The Lions Gate Inn bed and breakfast in Wake Forest wasnt just the realization of Louise Howards long-time dream, she believes. It was fate.
Its amazing what we did here and how we did it, she said. I just think it was meant to be.
The establishment opened in late 2007, and yet it is the only bed and breakfast to ever operate in the town filled with history.
Louise and her husband, William, bought the place in 2003 and spent the next 3-1/2 years fixing it up. From the moment Louise saw it, she knew it was going to take some intensive work.
We had to completely renovate this home, she said. It was practically ready to be torn down.
But she had been looking for a place to start a bed and breakfast, and the location seemed just right.
To understand how the Lions Gate Inn came to be, you have to travel back in time. William is a former missile engineer. He and Louise eventually operated a business selling electronic components and subsystems, usually to military companies.
Twenty five years before coming to Wake Forest, Louise began thinking about creating a bed and breakfast. She imagined that after they retired, they could give it a go. But she didnt imagine it would take so long to happen.
We just kept working, thinking, Ill do it one day.
That day finally came in 2003. The two had retired and move south. William was from North Carolina and Louise from Tennessee, and they finally settled on Wake Forest as a probable spot for their bed and breakfast. One day, Louise was driving down Main Street in Wake Forest, when she spotted the house that would become the Lions Gate Inn.
I came down this street and saw this house and it was in deplorable condition, she said. And I couldnt understand why it looked like that on this street.
She approached the owner, who had spent decades in the house raising his family. He wasnt eager to sell; he wanted a chance to fix the house up first. But Louise was in love, and she asked him to part with the house as is.
And I had never been inside the house, Louise said. I had no idea what it looked like inside. But I wanted the location.
Eventually, the owner agreed to sell.
Even so, the struggle was only beginning. The Howards were not even sure Wake Forest would approve the house to become a bed and breakfast.
Theres always some types of problems with the people who tried to do bed and breakfasts before, William said. They would just come in and try to start things up and do things without having proper parking and things like that.
So William and Louise researched and made sure they did everything Wake Forest required. They even polled their neighbors, who were so gracious in their acceptance that some of them spoke to officials on the Howards behalf.
Its a good thing everything worked out, too, because Louise had been collecting antiques from all over the world for more than 25 years. The valuable pieces dot the establishment, adding some authentic Chinese wood sculpture, antique art, well-preserved furniture and other touches of style. Completing the quaint atmosphere is a winding staircase that leads to a cupola where the Howards can look out over Main Street.
I just like the atmosphere. I like entertaining people, Louise said of the bed and breakfast business. I like the idea of being able to collect all the antiques and have a large enough place that I can display them and that people can enjoy them.
Wake Forest isnt exactly a destination vacation spot, so the Howards business is sporadic and revolves around people who visit with a purpose.
They either come to work or come to visit a son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter, William said. Thats the kind of people we get. We dont usually get people on vacation.
A lot of their business is repeat customers who sometimes stay for extended periods of time.
Whatever their reason for visiting, guests can expect Louise and William to be accommodating and gracious. Louise says she just likes to share with people and make things better.
People are amazed when they come here, because they see the pictures online and they come in the house and they say the pictures dont do this place justice, Louise said. I feel like I give them more than they expect.
Drive up to 238 N. Main St. in Wake Forest, and you may get more than you expect, too.