A weekend trip to Spring Lake changed the trajectory of a Miami couple’s life.
Robert Lopez and Patrick Roggenbau stand in front of the Lilley Mansion.
Robert Lopez and Patrick Roggenbau were driving around the waterfront community when they spotted a deteriorating Victorian mansion across from Spring Lake District Library.
When they discovered the door to the abandoned structure was unlocked, they walked inside and instantly saw the potential.
“The house was just so complete and so beautiful that we thought it'd be silly not to save it,” remembers Roggenbau. “Within the first 15 minutes, we decided it would be the perfect B&B.”
In July, a renovated Lilley Mansion will open as a bed-and-breakfast, nearly two years to the day the couple had that epiphany. This passion project has required more of them than they ever anticipated. The couple, who initially envisioned themselves becoming seasonal residents, are moving permanently to Spring Lake in April.
“What Miami doesn't have that Spring Lake does have in spades is that everyone is so nice. People take the time to talk to you and get to know you and ask you questions. People want to be part of what we're doing,” Lopez says.
As he is talking, a car slows down to take in all the activity going on at the house.
Driving by the mansion has become a bit of a pastime for villagers who enjoy watching the transformation, according to Christine Burns, Spring Lakes village manager.
“Some days are more exciting than others,” she says.
Cheering crowds turned out in July when the home was moved by truck several blocks to a spot closer to the waterfront.
Lilley Mansion, Lilley Cares
Lopez is trading his profession as a Realtor to devote his time to Lilley Cares
, a nonprofit he created – and is co-directing with community volunteer Sharon Balkema and Justin Raha, owner of Grand Finale Desserts. The mission will be Spring Lake-centric, but not specific.
Lilly Cares has four events in the pipeline, beginning with the Spring Lake Garden Festival on May 30. A food and wine festival is planned for August, a volunteer week in September to do good things around town and, in the fall, the group is taking over the holiday decorations for the community with garden planters.
“And so it's a really hands-on approach,” says Lopez. “The B&B is just a part of the total project.”
Lopez and Roggenbau plan to provide space for local nonprofits to host events. The couple has assembled a team that includes a local historian, horticulturist, and art curator to lead programming and classes that can be offered at the Lilley Mansion.
Their historian is digging up facts on the mansion that may eventually make their way into a book. He discovered the Empire-style home was built using a mail-order blueprint.
The mansion was built in 1886 by Francis Lilley, an English immigrant and lumber baron.
“This house is connected to every single part of Spring Lake,” Lopez says of the grand residence that was later carved up into apartments.
The home’s new location sets the stage for it to be a resource for the community going forward.
The landmark now sits at 113 S. Division St., replacing two small homes that were bought and demolished. It’s across from Tanglefoot park, the village’s waterfront space, which is undergoing a transition from a longtime RV park to a more inclusive public space. (See story
Crowds turned out in July when the Lilley Mansion was moved.
When Lopez and Roggenbau bought the mansion, the first floor was complete but the second floor was essentially gutted. Now, they are in the final stretch of the renovation. They were able to save the original fireplaces and staircases. Flooring and finishes are being added, and molding is being put back in place.
They’ve kept the original footprint, expanding out to where the horses and buggies were stored to create main-floor space for their private quarters, which will include an art studio for Roggenbau.
The B&B’s four suites will be ensuite with luxurious bathrooms The only major modification was incorporating a former library space to create a long kitchen. They bought an old 20-foot-long dining table to create a chef's kitchen. The adjacent breakfast room will have six big tables for meals and events.
Robert Lopez and photographer Chase Loreto stand in a suite in the Lilley Mansion that is being completed.
“We've already booked three weddings for this season, so people are already reacting to it. It's really cool,” says Lopez, explaining the requests have been spurred by word-of-mouth and media coverage.
He praises the village's staff for being a resource and the project’s champions.
“It's the best group of people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I honestly cannot say enough good things about them. They've been unbelievable. When I had a zoning issue, I went and I spoke to the zoning director. We hashed it out and we fixed it. There's no run-around,” Lopez says.
The respect is mutual. The village manager describes the duo as a dynamic addition to the community.
“Their enthusiasm for this project is contagious and we cannot wait until they are full-time residents and the entire community can witness their vision come to life,” Burns says.
Roggenbau, an artist, is taking a personal approach to designing the interior.
“We are bringing in a lot of old and new furnishings. It should be a place that reflects our journeys in life. Robert and I have lived all over the world,” says Roggenbau, who has moved 18 times.
Born in Germany, he studied art in Italy before coming to the U.S. when his artwork was featured in a Chicago exhibition.
Robert Lopez and Patrick Roggenbau stand with their friend Spring Lake patron Kim Van Kampen.Friends and partners
Their longtime friend, Kim Van Kampen, who was showing them her projects in the community during their pivotal 2018 visit, is a partner in the B&B.
Van Kampen, a summer resident who breeds and trains horses on her farm near Spring Lake and in Florida, is investing $10 million in several Spring Lake development projects. The highest-profile is The Epicurean Village, a 32,000-square-foot development that will house retail on the first floor and a dozen residences on the two floors above.
“She is a wonderful, generous person who uses her wealth to enrich communities. She is a real visionary. I'm excited to be on board with her,” says Roggenbau, who met Van Kampen decades ago when they collaborated on importing Spanish Andalusian horses to the U.S. for dressage competitions.
Downtown Development Director Angela Stanford-Butler describes Van Kampen as a catalyst for the changes that are breathing new life into the community.
“There are already other developers who have bought properties in the village that are starting their projects. She literally sparked the change in the village,” Stanford-Butler says.
Lopez says the Lilley Mansion has grown beyond him, Roggenbau and Van Kampen to include so many others who have caught on to the vision of bringing the historic home back to life.
“You can't do a project like this and not include everybody,” Lopez says.
This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.