Behind the proper facade of a dignified Queen Anne house lies a secret: a chic and comfortable boutique inn
By William Irvine • Photographs By Rick Ricozzi
In 1895, John Harriss Howe, a leading builder in Wilmington, was invited to send a presentation of his architectural work to the Atlanta Exposition, an event designed to promote the American South and attended by more than 800,000 people. Today the exposition is best remembered for the Atlanta Compromise speech given by Booker T. Washington, a call for racial cooperation.
A member of the prominent Howe family — who were free black carpenters and joiners in the city before the Civil War — John Howe represented the latest of four generations of men of color active in Wilmington’s building community. And among the 12 photographs in Howe’s architecture display was a recently completed Queen Anne-style residence on South Fourth Street, now known as the Williams-MacMillan House and the new home of Dreamers Welcome, a stylish boutique inn.
Stephan Watts, the founder and general manager of Dreamers Welcome, is no stranger to comfort. Raised in Germany and now living in New York, he has spent more than 20 years in the hospitality industry, and also runs a boutique vegetarian hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was looking for a new project in the Southeast when he happened upon a bed-and-breakfast hotel for sale in Wilmington and took a tour. From the very beginning, he was hooked. The combination of the historic Victorian house and the walkable downtown sold him. And being someone who likes a challenge, he envisioned a hotel for adventurous and sophisticated travelers.
In partnership with artist Roy Delgado — who was responsible for every detail of Dreamers Welcome, from the Tropical Depression macramé wall art to the soft sofa pillows to the curation of the Spotify play list — he has created an elegant but minimal design that combines the amenities of a boutique hotel with the comfortable feeling of staying in a private house.
The approach to the house is welcoming. A cast-iron gate opens onto a lush selection of exotic plants; in its previous life, the house was on the Azalea Festival tour, and the owners have simplified and streamlined it in keeping with their green, minimal aesthetic. The architecture is a mish-mash of Queen Anne and shingle style — a dramatic mass of planes and forms in three stories with a gabled roof.
The inn is divided into four room categories: The Traveler, The Romantic, The Visionary and The Dreamer, the last being an apartment suite with a private entry, a king-size bed in a separate bedroom, with a living area and kitchenette. There is also a three-bedroom bungalow available in nearby Sunset Park.
Stepping inside, you enter a world that is light and tailored with a distinctly sophisticated California vibe. In the parlor, where guests can congregate for breakfast, a pink tête-à-tête from Anthropologie sits in front of the massive baronial fireplace, original to the house but lightened with a bright white tile surround. Behind this room is the domain of Anna Masteller, the manager and private chef, who hails from the Monterey Peninsula and creates the complimentary vegan breakfast for guests. Or you can ask for the chef’s special (think whole grain peach fritters and fresh-pressed grapefruit juice).
Across the hall is a beautiful first-floor bedroom suite with a view of the garden. It has an enormous greenhouse bathroom with Versace wallpaper. In the stairhall, there are stylish newels and balustrade on the staircase, which were designed by artist Jane Iredell Meares, who with her husband, William Arthur Williams, were the first occupants of the house. But what dominates is the three-story dried amaranth plant hanging, an example of the dried flower art of Marcos Toledo of Influorescent in New York, who came and stayed at the property to create this and other dried flower installations (there is also a stunning dried celosia hanging in the parlor) . The center hall ceiling is covered with elegant bronze leafing that was applied square by square.
On the second floor, the atmosphere of the guest rooms is serene and tailored, with custom work spaces and open closets. The walls are done in a triple-finished plywood process created by local craftsman Stanislav Raetchi; the blond wood is sanded, waxed, then sanded again. Each room has a custom console table/desk and a map of downtown with suggested shopping and restaurants. TVs are hidden behind abstract canvas works from Küdd: Krig Home.
Ascending to the third floor is like a trip to a 1960s nightclub, with vibrantly patterned pink and orange wallpaper in the stairhall. The third-floor aerie feels like a beige cocoon, with a large bed surrounded by waxed beige walls, and scenic views over the churchyard garden and the rooftops of historic houses nearby.
A massive en suite bathroom features a slipper tub and a large rain shower head head — the drain is actually in the center of the floor.
And when you are not gazing out your window, attending an on-site yoga class or eating some of Anna’s delicious food, there are myriad extras that can be arranged: a gourmet picnic lunch at the beach, boating to a private barrier island, stand-up paddleboard and surf lessons, massages and wellness treatments. It is no surprise to learn that Dreamers Welcome has already become a film-industry favorite. No names, please.
Dreamers Welcome, 118 South Fourth St., Wilmington: www.dreamerswelcome.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram: dreamers.welcome.
William Irvine is the senior editor of Salt. His latest book, Do Geese See God? A Palindrome Anthology, is available on Amazon.