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Out from Behind the Screen: Meghan McEwen of Designtripper.com

Meghan McEwen is a peculiar type of blogger: she really took her subject to heart. After spending a year writing about unique, carefully crafted lodgings around the world for her blog, Designtripper, she decided to open her own. Honor + Folly is a two-room inn above Slows restaurant in the artsy Corktown neighborhood of Detroit—Meghan’s hometown. It’s decorated with locally made goods (much of which is for sale) and artwork, and every detail has been carefully considered. It seems like Meghan learned a lot from the subjects she covered.

What makes a place special to you?
Ultimately it’s the story. I don’t have one particular aesthetic, not looking for something very luxury or budget—there’s no tangible way to catalog what works. A place just need to have a great story. Those stories are what make traveling interesting, they connect you to the place in some significant way. It’s important to know that it’s a person who owns the place, not a corporation. They know the neighbors, the shopkeepers, all these local secrets can be discovered through them.

Do you have one all-time favorite place you’ve stayed?
Oh gosh, that is the most impossible question. I guess it’s a place in Tuscany that was bought and designed by Patrizio Fradiani [Podere Palazzo, below]. I stayed there four years ago and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match that one. The detail of every single thing he did is so extraordinary and so thoughtful. He took apart an old farmhouse and built it back up using the original materials and traditional techniques. He researched everything so thoroughly. And I love the way of life in Italy: we shopped the old-fashioned way, going to the bread store, the pasta store, the butcher. We would spend a few hours cooking every day, looking out at this amazing Tuscan landscape through the kitchen windows.

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How much do you travel?
I can’t spend as much time as I used to [Meghan has two children]. We’re definitely a grounded family, we’re not jetsetting all over the place. And it depends on your definition of travel: we explore a lot even in our own state, we take at least five trips just in Michigan each year. I travel internationally from three to five times a year.

The places you write about are the kinds of places that make you not want to leave your room. And yet getting out into a new place, meeting the people, and learning the culture is one of the most incredible parts of travel. Is it hard not to write about the other stuff to do in a destination?
I’m not a frantic traveler. I never have a big list of stores and restaurants and sights that I have to visit. I prefer to cook at home and sit outside with a bottle of wine in the evening. I just like to enjoy myself. I don’t go out of my way to see and do everything. So the place I stay is generally more important.

Would you ever find yourself staying in an anonymous low-end airport hotel or a nondescript business hotel?
We go to Maine every summer, we used to drive until we were exhausted or the kids were annoyed and then spend one and a half hours looking for a cheap Holiday Inn. It would turn out to be just as expensive as a place like Porches [in North Adams, Mass.].  I’m not a snob but with a little research and the willingness to go a little further off the highway, it’s worth it—and no more expensive. So I will go out of my way to find something to create a better experience.

Your Detroit bed and breakfast, Honor and Folly (below), just opened. You announced your plans on the blog in October, and were open by early January; did it really all happen that fast?
I had been thinking about it for a long time, but it was fast. I had been dreaming for so long, I knew what it wanted to do and how to do it. The plans started to become serious mid-summer.

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What were some of the most important things you learned from having spoken to so many small innkeepers and stayed in so many places?
Honor and Folly ended up becoming a best-of of all the meaningful travel experiences I’ve had. A New Orleans place called Fair Folks and a Goat was inspiring to me. (It closed because the partners decided to get married and moved to New York.) I think it gave me the idea that it didn’t have to be one or the other: a store, food incubator, community space, and inn. That was probably the single most inspiring place, there are so many similarities between Detroit and New Orleans, and I kept thinking how that model would work in Detroit.

What was so important to you about opening in Detroit? How has the city changed for travelers?
I think people are curious about Detroit, it’s had an awful reputation, you didn’t hear about a lot of people coming to visit. I’ve lived in the Corktown neighborhood for seven years and am slowly seen travelers coming. The city has been revitalized. All cities have their own flavor, but more and more of them are starting to look alike. Detroit doesn’t even have a Gap! The city attracts an interesting traveler, and I wanted to offer them an interesting place to stay.

I imagine that owning and operating your own inn is rather different than writing about other peoples’ properties; how do you balance it all?
It doesn’t feel like work because it’s fun, talking to people, working with local designers and artists who are also my friends. I wanted to get out from behind the computer screen; I wanted some face-to-face interaction, talking to people.

How has the blog evolved? What are your plans for growth?
The blog started as a passion project and there was a glimmer of hope at the beginning that it would turn into something bigger, but I don’t want it to stress me out. I never want to feel pressure to post. I do have a small plan in the works: I’m starting a series called This American Trip, which will document trips to small American cities, road trips, and out-of-the-way hotels, motels, inns, camps, etc. I’m hoping to inspire more travel within the US this summer.

Photos courtesy of Meghan McEwen.