Five years ago, when Pam and Paul Southern were building their dream house in the State-Thomas historical district near downtown, that dream turned into something of a nightmare.

“We had a horrible building experience,” Pam Southern says. “We ended up spending a lot more money then we had anticipated.”

They knew that with bills mounting, something had to be done. Pam was faced with the unwelcome proposition of returning to work full time. Searching for an alternative, she remembered a vacation she’d taken 25 years earlier. She and a friend had traveled to Port O’Connor with plans to hang out at a friend’s house and soak up some of the coastal sun. Only one of those things happened.

“It rained the entire time. We never left the house,” Southern says. “So we played cards and talked about what we were really gonna do when we grew up. And we thought: We should have this place where people can go and sit around talk and bring in special guests and have literary events. But it was something we just talked about. It was never something I expected to do.”

Over the years, however, she remembered that conversation and the cozy weekend spent at Port O’Connor. Over dinner one night, Southern brought an idea up to her husband.

“I’d had a couple glasses of wine, and I said to him, ‘I can go back to work full time, or I can turn the house into a bed and breakfast.”

Though her husband initially thought the idea a bit crazy, he soon joined Pam in her enthusiasm.

“We just thought: What do we have to lose? We can try it, and if we don’t like it, we don’t have to do it,” she says.

Alan Kagan had lived in his home near White Rock Lake for eight years, working in women’s clothing retail, when he decided he “wanted a different pace of lifestyle.”

“I’d decided to make a change, and a bed and breakfast was interesting to me because I had stayed in them quite a bit,” he says. “But I was going to go out of town [to open one]. It had never quite dawned on me that Dallas would be a place for a bed and breakfast.”

After doing research, however, Kagan “found out there really was a need here.”

Like the Southerns, his home is in a neighborhood already zoned for commercial usage. So he, too, stepped out of his comfort zone and decided to convert his 3,200-square-foot home into a bed and breakfast.

Both Kagan’s and the Southerns’ experience in opening a B&B has been one of surprising ease. Both have started Web sites and have listed their places with a bed and breakfast directory. Other than that, they’ve done little, if any, other advertising.

It’s not the only thing the two bed and breakfasts have in common. Unlike a lot of such establishments (the stereotypical B&B, Kagan says, is very traditional and filled with “early American antiques”) the Southern House and Kagan’s Courtyard on the Trail, which both offer three rooms to choose from, benefit from their owners’ interest in interior design.

The Courtyard on the Trail has a Mediterranean influence, with a stucco exterior, elaborate arched iron gates and flower boxes in the windows. The rooms are tastefully furnished with both modern and antique pieces, and Kagan’s art collection adds an eclecticism to the place. French doors lead from all three rooms to the arched patio and swimming pool in the back courtyard.

Southern’s guestrooms each feature a different theme. The smallest, called the Heritage Room, has red walls, old English fireplace ironwork and a four-poster Sheridan bed. The second largest room has a “West Indies kind of look, with a touch of African,” says Southern. A bamboo gauze canopy is draped over the bed and the walls are cocoa-colored. The bath these two rooms share has a decidedly more modern feel to it, with aluminum walls and black porcelain fixtures, including a clawfoot tub and shower.

The attic room, called the Austin Suite, includes both Mexican and Texan influences. The walls are moss green with a heavy textured finish. In addition to the bedroom, there is also a cozy little cove perfect for curling up with a book and a second sitting area to work or watch TV in. The bath has a south of the border feel, with blue and terra cotta tiling and sunny yellow accents. A view of downtown can be seen from the windows.

Both the Southerns and Kagan say a good portion of their clients come from the Dallas and surrounding areas.

“People who live far out in the suburbs think Dallas is a long way away and really scary, like there’s a monster here or something,” Southern says. “Then they come here and find out that this neighborhood is one of the quietest on the weekends. It’s a real dog-walking, jogging kind of neighborhood, with not much traffic.”

Though Kagan says he’s had guests from throughout the world, he adds, “Probably the majority of the people who stay here are within the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They’re just looking for a little getaway, and they don’t want to travel too far.”

The Southern House rates range from $115-$125 per night and include breakfast and tax. Rooms at Courtyard on the Trail cost between $100-$145 and include complimentary wine upon arrival and breakfast. For information, contact The Southern House at 214-720-0845 or visit www.southernhouse.com, or call the Courtyard at 214-553-9700 or visit www.inntravels.com/usa/tx/courtyard.html