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The artistic inkeepers

Bill and Denise Shields operate the Artists Inn.

Story and photographs by CARINA WOUDENBERG

Half a block up Pine Street from Fillmore, behind a perfectly maintained white picket fence, stands the Artists Inn.

A flag flies in the breeze, but there is no sign of what lies behind the pale blue and white facade: three former art studios that a decade ago were transformed into a charming bed and breakfast.

“Never did it cross our minds we’d run a B&B,” says the inn’s co-owner and co-proprietor Denise Shields. She and her husband, the respected artist Bill Shields, bought the house in the mid-70s when it desperately needed their love and care — and a major remodel.“People said we were crazy to buy this house,” says Denise.

“It was a real mess,” adds Bill.

Built in 1863 during the Civil War, this was one of the first farmhouses in what was then mostly grazing land. Years of neglect left it worn and unremarkable. Still, the old house sparked the creative spirit in Bill, a lifelong artist and designer.

“I went in and took a look and said, ‘Let me have it!’ ” he recalls. He considers the remodel his greatest art project.

Denise, formerly an interior designer, says they fell into the hospitality business after a friend — another B&B owner — remarked that the studio space would make a perfect B&B.

The rooms — in a separate building that sits behind the original house — are Bill’s own creation. He envisioned and then built the shingle-style rear building that originally housed three art studios, taking the upstairs space as his own and renting the other studios to two other artists. Those rooms — Virginia’s Room and Robert’s Room, both named for the artists who once worked in them — plus the neighboring Garden Room make up the Artists Inn.

The Artists Inn at 2231 Pine Street.

Denise estimates that a third of the inn’s guests are parents with children who live in San Francisco — many nearby in the neighborhood.

“It’s sort of their home away from home when they visit their kids, “she says.

The inn also attracts a number of regulars — frequent visitors who stop in for a few days several times a year.

Denise takes pride in the effort she and her husband put into running the B&B. Every bed is comfortable and outfitted with good cotton sheets. Each room has its own entrance, bathroom and access to a refrigerator. The rooms are all equipped with televisions and wi-fi, and all are hung with Bill’s paintings.

Bill, now 84, and Denise, 65, say they love operating the bed and breakfast. Yet only a couple of years ago, they considered closing it down.

“Because of age — and just because,” Denise says. But neighbors and loyal customers protested, and the Shields, feeling the love, changed their minds. “We decided to stay open but not serve breakfast,” she says. “So now I go to yoga every morning.”

For more information about the Artists Inn, at 2231 Pine Street, call 415-346-1919 or visit www.artistsinn.com.