Nicole Greer pauses on a tree swing in front of the historic Covington mansion she has transformed into the Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast.
When Nicole Greer considered buying the 11,000-square foot antebellum home just off the square in Covington, it had at least 20 busted windows, significant water damage from a leak on the third floor, wiring that posed a severe fire risk and heart pine floors patched with plywood.
That didn't stop her from fetching her father to look at the house. After touring it, he enthusiastically endorsed his daughter's vision -- that the property be restored and transformed into a bed and breakfast.
"He said, 'Oh, this is fabulous. People will come from all over to stay here,'" said Greer.
A year later, the mansion is now known as Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast, a work in progress that keeps Greer constantly busy working with contractors, entertaining guests and visiting Atlanta auctions houses to furnish the massive historic structure.
"It's been a wild ride, but so much fun," said Greer of the property at 2176 Monticello St.
Built in 1836 by John Harris, a longtime politician in the community, the home has changed hands numerous times in its history, with Nathaniel Snead Turner being the most notable owner. Turner, who operated the Covington Mills textile factory, purchased the house in 1903 and dubbed it Whitehall.
He made major changes to the Greek Revival style home, adding a second floor balcony, a third floor with dormer windows, a sun room, a bay window in the dining room and an expanded colonnade.
Greer said the Turner family owned it until the 1970s, after which time the house had a series of short-term owners.
"I bought it out of foreclosure. When I bought it, it had been vacant for years," Greer said.
She named it Twelve Oaks after the home of the character Ashley Wilkes in the movie "Gone with the Wind." Greer said that Margaret Mitchell saw a photo of the then-Whitehall in the Atlanta Journal in 1939 and told set designers she wanted it used as a model for Ashley's home.
A native of Conyers who holds a degree in political science from the University of Georgia, Greer said her past career experience and entrepreneurial ventures prepared her well for her foray into the bed and breakfast endeavor. She spent several years employed by an insurance and financial planning company in Atlanta and worked as a wedding planner. She also sold and restored houses as a part-time job.
"It led me to where I am today," said Greer.
Greer said she's invested about $600,000 in the renovations which include six new bathrooms, new electrical and plumbing systems, new heating and air systems, new windows, wall repairs, sprinklers, emergency lighting, handicapped ramp and bathroom and commercial kitchen.
"The house is huge. We had to rent a crane to fix the roof," Greer said.
The house now boasts 12 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, plus the foyer, living room, dining room, kitchen and balconies. Set on 3 acres, the property also features decks and a pool.
Eight of the bedrooms are for guests. The remainder are reserved as living space for her family, which includes son Parker, 6, and fiance John Munn, who also runs the business.
Greer said she restored the house using either original or period-looking features. The glass in the windows is slightly rippled. She repaired water-damaged walls with plaster. She restored the hardwood floors with custom-made heart pine boards. She installed gas-powered coal sets in the fireplaces (which guests can turn on with a flip of a switch).
Antique furnishing and art work adorn every room.
"In a lot of ways, the house is like new," said Greer, who also didn't skimp on modern amenities such as flat screen televisions and Wi-Fi, which equips each guest room. "(The house) had a great history and we've invested a lot of time and effort into making things look as original as possible."
Greer is not only marketing the home as a bed and breakfast but also as a location for weddings, receptions, rehearsal dinners and bridal showers; and as a meeting space for the local business community.
Greer said that tourists coming to Atlanta want to stay in antebellum houses, and since there is a lack of those homes in the city, she's hoping they will drive the 30 minutes to Covington. It's also a great getaway for locals, she said.
Word of the bed and breakfast has traveled fast, thanks to social media such as Facebook and the business website, www.thetwelveoaks.com, Greer said.
Since she's opened in the winter, Twelve Oaks has operated at 25 percent capacity and in March she's booked at 40 percent.
Greer said she cooks breakfast for guests herself and she's entertained visitors from as far away as Australia, Canada and England.
"People are just so blown away by the architecture, the history, and the luxury accommodations," Greer said.