Lavender Inn, In Service to Others

Kathy Hartley’s Lavender Inn, In Service to Others

By Sarah Howery Hart

Kathy Hartley, owner of Ojai’s Lavender Inn, says the thought of owing a bed and breakfast had never crossed her mind until she and husband Mark, in the music business, bought the Inn in 2003.  “I never thought I’d be doing something like this.  I had no experience in business at all, and I hit the ground running when we bought the Inn. The reason I got into this is because my husband and I refurbish old buildings. But, when we bought this one, he said, ‘I’m really busy, you have to be in charge.’” What she was in charge of then is quite different than the business she manages so seamlessly today.  “When we first bought it, they were taking reservations on a spiral notebook,” she recalls.

She says that some refurbishing of the 1874 inn was completed by previous owners, but she immediately set to work on what remained to be done. “I loved the decorating, and I helped plan out the garden.  I make the decisions as far as the grounds go.”

She also established the Ojai Culinary School, in part because she and her husband are self-proclaimed foodies, once owners of a Ventura restaurant. But a culinary school also seemed natural in the inn’s kitchen.  “People would come in our kitchen and say, ‘how cute.’  Our kitchen is very much like home cooking, less intimidating than some cooking schools. And, we wanted different ways to use the inn.”

Among Hartley’s uses for the Inn is the InnCourage program she founded nine years ago. “This is a transformational wellness retreat for women who are underserved and undergoing treatment for cancer,” she explains. “Underserved may mean problems with insurance, homelessness, being a single mom. Many of these women are just everyday people who have trouble paying their bills. Some very isolated women have come, maybe having struggles in their lives anyway, then cancer comes along too.”

Through InnCourage, now in its ninth year, attendees, recommended by local hospitals, receive a free three-day retreat, with massage and facials at the inn’s day spa, and also counseling.  But one significant factor, Hartley says, is the support the women receive from each other.  “Last week, one of the groups from two years ago, came and spent the night.  That group gets together once a month.” She adds, “I get close to the women. InnCourage is my passion.”

Hartley, a former Special Education teacher, is passionate about other groups too, and has served with Ventura County Interface Children & Family Services, the Women’s Economic Venture, Ojai’s Reins of H.O.P.E. equine therapy, and others.  

She has a variety of “spare time” interests too.  “Other than playing with my little grandsons and being with my family and friends, I like fly fishing with my husband and hiking.  We travel a lot, too.  I love travel, and photography, and food. And horseback riding, which I'm not great at.”

But being less than great at something has never stopped Hartley.  Regarding her initial experience at the Lavender Inn, having no experience with this type of business, Hartley reminisces, “So I just learned.  Now, I have an excellent staff; we’re a team.  I call this more than a bed and breakfast.  I look at how we can be philanthropic.”

Regarding the Lavender Inn in general, she says. “I want to give people an experience I would want to have and one the staff would want to have.”

 (The Lavender Inn, 210 East Matilija Street, Ojai 805-646-6635)

Sarah Howery Hart



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