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Honor & Folly

2132 Michigan Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48216

Meghan McEwen

By Tunde Wey
March 15, 2013

As proprietor of the charming Honor & Folly, Meghan McEwen is an anachronism; a modern innkeeper in a space as urban and contemporary as Detroit.

McEwen describes it as, “A small-scale, design-focused Detroit inn. Honor & Folly is reminiscent of the way folks used to travel; a few beds above the village pub or restaurant with a hearty breakfast. You'll be immersed in the oldest neighborhood of Detroit - smack in the middle of one of the most thriving blocks in the city. You'll sit next to locals at the bar downstairs—or the coffee shop—and learn about the city from people who live here. Detroiters are a pretty friendly lot.”

Honor & Folly is a quaint two-bedroom bed and breakfast perched above Slows BBQ, in the unassumingly trendy Corktown neighborhood. It is a throwback to a bygone time when the innkeeper acted as town guide and the lodger was more guest than client. And this is what makes Honor & Folly special: its harkening to a simpler time while guests are wholly immersed in the romantic urban tourist experience that Detroit now offers.

At the top of 2012, McEwen began a grand experiment on an intimate scale; she wagered that there was a different breed of urban tourist, one interested in divorcing themselves from the kind of sanitized and insipid experience that marks most advertorial -ready holiday trips.

“I had this theory about the type of tourist who comes to Detroit; the 'Detroit tourist.' That tourist is operating on a different tourist plane. They have read and are fascinated with Detroit. The available options didn’t fit that type of intrepid curious traveler that’s really unlike any other tourists, because people who are coming here are not the same kind of people who are coming to New York or Chicago. That’s what I found while running Honor & Folly; all the people who come here are so interesting.”

McEwen intimates that she opened up Honor & Folly on an assumption: “I had a hunch and I wouldn’t have opened it if I didn’t think that this curious traveler existed…but I didn’t know; I just had to open it and see.”

Her so-called “hunch” is belied by a decade-long experience in the design and hospitality industry. McEwen had been a writer for ten years covering design and travel. She was editor for a popular design publication in Chicago and launched the popular niche design and travel website Design Tripper.

Honor & Folly has welcomed around 100 guests, and her guests are just what she expected.

“One of the most amazing parts of running Honor & Folly is that my expectations of who the traveler is have been met. They come with their own agendas. Honor & Folly has been booked every weekend since it has been opened, and only one person has asked, ‘Where can I go shopping?’ They are not here for that. They are interested in what makes Detroit different from other cities. I can’t imagine (other hotels) would know who to call if people wanted to tour buildings or urban farms, but because I live here and I am connected to the fabric I am able to do that for people, and all that it does is prove that my hunch about who these travelers are was right.”

McEwen describes Honor & Folly as a response to an evolving neighborhood and growing client base. Everything from the so-called heritage chic décor to the incorporation of locally-produced wares has been reflective of McEwen’s sensitivity to authenticity and a customized travel experience.

“There was no real aesthetic plan for Honor & Folly but I knew I wanted to feature work from local people. It informs the experience. If you can get these little snapshots that reflect the overall aesthetic of Detroit it just helps make a visit that more interesting; the fact that it’s for sale is just an added layer. We have dinnerware that Abigail Murray made—she’s a ceramicist and she made a special line for Honor & Folly. Then there is the spectacular stuff, like a light fixture by Cristin Richard who is known for making dresses from the intestines of pigs—she had never applied her work to interior design. She did a giant ethereal-looking globe that hangs over the bed.

'I found a sheep farm in northern Michigan that made wool blankets and they are every bit as beautiful as, and softer than, a Pendleton blanket. I just felt that if I could support someone locally it would make it that much more interesting.”

This quest for inimitable experiences that are simple but profound is where McEwen is most comfortable. She moved from Chicago eight and half years prior, escaping the city to Corktown to raise her two kids with her husband. In Corktown, she was helping form a community that was small, kind and knit tight against the vacant buildings, dilapidated facades and thinning streets. Her family opened up Slows BBQ, and O’Connor Real Estate Development.

Soon the little stretch of buildings on the corner of Michigan and 14th sputtered with commercial activity and public interest beyond urban spelunkers eternally fascinated with the dimmed mammoth train station.

An artisan coffee shop opened next door to McEwen’s husband’s office, then a fancy cocktail bar a building away, and across the street an upscale diner was resurrected from the skeleton of an old coffee shop. All the new businesses mingled with the older established bars and restaurants and soon a full-blown revival was abloom.  

It is in the midst of all of this renewed development and new interest in the area that McEwen established her bed and breakfast, providing a place where all can appreciate what it is that Detroit was becoming.

Yes, Detroit is a tourist destination attracting a different sort of tourist than visit elsewhere and Honor & Folly is their preferred lodging.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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  • Phillip Cooley
    Phillip Cooley is a co-owner of Slows BarBQ and the founder of Ponyride, a creative incubator for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to share knowledge, resources and networks.