 rooms are open to the public year round.

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The original idea came when her sister sent her an Indianapolis magazine. Inside was an article about a bed and breakfast that caught Haug’s attention.

“I had never stayed at a bed and breakfast or heard of a bed and breakfast,” the native of South Bend, Ind. said. “I thought, ‘I could do that,’ and that’s how I got the idea.”

The first room opened 17 months after Haug moved in on New Year’s Day in 1989. Had it not been for a misunderstanding between her and her husband, Dennis Nowotny, the Golden Haug would have been named after the University of Iowa.

“My husband and I were trying to think of a name, and he says, ‘Why don’t you name it The Golden Hawk?’ ” Haug recalled. “So I went out and got the pig themes, and he said ‘What’s the pigs for? I said the Golden Hawk, not Hog.’ ”

However, Haug is glad she stuck with the pig theme, because, she said, she never liked the Hawk idea anyway. Now, several rooms are decorated with pigs, including the kitchen. She has pig pens, clocks, can openers, cutting boards, magnets, tea pots, and coffee tables.

Without money to hire someone to fix up the 1915-era houses, the couple has done all the repairs themselves. Haug has plastered walls and tiled bathrooms, and Nowotny, who comes from a construction background, deals with the plumbing and electricity.

With two neighboring houses added in 1994 and 2004, the two are constantly busy working on projects. Each house has seen major repairs twice over the past two decades. Nowotny is now working on installing a tin ceiling and insulating some of the walls.

But the continual work is well worth it, because it keeps people coming back. Trey Clifton and wife Nancy first stayed at the Golden Haug 15 years ago. The two returned a handful of times while on business trips and visiting daughter Tressa before she graduated from the UI in 2004.

Now, they consider each other family friends. In fact, Tressa Clifton started working at the Golden Haug in July 2010.

“It’s really fun because it’s like having another family,” she said.

Trey Clilfton had nothing but positive memories to share, and he noted that Haug is a great host.

“It’s going to be a loss for Iowa City when Nila retires,” he said. “When people stay there, they get a good dose of Midwestern hospitality.”

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