A small gathering of early risers graced the basement breakfast table on Friday morning at the Wales House. Chatting over grapefruit and cereal, the tenants prepared for a day researching at the University.
Underneath the table’s glass covering, postcards were spread out representing several of the 2,500 visiting faculty from 64 countries.
For the last 10 years, the Wales House, which University alumni Kelly and Julieanne Carver own and operate, has served as a temporary home for visiting University faculty and researchers.
The house is on Fifth Street Southeast in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.
From Germany to Japan and many places in between, many researchers have stayed at the Wales House, which Kelly Carver said he named after his Welsh ancestry and his mother’s maiden name.
“We have people in every discipline from electrical engineering to mathematics, to architecture to the dance department,” said Carver, who is president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.
Tenants Anthony Pearson and Jan Voorberg said they usually come downstairs for breakfast around 7:30 a.m. and meet back at the table for dinner. But they said most of their days are filled with research in their respective fields of civil engineering and gene therapy.
Pearson, a professor visiting from Cambridge University in England, completed his two-week stay at the University over the weekend. Voorberg, who is from Amsterdam, Netherlands, has roomed at the Wales House since February and plans to finish his research in July.
Anna Gundel has been researching in the mathematics department for nearly two weeks of her monthlong stay from Berlin. She said living in the Wales House has made her visit relaxing and convenient.
“(The house) is so close to the campus, the (other tenants) are really friendly and Kelly and Julie are very helpful,” she said.
Gundel said she could have stayed in a hotel, but the department suggested the Wales House as an option.
Carver said he advertises his house mostly by word of mouth, and has developed a reputation among some of the University’s departments. The University’s temporary housing Web site also lists the Wales House.
Building Wales House
From its exterior, the Wales House looks similar to the other historic fraternity houses in the area, but has its own style. A wooden swing hangs from the tree branch near the sidewalk that leads to the front entry.
Carver said he has done a lot of work to the inside structure of the house over the years. He has modified it so his family can have a separate living space in the back from the 10 upstairs rooms that he rents out to visitors.
Guests stay from a range of two nights to a year, but the average stay is approximately a month, he said.
Most of the house is open for common use among tenants. A four-season porch juts out from the house, and there is a fireplace in the parlor near the front entry.
Carver installed what he calls a very functional kitchen in the basement. The kitchen has two stoves, two refrigerators and plenty of cooking utensils. He said the guests appreciate the chance to do their own cooking.
Next to the dining room is an open den area where Carver said he has put together a large DVD collection for his guests.
Carsten Moenning, an English researcher working in the electrical engineering and computer science department, said along with the DVD collection, he loves the amenities throughout the house.
“The way things are organized within the house make it easy to do any work you have to do,” Moenning said. “It is also very nice to have wireless Internet available.”
Skating in the basement
Although the setup in the basement looks tidy and professional, Carver said when he first bought the house in 1994 it had quite a different atmosphere.
When Carver saw an advertisement in a newspaper that the old Sigma Phi Epsilon house was for sale, he had just been laid off from his University job as a conference manager where he often had to find housing for visiting faculty.
The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity was still transitioning to its new residence on Fourth Street Southeast when Carver bought the fraternity’s old house. He said he started making repairs right away, but let the students stay in the house for the final three months of the school year.
“When we first got the house it was in terrible shape,” Carver said. “(The residents) were sort of on what you would call the ‘deferred maintenance’ program.”
Carver worked with his brother nearly every day to completely rehabilitate the house, while bonding with the fraternity members who lived there.
“The guys that lived in the house were a lot of fun,” Carver said, joking that his life felt a little bit like the movie “Old School.”
Carver said when he bought the house the downstairs
radiator was broken so the basement floor had accumulated an inch of ice in the winter. The fraternity members turned it into their own hockey rink, he said.
“When I came down to see the basement (for the first time), there were skate blade marks all over the ice. They had a rink down here and they loved it,” he said.
He continued to make improvements to the house while renting to tenants, but said he simultaneously became an expert housekeeper and handyman.
“There were times when I was wearing my tool belt and I was putting sheets on the bed,” he said.
In 1997, Carver and his wife moved into the Wales House with their two children, Lucia, 12, and Peter, 9.
Since then he and his wife have completed every task to run the house where they live and work.
“The kids have had nothing but a positive experience living here,” Carver said. “Lucia has learned to speak Japanese, and Peter just really bonds with many of the guests.”
Carver said he has grown to love his family’s very unique lifestyle and plans to keep expanding his cultural repertoire for years to come.
“As long as we can keep the Wales House rolling we will be here,” he said.