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Columbia Business Monthly

Hotel Trundle: Columbia's first boutique hotel celebrates its city roots and earns a Southern Living designation

Nov 20, 2019 02:21PM ● By Leigh Savage

Rita Patel and Marcus Munse, the couple behind Hotel Trundle, had worked in architecture and hospitality when they ran across the three historic buildings that would change the trajectory of their lives. 

"From the moment we first entered the historic Western Auto, Rose Talbert and Powell buildings in Columbia's Main Street District, we knew that we had uncovered an extraordinary opportunity," Munse says. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meticulously restore three historic buildings into a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel."

Hotel Trundle opened on Taylor Street in April 2018, and now downtown Columbia's first boutique hotel has been invited to join the Southern Living Hotel Collection, a curated network of hotels, inns and resorts across the South handpicked by the magazine as embodying Southern hospitality. Hotel Trundle joins just a handful of South Carolina properties on the list, including the Inn at Patrick Square in Clemson and The Wilcox in Aiken. 

"To be a part of that collection, to have that brand behind us and supporting us is really awesome," Patel says about the honor from Southern Living, which has 15 million subscribers. "We're able to reach more people and bring more attention to Columbia."

Columbia is seeing a surge in tourism and work-related travel, with hotel occupancy for the region rising from 60 percent five years ago to 67 percent as of September, according to Experience Columbia SC. For downtown hotels, the rate is 73.7 percent. 

Patel and Munse say a boutique hotel is typically defined as one that has fewer than 100 rooms and is independently owned, though the term has been skewed by large chains that offer "boutique-style" hotels. Boutique hotels also tend to focus on the place they are located, building relationships with local artisans and businesses and paying homage to local history. 

The couple took that idea to heart. "We wanted to have as much local and unique artwork as possible, and also provide those kind of consumable amenities by these local business owners who have great stories," Patel says. 

Jason Outman, executive director at Experience Columbia SC, says the downtown area offers a wide range of hotels, but "there has been a spike in the industry for unique, boutique-style hotels. With the history of the buildings, the decor selections and the unique selections from local businesses, Hotel Trundle is offering a special experience beyond the traditional hotel setting."

The 41-room hotel features a large cross-stitched pattern on the stairwell by local artist Bohumila Augustinova that depicts the rose logo used by former occupant Rose Talbert Paint Co. Local favorites Indah coffee and Carolina Cafe bagels are available at breakfast, and even the beds (by Bricker & Beam) and mattresses (by Best Mattress) are made in West Columbia. Munse and Patel visited Harris Pillow in Beaufort for their pillows. 

"When we include all of our expenses, 88 percent of our expenses go back to the state," Munse says. "We are really proud of that, because it makes an economic impact."

Preserved historic elements from the original three buildings, built in 1914, 1920 and 1940, include exposed brick, stamped tin ceiling tiles and deep modlings. "We let the buildings dictate how we designed the spaces and how the rooms would fit," says Patel, who went for a "midcentury eclectic" style. 

Patel, who has a masters in architecture from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte as well as a bachelor's degree in furnishings and interiors from the University of Georgia, focused on interior design "and all of the pretty stuff," she says. Munse, who has a bachelor's in architecture from UNC Charlotte, focused on the mechanical and engineering side. Both provided input into the design process that was led by the Boudreaux Group, which is located on the second floor of the Powell Building. 

Today, Munse oversees operations while Patel handles marketing and creative. Public spaces include a small co-work area and a beer and wine bar, where live jazz draws crowds on the first Thursday of each month. Local art on display includes Cedric Umoja's curated graffiti, Angela Zokan's paper collage works and Lauren Dillon's sculptured installation in the lobby. A new interactive wing mural by Megan Carn is already drawing attention for its Instagram appeal. 

While they didn't always plan to open a boutique, the couple say the timing, financing and location was just too perfect to pass up. And if the right opportunity strikes again, they may leap into owning another hotel—”but they won't go far, thanks to their passion for Columbia and their desire to be home most days at 5:30 for dinner with their young children. 

They also appreciate the chance to work together each day. "People say working with your spouse must be hard, but I grew up with that being my normal," says Patel, whose parents, Hema and Sudhir Patel, own Courtesy Management Inc., an Orangeburg company that manages hotels. "It's very normal for us, and we love it. It's been a dream come true."