|By Jessica Miller, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 6, 2005 - TOLEDO -- Gary Strobusch is an artist. His canvas is a motel room. He now has plenty of them to work with.
Gary and Sally Strobusch bought the former Days Inn in December of 2003 and renamed it Designer Inn & Suites.
Since the purchase, Gary Strobusch gutted four rooms and turned them into destinations.
Along with 39 run-of-the-mill hotel rooms, Designer Inns and Suites features four fantasy suites.
"This is my artwork," Gary Strobusch said.
The latest room, the Rainforest, displays the full array of Strobusch's talents, said daughter-in-law, Shannon Strobusch.
It is complete with trees, steam and the sound rain forest. Lying on the bed lit by tiki torches, guests spot birds and butterflies resting in the greenery covering the ceiling. Sitting in the whirlpool, people make out an orangutan etched into one of three surrounding mirrors.
"You don't realize everything until you spend the night in the room," Sally Strobusch said.
Strobusch started designing fantasy suites 27 years ago. But as owner of the building he can create them the way he's always wanted to.
"This has been his dream, to own his own hotel," Sally Strobusch said.
Prior to the move, the Strobusches created their designs in their Wisconsin factory, Rainbow Nights, and traveled the states installing the suites. They moved the company with them to a building in Tama, east of the hotel on U.S. Highway 30. However, they plan to make furniture primarily for themselves.
Strobusch started by designing custom cars and vans. Artists, Gary Strobusch said, want their creations out of danger.
"Out on the road is not the safest spot," he said.
As Strobusch traveled customizing vehicles, he grew to loathe the uniformity found in hotel rooms. He decided to do something about it.
"Eventually I did," Strobusch said.
He began by creating fantasy suites in different hotels' weakest rooms.
They became the top rentals and owners, asked Strobusch to return.
Stacks of articles about Strobusch's fantasy rooms across the United States discuss why owners paid to build them. But they leave out information on the designer. Strobusch said most hotels didn't want to give their secret away.
Since moving from Wisconsin, people have offered to go into business with Gary.
Sally Strobusch tells them, "I sold my dream home. You know you are a little late."
Gary Strobusch said he chose Toledo to fill his dream because of the timing of the opportunity. And research shows people like to drive 45 minutes to an hour to their fantasy suite destination, Sally Strobusch said. Toledo draws from Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. But people have come from down the block and surrounding states to enjoy the rooms.
"People cannot believe this is here. They are delighted," Sally Strobusch said.
All rooms include the usual amenities along with large screen televisions, stone whirlpool tubs and wet or dry bar areas. They offer tours of finished theme rooms when they are available.
Tours start with Heart's Delight, an updated version of the first fantasy suite the Strobusches made. The Heart's Delight features a heart-shaped bed and a heart-shaped tub. The first design featured a water bed. Now Strobusch uses memory foam mattresses, allowing him to cut any shape he sees fit. He's also added dual shower heads to the bathroom. A starlit valance hangs above the bed, also cut out in the shape of a heart.
Another room is The Gambler. A wall hanging shows a game of Black Jack where everyone but the dealer wins. The Roman Retreat features an electronic fire place and a four-poster bed, all marked by Roman pillars.
Coming rooms include the Cave, which will feature a secret room, and the Pearl, a room with a nautical theme. Part of the design will include a large screen television that will rise from a treasure chest using a hydraulic lift. Plans call for creating 10 fantasy suites and then perhaps starting their own chain.
"We want to buy another hotel and do it all again," Sally Strobusch said.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
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