Image courtesy of the author

“What goes on in this house?” That’s a question owner Sean Finter often hears from by passers-by and visitors of Annapolis when he’s out working in the yard at 59 Franklin Street.

The answer is a lot. Franklin House, a white Federal Colonial house located in downtown Annapolis just two blocks from Reynolds Tavern, was built in 1908 by Rear Admiral Asa Walker. It remained a family home for decades, first for the Walkers and then for the Ebersberger family before being rezoned as a commercial office space in 2005, which brought needed upgrades from fire sprinklers to electricity and plumbing while keeping much of the original architecture intact.

Today, Franklin House is living a new life as a one-of-a-kind retreat space. Owner Sean Finter is Canadian by birth and lived abroad for decades in the UK and Australia, owning a slew of bars and restaurants in Sydney, Australia before founding his global hospitality consulting company Barmetrix. He relocated to Annapolis in 2008, knowing this bayside town was an ideal place to raise his four children. He fell in love with Franklin House and secured it as his business home base, but also wanted to share it—hence the idea of opening it as an event space for companies small and large in the heart of historic downtown.

The interior of the three-story, 10,200-square-foot home has many original details, including heartwood pine floors, a grand central staircase, multiple fireplaces, and cedar window boxes. French doors lead off the main hallway to a series of meeting rooms, in what were formally living areas. All wired for full A/V, the spaces are designed to be convertible; conference tables and desks can be moved in and out as the group needs, making a custom fit tailored to the group’s style. The onsite kitchen can accommodate casual get-togethers or be a staging ground for more elaborate catered events.  The house also has two full bars and a mobile bar.

Franklin House Image courtesy of the Franklin House

A grand staircase leads past the second level (primarily office space) to the Attic Loft. This airy, open plan room has a 10-foot, angled ceiling, and light streams in from the front window, which looks down to sailboats on Spa Creek. The built-in bar is a thing of beauty, with pressed-tin sides and a one-of-a-kind bar top, made from the very duckpin bowling lanes Baltimore native Babe Ruth used to bowl on. (Finter is a huge fan of the Babe, and his face glows as he tells the story of how the flooring came up for auction, and he was able to secure it for his dream bar.) The 1,200 square-foot room can hold 32 for a seating meeting, or up to 65 for a post-meeting reception.

Image courtesy of the Franklin House

Down in the former basement is an even cooler surprise: the Downie Bar. Named after Gord Downie, the late lead singer of iconic Canadian band The Tragically Hip, the warren of rooms exudes a unique blend of industrial-era roots and modern warmth. Brick walls and a beamed timber ceiling create a cozy atmosphere that sets off unique remnants like the house’s original furnace, stripped bare to its industrial components and highlighted with Edison lights.  A cement-walled gym sits off to one side, so fitness pros can be brought in to lead workouts for staff and conference attendees. The main bar is a cool adult rec room with loungy leather sofas, guitars and a statement bar echoing the pressed-tin look of the Attic. Along the back side is a narrow game room, where guests can compete over video PacMan or go analog with a round of darts.

Franklin House Image courtesy of the Franklin House

With his consulting business, Barmetrix, Finter brings in bar owners and hospitality pros from all parts of the world, hosting retreats at least once per quarter. Franklin House has also held intimate retreats for multinational corporations including Stryker and Procter & Gamble. The team at Franklin House can also design and execute world-class retreats, bringing in top speakers from around the country, arranging catering, blending in fitness (such as yoga, stand- up paddleboarding or guided jogs) and setting up excursions throughout the Annapolis/Baltimore/DC area.

The house doesn’t have overnight lodging, so Franklin House partners with downtown hotels including the Annapolis Hotel (former Loews) and the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel. He also encourages retreat guests to go out and explore Annapolis, directing them to his personal favorite local spots, which include Vida Taco Bar, Fox’s Den and Sailor Oyster Bar, or waterfront spots like Chart House in Eastport. The result is a memorable, personal corporate event that showcases the best of this charming town of ours. As their slogan says, "Meetings Shouldn’t Be Boring-- and at Franklin House, that isn’t an option."