Flanked by two majestic old magnolia trees, Heights House Hotel presides over the historic Boylan Heights neighborhood, less than a mile from downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. You can’t help but be drawn to the graceful brick-clad façade of the 1860 mansion, much in the way that Sarah Shepherd was when she used to walk past it everyday on her way to work.
“I always had an appreciation for historic houses, so that’s what initially drew me in,” Sarah recalls. “I always also wanted to start my own business, and the house started speaking to the idea of doing a hotel.”
Sarah and her husband, Jeff, purchased the cupola-crowned home, previously known as Montford Hall, in 2018. Completed in 1860 for wealthy North Carolina entrepreneur William Montfort Boylan and designed in the Italianate style by British architect William Percival, the house was structurally sound but suffering from years of neglect. Water-damaged floors (from a roof that hadn’t been replaced in over 150 years) and peeling plaster and wallpaper greeted the couple inside the house. But Sarah saw beyond the crumbling cosmetics. “When we first walked in, I just knew what it could be,” she shares.
After a three-year renovation, the 10,000-square-foot home, boasting tall, rounded windows, fifteen-foot ceilings, and ten fireplaces, opened as a boutique hotel in May 2021. Sarah is proud of the fact that the four front rooms—the parlor, dining room, drawing room, and library—are used for the same purpose now as they were when the home was built.
She added a curving bar to the parlor, where guests can order Italian-inspired craft cocktails. Decorative plasterwork adorns the ceiling in the adjoining drawing room, a perfect spot to sip a cocktail from The Parlor bar. Or borrow a book from the built-in shelves in the tranquil library and relax on the circular settee. Each morning, a European-style continental breakfast is served in the natural-light-filled dining room, featuring pastries from nearby Boulted Bread bakery and quiche from local café A Place at the Table.
The décor is a handsome mélange of original architecture, vintage rugs, modern art, and antiques and modern furniture, curated with help from Raleigh designer Bryan Costello. “What drove the design the most was [figuring out] how do we not take away from the original architecture, but just add to it with old and new pieces,” explains Sarah, who hand-picked every item from the vases on the mantels to the bath amenities in the rooms.
Accommodations include five original historic rooms and four modern rooms that were added during the renovation. I found the spacious Honeymoon Suite especially charming, decked out with a clawfoot tub, two fireplaces, and a nineteenth-century French gilt mirror. As in all the rooms, the frameless television is disguised as a work of art.
Heights House fosters a stay that takes you back in time, yet anchors you in the present moment. And it all begins with a glass of sparkling wine at check-in. “I hope it’s very comfortable and welcoming,” Sarah says. “I want people to feel transported and relaxed.”
Heights House Hotel, 308 S Boylan Ave, Raleigh, NC. Rates range from $229-$399. (919) 594-1881, heightshousenc.com
Eat + Drink in Raleigh
Oysters and Champagne for dinner? Yes, please. At St. Roch, chef/owner Sunny Gerhart sparks Louisiana dishes with global flavors at the restaurant whose name honors the New Orleans neighborhood where he grew up. Look to the chalkboards behind the bar for a list of the day’s harvest of raw oysters.
223 S Wilmington St, Raleigh. (919) 322-0359, strochraleigh.com
A two-time James Beard Award winner, Chef Ashley Christiansen revived this downtown diner in 2007. Since then, the homespun spot, with its double-horseshoe Formica counter and sophisticated cocktail program, has reimagined comfort food with local ingredients on the daily changing menu. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the crazy-good mac and cheese.
426 S McDowell St, Raleigh. (919) 832-4477, ac-restaurants.com
The joyful spirit of acclaimed chef Scott Crawford’s daughter, Jolie (“pretty” in French), inspired his chic take on a French bistro. Foie gras and chicken liver pâté with toasted brioche makes a lovely prelude to Gallic mainstays such as trout provençale and coq au vin—even more romantic when served by candlelight on the covered rooftop patio.
620 N Person St, Raleigh. (919) 803-7221, restaurantjolie.com
Raleigh Beer Garden
If beer is your beverage, you’re bound to find your favorites at the 8,500-square-foot Raleigh Beer Garden, which touts the Guinness World Record for the most varieties of beer on tap—nearly 400 at last count. Not in the mood for beer? They have a full bar, too, plus two levels and an outdoor patio on which to enjoy it all.
614 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC. (919) 324-3415, theraleighbeergarden.com
Photography provided by Heights House