74 guest rooms at The Carolina Inn have been renovated, primarily in the 1924 and 1940 section of the building. In addition, two new suites have been added including the three-bedroom Chancellor's Suite. We had the privilege of taking a tour with the fascinating inn historian, Ken Zogry, whose knowledge of the history of the inn is only exceeded by his passion to preserve it.
Ken, who authored a book on the history of The Carolina Inn titled The University's Living Room, explains that plans for the renovation project were first hatched in January 2009 at a charrette (which is a French term for a collaborative session of designers). The group discussed "what the inn was about and what made it special," said Ken. It was decided that the ultimate goal of the project would be to uphold the intentions of John Sprunt Hill, who gave the inn to the university in 1935 to serve as "a cheerful inn for visitors, a town hall for the state and a home for returning sons and daughters of alma mater."
The last renovation of the hotel took place in 1995 and the the inn has actually undergone renovations every 12 or 15 years since it was built in 1924. Ken explained, "Popular hotels get a lot of use. Even luxury hotels have wear and tear." One of the most important facts about the renovation that Ken wanted us to understand is that "The Inn is self-supporting. It does not take a dime from the university or state." This is because when Hill gifted the inn to the university, he did so with one stipulation: after expenses, all profits from the inn must go to the university library, especially to support The North Carolina Collection.
Guest rooms have been beautifully updated and decorated. (You can check out a few of them in our slide show to the left!) Changes include new furniture -- 80% of which was made in North Carolina (the remaining 20% was manufactured within 500 miles of Chapel Hill in an effort to reduce carbon emissions during delivery). Although most of the pieces are new, they maintain the "colonial revival" look that the inn is known for. However, nothing about these rooms is stuffy or antiquated. While furnishing may be more traditional, designers had fun with color -- one of the guest rooms we visited featured a hot pink leather chair.
A foremost objective of the project was to bring the inn up-to-date in terms of sustainability. One of the first things you may notice as a visitor is that all the toilets in the guest rooms are "dual-flush" to conserve water. The mattresses, which were manufactured by Kingsdown of Mebane, are made from bamboo and soy and are 99% recyclable. This is all in addition to the measures you would expect to take in making a hotel more environmentally friendly like the use of energy-efficient lighting and green cleaning products.
While guest room updates and reducing the inn's carbon footprint are wonderful improvements, the pièce de résistance of the project (and in my opinion, reason enough to rent a room even if you live within a mile of the inn) is the care Ken put into the "historical branding"-- infusing the space with the history of the inn, university and town.
Old photos and informational plaques in the lobby and gathering spaces serve as reminders of the rich past of the inn and Chapel Hill. Guest rooms and corridors are now lined with the faces of prominent UNC alumni and faculty; images are divided into 12 groupings representing various academic departments and schools. Ken says, "We are telling the story of the university through the people that were here."