Story and photos by Michelle Porizkova
Porizkova is visiting local businesses in Raleigh this semester for the Peace of Downtown feature, sharing their stories in text and images with an eye toward capturing how businesses are faring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a breathtaking view of downtown Raleigh and a gated property that is surrounded by lush trees and white pillars, it’s easy to spot the picturesque hotel from a mile away.
Husband and wife team Sarah and Jeff Shepherd took the plunge and acquired a gorgeous property right in the heart of Boylan Heights, the neighborhood they’ve called home for over a decade, in 2018.
Driving past the historic hotel, Heights House, one can see the beauty they must have envisioned for the centuries-old mansion. I was able to ask Sarah Shepherd what motivated them to buy and renovate the property.
“I had always wanted to start my own business, what kind of business was always a question mark,” she said. “It wasn’t until walking by Montfort Hall in the historic Boylan Heights neighborhood daily for nearly 8 years that the dream of Heights House evolved.”
The incredible home was commissioned in 1858, and by the time the Shepherds acquired the property, it had been on its last leg.
“As an avid traveler and lover of historic properties, it was only fitting that the house leaned to the idea of being renovated into a boutique hotel,” said Shepherd. “At the time, Raleigh didn’t really have anything like it. From there, I wrote a business plan and did whatever it took to make it a reality.”
She says it took over eight months to rezone for commercial use. Working alongside Maurer Architecture, Greg Paul Builders, and Bryan Costello Design, renovations on the historic property began in early 2019.
Heights House made its debut in May 2021 as a nine-room boutique hotel and event venue.
Raleigh has certainly embraced the hotel, as the business has been booming for the couple native to the city.
“Raleigh has responded so positively! It’s been overwhelming to witness,” said Shepherd.
The couple thought a great deal about the local community when they decided to renovate and open this business downtown.
“We hope every neighbor and guest who walks through the front door feels the intention and genuine love that went into resurrecting this very special historic landmark,” said Shepherd.
In terms of the pandemic impacting their business, the couple has been lucky enough to have surpassed the initial wave that occurred during their restoration, leaving the time when they opened to feel more hopeful.
“The pandemic struck while we were still in restorations. We were quite lucky then we didn’t see a major impact besides some production and shipping delays,” said Shepherd. “When we opened about a year later, people were started to get vaccinated and feel comfortable getting back out in the world.”
The couple wasn’t expecting the opening that they had, but under the circumstances, the business has been relatively good for their first year.
With a dining room that is beautifully lit, rooms that fit every occasion, and a bar and lounge area to accommodate the events they hope to host, it’s evident that this space will come to serve many purposes.
Heights House has even begun to serve as a wedding venue, one that will bring charm and beauty to any bride and groom’s special day.
As for the future, the couple has a vision for their large Victorian beauty.
“We have a lot of plans for the future,” said Shepherd. “We are working on opening a bar that will be open to the public, pop-up dinners, afternoon tea, and community nights among a few.”
The Shepherds want to keep operating as a unique hotel and event venue, but also incorporate more events and ways for the local community to connect and enjoy this beautiful piece of Raleigh history.
With such a gorgeous interior, it’s easy to see how the hotel will become a hot commodity for local events and activities.
As a beacon of light in a city that’s constantly changing and being modernized, it’s refreshing to witness the old-town charm that remains in Boylan Heights all these years later.