Driftless Home and Garden: Carriage House at Walnut Hill Farm is a dream come true for local couple

Construction at scenic Carriage House at Walnut Hill Farm was completed a year ago. Upon arrival, guests realize the space is something special.

By Roz Weis,

The open-concept living area boasts vaulted ceilings with locally and sustainably-sourced pine arches.

James and Nancy Ulring of Decorah have created a unique getaway right in the heart of Decorah. 

The Ulring clan considers Decorah “home” and they often come in large numbers (50+ for some gatherings on weekends), and a larger gathering space was important. Their vision for a new space has come full-circle, and they’ve opened a guest carriage house adjacent to their residence.

 “The second reason (for the development),” James Ulring said, “was that our old garage and shed were deteriorating and the location originally consisted of other farm buildings, but we were still using it regularly for family gatherings.” Stewardship of this 150-year-old farm, with its many original buildings was at the forefront of the design.

 “Once we started,” he continued, “We wanted the look of a Norwegian long house with modern amenities.”

The Ulrings put their passion for do-it-yourself design to the test, pouring their hearts and souls into the carriage house project. They were kept busy gathering vintage pieces from estate sales, flea markets and antique shops across the Midwest. 

The couple’s dedication to the businesses and craftsmen of the Driftless region is evident in the finished carriage house. “We wanted to use all the local and upcycled materials possible,” they agreed. “And it was very important to us to use as many local vendors as possible.” 

The maple shiplap walls, trusses, ceiling and walnut throughout the carriage house are all locally sustainably sourced and milled. The design includes state of the art insulation, passive solar aspects combined with an 18 KW active solar system, creating the ultimate in green design and efficiency.


They started rebuilding the site in mid-June 2021. The pandemic slowed the supply chain to an absolute standstill at times.

Introduced to the public last year, The Carriage House at Walnut Hill Farm was finally finished in the Spring 2023.

Among the unique aspects of the rental include what Jim refers to as “the largest window Marvin Windows and Doors makes”, custom walnut floors, and handrails. The furniture includes many local antiques, including an Iowa general store counter, vintage wooden doors and wall panels saved from an original Scandinavian cabin. 

The Scandinavian inspiration in the design is illuminated in the large, open-concept living space, the kitchen area and throughout the four bedrooms. 

The couple decided to have an Airbnb option for the space, and the soft launch of their rental space in the fall of 2023 was a hit. Within walking distance of local attractions, the space is secluded enough to feel like guests are in a remote hideaway. 

The Carriage House at Walnut Hill Farm is described as “the Quintessential Decorah Airbnb.” The Airbnb website description says it all … “The open-concept living area boasts vaulted ceilings with locally and sustainably sourced pine arches. Custom windows maximize the views of Walnut Hill Farm. There are amenities throughout including a proprietary coffee blend. There are four private bedrooms, a chef’s kitchen, indoor and outdoor dining spaces, comfortable living room seating, two and 1/2 bathrooms, and off-street parking.” 

The space

Upon entering the space guests know they’ve found something special at Walnut Hill Farm.

All of the spaces are designed to comfortably host groups up to eight adults. The indoor and outdoor dining tables are big enough to seat eight together. The living room couch and chairs seat guests comfortably, so everyone can be together. The kitchen is designed to prepare and store meals for all guests. 

The Carriage House at Walnut Hill Farm is built above the garage of the Ulrings. Their home is located on property but separate.  Guests have their own driveway from the private residence, separate parking lot, separate lawn, private door with keypad access. All four bedrooms boast unique antique pieces which have been creatively converted into storage. The 2.5 modern bathrooms also feature unique antique “finds” which have been converted into vanities and storage. 

The property is only accessible by stairs and has several open stairways. The space is located on a working farm and guests have the unique opportunity to see horses and wildlife on occasion. A recent addition to the Airbnb is a hot tub. 

Among the reviews on the Ulring’s carriage house Airbnb website: 

…“This home was the perfect fit for old friends to gather and enjoy a quiet, relaxing weekend…” 

…“The carriage house is a real gem…beautifully designed and decorated. This has everything you need for a coy getaway to Decorah…feels remote, yet about 5 minutes from Water Street…” 

The Ulrings are pleased with the positive response to their distinctive space. “Many of the people who have stayed comment on the unique features and amenities,” they said. “Many say it’s the most beautiful place they’ve ever stayed.”

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