A couple hosted sex parties in the Hardwood Cabin — their six-bedroom rental home in Des Moines — until the city cited them for running a business without a license. They say they're being persecuted. The city says they violated zoning laws for their residential neighborhood.

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DES MOINES — Regan “Draco” Lane-Smith and “Naughty” Nonah Elliston outfitted their six-bedroom rental house with 15 mattresses, bondage crosses and sex swings. They built elaborate sets in their backyard for taking erotic photos.

And they promoted the Hardwood Cabin online.

Up to 60 guests at a time came to mingle, sunbathe nude by the pool and have sex with fellow swingers and fetishists, Elliston said. Parties were frequent enough that the couple’s laundry service was cycling through 50 bedsheets a week.

But the couple shut down the sex club last month when they were cited for running a business without a license and threatened with fines of up to $513 a day.

City officials say naked or not, the couple had been warned that their activities violated zoning laws for their residential neighborhood. Large swingers groups aren’t unusual locally, but they generally meet in commercial areas or hotels and not close to other homes.

The gatherings also led to several visits by police responding to neighbors’ repeated complaints of noise and nudity.

Elliston and Lane-Smith say they’re being persecuted for their lifestyle, and insist they didn’t charge admission. They’re looking for somewhere new to host parties. They say they should have the right to live their lives and use their property the way they see fit.

“We’re happy hedonists,” Elliston said. “As far as I know you’re still allowed to throw a party in your house.”

“We’re normal people”

Elliston, 40, and Lane-Smith, 39, met at a swingers party in Puyallup seven years ago and married three years later.

Lane-Smith is a self-employed computer consultant; Elliston does consulting work in the court system.

“We’re normal people who happen to enjoy sex,” Elliston said.

A few years into their marriage, they decided to find a house that would perfectly suit them and their hobby. They spent six months searching. They wanted to be clear of schools and churches. And they needed a house and yard private and expansive enough for large parties.

About 18 months ago they found it. The house, on the 1200 block of South 232nd Street, rents for $2,200 a month. It seemed perfect: It’s a big house on a suburban street, set back from the road and shrouded in foliage.

Lane-Smith canvassed the neighborhood after they moved in. He explained that they’d be hosting parties, and gave his number so neighbors could call if it got too loud.

Then the Hardwood Cabin opened its doors.

The parties catered to “big beautiful women” and “big handsome men,” and to the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism) scene, they said.

Guests had to be at least a friend of a friend to gain entry, Elliston said. Regulars helped maintain the grounds and clean up after parties.

They began with just a couple parties a month, then increased to weekly events. In March it became three times a week — hosting about 20 people on Wednesdays and Fridays, and between 40 and 60 on Saturdays, Elliston said.

Elliston counted police officers, nurses and lawyers among her guests, she said. Members were as young as 22 and as old as 80.

The couple hosted a naked rally for presidential candidate Barack Obama and naked karaoke nights. A friend’s “mobile sex dungeon” — created in a small cargo truck — was parked alongside the house.

The Hardwood Cabin was among about a dozen well-frequented sex clubs in the Seattle area, said Allena Gabosch, director of the Center for Sex Positive Culture, a nonprofit social club for the greater Seattle area.

She said she didn’t know of any others run out of private homes.

Neighbors’ complaints

Within months of the couple’s first party, the patience of neighbors was tested.

John Rosenstiel, who lives next door, estimated he has asked partygoers to move cars out of his driveway 15 times since January.

Rosenstiel is groundskeeper for the Hardwood Cabin and three adjacent properties, including his rental. Often he’d grab dinner at the Hardwood Cabin potlucks before the real partying began, he said. But Rosenstiel also found himself picking up condoms and hundreds of cigarette butts in a vacant property behind his home, he said.

“They’ve tried to be decent,” Rosenstiel said. “With all that many people, you’re going to lose control … It was too much.”

Many nights, Rosenstiel said, he left his TV on as he went to sleep to block out moaning and slapping noises.

“Once in a while it sounds like a raccoon dying,” Rosenstiel said.

On Wednesdays, get-togethers began in the afternoon. One neighbor, who declined to be named, has a backyard adjacent to the house’s. She said she kept her 4-year-old daughter indoors so she couldn’t see during parties. She and another neighbor said they both called police multiple times in the past year, complaining of noise and nudity.

There wasn’t any sex in the back yard — of which some neighbors had a partial view — but many visitors sunbathed and swam nude at events, Elliston said.

In all, police took more than a dozen complaints about noise and backyard nudity in the past year, public records show. Most of them note the “ongoing problem” of loud noise and nudity. One neighbor even wrote an anonymous letter to the city asking for help.

Parking was also an issue. Though Elliston and Lane-Smith had a plan that included a parking map, guests’ cars often lined the street and sometimes were parked illegally. Some guests got tickets at a July 5 party. Elliston and Lane-Smith received a noise citation that night.

Elliston said police also had visited the house during two other parties to address noise and other complaints, but left after issuing warnings.

Was club a business?

Des Moines police also investigated the club for more serious illegal activity such as prostitution, said Sgt. Bob Collins. They found none, but the club eventually caught the attention of the city’s code-enforcement officers.

In May, Elliston and Lane-Smith got a letter from the city warning them not to run a business out of the home without a license.

They ignored it.

“We didn’t take any of it seriously, because we weren’t a business,” Elliston said.

Elliston said the couple asked for donations at the door. Money helped pay for laundry service for sheets; disposable plates and silverware; as well as utilities (costs that shot up based on the number of showers people were taking at the home and the maintenance of two hot tubs and a heated pool, she said).

But in mid-July, not long after police officers’ third visit, the couple was cited for running a business without a license. They also got a second letter threatening fines of up to $513 a day should they continue.

The citation has nothing to do with the couple’s lifestyle, and everything to do with using the house as a revenue-making party venue, Assistant City Attorney Susan Mahoney said.

“People have a right to use and enjoy their property,” Mahoney said, “but they have to be mindful that people around them also have that right.”

The city’s evidence came from sex-networking Web sites, the couple’s now-defunct Web site and neighbors and others associated with the property, Mahoney said.

“Come out … on Wednesday, ladies are reduced rate or food or pop donations and men are the usual rate,” one announcement on HardWoodCabin.com read. Elliston said the rate referred to a donation.

A post on a Des Moines-area online swingers forum from “Hardwood14” read: “we own a house in Des Moines wa, that we rent out per the day or night, and for parties.”

Elliston said the post was written by a roommate who moved out a year ago and that the couple has never rented out the house.

“Big happy family”

One former regular said that although Elliston and Lane-Smith collected donations, they clearly weren’t making a living off the parties. The money helped with “the chlorine, the towels, basically all it did was pay for the stuff to keep the place running,” said Blane Hixon, who lives nearby.

“We probably bent the rules a little bit,” Hixon, 48, said of the noise and parking issues. “It was kind of like a big happy family thing. We were just trying to express our freedoms and have fun.”

Ari, a Seattle-area computer technician who didn’t want his last name used because of privacy concerns, said he attended several of the parties in the past year.

“I threw my money in the hat like everybody else,” Ari said. “As far as I could tell they weren’t making a huge profit or anything.”

Elliston and Lane-Smith requested a mitigation hearing with the city. The court date is set for Sept. 11.

Now they’re looking for a place where they can run a commercial club in Tukwila, Renton or Auburn.

Elliston is determined to find somewhere the party can go on: “Everyone wants a private place that’s safe to play.”

Leslie Anne Jones: 206-464-2745 or ljones@seattletimes.com