A journey that began four decades ago as a roadside fruit tree stand in Kingwood has continued to evolve and grow as one of Preston County’s oldest family-owned and operated businesses. Lucas Tatham, second-generation and Trellis Smith, are at the helm of Modern Homestead, affectionately known as Tathams by the locals.
Founded in 1980, Modern Homestead transformed the local garden center into a celebration of living and nature. Tatham and Smith were inspired by the idea of using their land, buildings and talent to create an experience for the senses, catering to customers with a curated assortment of plants and handcrafted products for all seasons. In growing their lifestyle business, they created Modern Homestead Guest House, which includes three guesthouses housing six well-appointed guest suites.
Tatham, a guest on Positively West Virginia, talked with host, Jim Matuga, about his experience with overcoming one natural disaster, and how Modern Homestead is overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s the background of Modern Homestead?
“I personally love being in West Virginia. I grew up in West Virginia. I was born here. My parents started Tatham’s GardenCenter when I was about three years old. I’ve always been a part of it. Whenever I and my partner, Trellis, came back into the business in 2005 we just wanted something different. I’d been away from my family’s business for about ten years and I’d lived on my own. I’d seen other garden centers in other places around the country in the world and I just wanted something different. So, we took the old garden center format that was on a flat piece of land and very commercial and we decided to move our business to a 100-year-old house and start over,” said Tatham.
“We provide great plants first and foremost. That’s what my parents have always done. We have beautiful flowers and plants and shrubs, but we also show people how to use it. Through the landscaping around our different properties, we show people with the plants will look like in several years. But, also we try to celebrate just people spending time at home and that’s just not now after the pandemic. But from the beginning, we’ve always enjoyed being at home and making the home more beautiful and celebrating what those plants can do whether it’s for the eyes or if it’s providing tomatoes and peppers and other foods that Trellis can cook and present to people and that’s just another way that we can share what we have,” said Tatham.
What are you most excited about for Modern Homestead?
“I’m excited about just our ability to be open during this time. I mean that’s a very basic one but to approach every day with new energy and excitement. I mean the ability to watch plants grow and to see how they progress and the beauty of life that’s exciting but the opportunity because of the current challenges to further expand and to grow our brand online and to reach more people in different ways. That opportunity right now where people are at home, online and communicating,” said Tatham.
How did you overcome a natural disaster?
“When I came into the business in 2005, I was actually living in New Orleans at the time, and I came home to visit my parents for a high school graduation and we drove through Reedsville. If you’re familiar, there’s an old bank across the street from our shop that is falling down and 15 years ago it was a little less falling down. Looking at it across the street is the house of the shop. They were having a yard sale and I literally ended up buying the house.
I was still living in New Orleans at the time and I was planning on this just being my second home. My West Virginia home for down the road 20 to 30 years when I retired. Lo and behold, about two weeks after I was here and I visited it and agreed to buy this house, Hurricane Katrina struck. It flooded our house in New Orleans. So at that point, my partner and I were out of a job, were unemployed but also the city was shut down for about three or four months and you just couldn’t get back in to live.
It became a plan, a project, of now, for me coming back into my parent’s business. So we started with one house, but as we looked out the windows at this house, we realized that there were 10 to 14 buildings that you could see from our property that was either vacant, abandoned or for sale and on the market for several years. We’ve slowly, over the past 15 years, acquired them and so now we have a collection of about six or seven 100-year-old houses,” explained Tatham.
“Then, it’s like what do you do with these old houses?
We’ve very tastefully sectioned off the houses based on the original construction of the houses. One of their homes was built in the 1800s and then they added onto it the 1920s, so we separated the house into different suites like guesthouse suites. Each of them are independent, where they have a little kitchen, some of them have laundry in their units for short term and extended stay visits. With modern technologies such as AirB&B or bedandbreakfast.com to be online, it’s opened up a whole new business market that our family had never done before. In this area, where we’re located, there’s not a whole lot of hotels or guest houses or inns, so there was a real demand for people traveling to need a place to stay.
We definitely fulfilled the need on that side of people that need to be in Preston County and they want to stay in a valuable establishment, but also there are people that are traveling through the Morgantown area and just need accommodations but don’t want to stay at a chain or a big box type of hotel. They want something unique and personal so though drive up from Morgantown,” said Tatham.
What is one of the most exciting things that have happened to your business?
“I would have to say that we’ve had several concerts at the Rustic Church, which is this old one-room church located behind our guest house. It had been empty. The family had purchased it in 1939 and it had been passed down three generations of the same family. It had been on the market for about three years, but it was all boarded up. They mowed the grass, but on one side there were trees laying around, and really no one knew that church was there because it had been closed since the Great Depression. My partner, Trellis, kept taking me over to it to show it to me. I wasn’t able to really visualize what all it could be. I could see the work that would need to be done. Last year, we had a concert, Brother Brothers, they’re two brothers from New York. They came to do a concert in this church that had been built in the 1880s and boarded up and closed since the 1930s. No one had been in it. All of the windows had been broken out, but we got the windows fixed and we cleaned up the floors.
For me, that was the most exciting thing—just seeing here that the Garden Center is just one part of our business and the guest house is another part of our business, but to bring people back into the structure that humans created by cutting down trees 150 years ago, that was exciting,” said Tatham.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to come back to West Virginia to start a business?
“Have a plan. That sounds so simple. The success we’ve had is that my partner is very creative, and my background with my family business. Reality hits when you have to produce a product or perform a task or do an installation. To carry that out, you have to have a plan based in reality with real numbers,” said Tatham.
“Have a plan, and don’t be afraid to share it with people, and be willing to truly listen to their questions and criticism. Then, get up and do it,” advised Tatham.
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PWV QUICK BITS
- RECOMMENDED TASK TO DO EVERY DAY: Have a positive attitude.
- ADVICE: “Have a plan, and don’t be afraid to share it with people, and be willing to truly listen to their questions and criticism. Then, get up and do it,” advised Tatham.