Couple’s vision breathes new life into pre-Civil War mansion

Newly renovated Montford Hall, now Heights House Hotel. (Photos via Facebook)

RALEIGH — Nearly three years in the making, North Carolina’s newest small luxury hotel, Heights House, will open later this Spring and is accepting reservations and scheduling private events as early as May 6th. Owners Sarah and Jeff Shepherd say the new boutique hotel will be a pillar of hospitality and beauty for the city and global travelers alike. “Authenticity and top-notch service that Jeff and I have enjoyed on our world travels, is what inspired us to create a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel,” explains Sarah Shepherd. “We look forward to sharing unique and memorable experiences with our friends, family and community at Heights House.” 

The couple purchased the property in summer 2018, enduring an 8-month rezoning process, and began renovations in Spring 2019. They worked in collaboration with Maurer Architecture, Greg Paul Builders, and Bryan Costello Design to literally resurrect Montfort Hall, the 10,000 square foot pre-Civil War Italianate-style mansion located in Raleigh’s Boylan Heights neighborhood. The name, Heights House, is a nod to the home’s location inside the Boylan Heights historic overlay district. The owners say because Montfort Hall was both a Raleigh and a national historic landmark, it was subject to protective covenants in favor of Preservation NC. Preservation NC oversaw all exterior and interior work. 

“Needless to say, there were a lot of eyes on this project,” says Shephard. “First of all, all original details were restored, not eliminated, and anything new was approved for appropriateness. We obtained a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission for all exterior work on the structure and property, and pursued historic tax credits for the entire rehabilitation, which required compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.” 

Historic Montford Hall prior to renovation.

The hotel includes nine en suite guest rooms and an event setting for up to 120. Rates begin at $229, and vary depending upon the season. Signature amenities include Brooklinen Waffle Robes, Grown Alchemist Toiletries and Frette Linens to Samsung Frame TV’s, Boise Wireless Speakers and Linus Bikes. The owners say meticulous care was taken to maintain the integrity of the original architecture while incorporating modern and vintage touches including artwork, fixtures, rugs, and custom furniture. 

Heights House Hotel’s hospitality also includes a European style breakfast offered in the home’s original dining room and front porch terraces. House-made yogurt and granola will be complemented by a full Counter Culture Coffee program and fresh pastries from award-winning neighborhood bakery, Boulted Bread. Complimentary wine and cheese will be served in the library from 5-6pm, and in the evenings, guests will discover beautifully crafted cocktails in the parlor.

“Raleigh has been growing with some amazing small hotels popping up over the past few years, but we really don’t have many historic boutique hotels owned and operated by a family. We hope it becomes a reason why out of towners want to visit Raleigh!”

Sarah and Jeff Shepherd, owners, Heights House Hotel

The Shepherds are longtime residents of Boylan Heights, and are deeply involved in their neighborhood and the greater Raleigh Community. After walking by this architectural gem, Montfort Hall, for years wondering, “What If?,” they took the plunge and made their wildest dream into a reality. They say it is thanks to their shared background in technology, marketing and customer service and their love of travel, architecture, and design, that they have been so well positioned for this new role as hotel owners. Sarah will be on-site daily overseeing operations (while Jeff continues his role as Lead Designer at Imangi Studios), and together, they will be found mingling with guests over wine and cheese or cocktails in the salon. 

Like everywhere else in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic took a real toll on the state’s tourism and hospitality sectors. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Raleigh) says the pandemic’s total economic impact on Wake County, has been $175.6 million in losses and $21 million in tourism tax collections alone. There are 162 hotels in Wake County including Heights House and according to the GRCVB, visitor spending supports more than 28,000 jobs across the region. Sadly, 66% of all hospitality jobs in Wake County were lost last year, but now that tourism is starting to rebound experts are hopeful that with more visitors comes more spending and therefore more hospitality sector job openings. In fact many hotels and restaurants are beginning to hire now but they are finding it a challenge to find enough employees to fill the slots. 

Historic Montford Hall during renovation.

There is reason for optimism, as more and more Americans get vaccinated and people travel again. Fall is typically the busiest time of year for Raleigh’s hotel industry, August through November, due to numerous festivals and events taking place. Some of those events typically include Hopscotch Music Festival, IBMA Bluegrass Live!, and the North Carolina State Fair, among others. Meetings, conventions, and sporting events throughout the year also bring in many overnight visitors. 

Dennis Edwards, President and CEO, of Visit Raleigh says hotel occupancy has already begun to rebound. In 2019, before the pandemic, Wake County occupancy ran at 73.8% for the year. In February 2020, occupancy was at 73.1%. Wake County saw its lowest weekly performance April 5-11, 2020 when occupancy was at 24.4%, down 69.2% from the same week the year before. Now however, Wake County Hotel weekly performance for the week of March 28-April 3, 2021 was at 52.6%, up 107% from the same week last year. 

Remarkably, no area hotels were forced to close last year due to COVID. In fact, four hotels actually opened last year, three of which opened amidst the pandemic. Those are The Longleaf, Origin Raleigh (which opened in March 2020, then shutdown and reopened over the summer), Hampton Inn & Suites Raleigh Midtown, and WaterWalk Hotel in Morrisville.   

Edwards says he is ecstatic to welcome Heights House Hotel to the City of Oaks. “The historic mansion turned boutique hotel, and National and Raleigh Historic Landmark, will round out the boutique and independent hotel offerings in the area including Guest House Raleigh, Origin Raleigh, The Longleaf Hotel, The Umstead Hotel and Spa, and The Mayton,” he says. “These properties speak to the immense growth and positive outlook on the future of Raleigh as a top tourism destination and place to stay.”