Denton’s historic Brownlow House is transforming the bed-and-breakfast into a stylish wedding retreat.
Known for eclectic eateries and live music venues, downtown Denton, Texas, seems an unlikely locale for a tranquil bed-and-breakfast. But the Brownlow House stands out as a jewel in the bustling urban setting, providing an elegant venue for special events and a quiet weekend hideaway close to home.
Built in 1912, the Southern Victorian house metamorphosed from a family residence into a fourplex for female college teachers in the 1950s before being reborn as a B&B in the late 1980s. Although the inn was popular for more than 20 years, its luster faded after changing owners a decade ago. Fast-forward to early 2020, just before the world shut down, when Whitney and Cuong Mai stumbled across a listing for the property on a commercial real estate site.
“We would have to jump on it, if we were going to do it,” says Whitney Mai, noting the high demand for commercial space in Denton. “I prayed about it a lot, and it all worked out.”
The Mais closed on The Brownlow House last February and began extensive renovations from top to bottom. They wanted to create a stylish hideaway where people could host intimate gatherings and couples could tie the knot—the kind of venue they wished existed when planning their own wedding several years ago.
“We were looking everywhere for a place where we could have a party,” recalls Mai of their search. Choices in the Dallas area were limited to palatial estates or nondescript meeting spaces, she says, adding, “We didn’t want it to be a ballroom or anything, but some place that felt a little more like a beautiful home.”
The Brownlow House is just that, newly reimagined into an elegant yet comfortable event venue that operates as a bed-and-breakfast on the weekends. The yearlong renovation involved opening up walls, refurbishing hardwood floors, updating the bathrooms and installing a commercial kitchen, among other changes. The new owners also enclosed the porch facing the rear courtyard and installed stately wood and leaded glass doors from an architectural salvage store to create a grand entrance. The result is reminiscent of historic homes in Charleston or New Orleans and makes the property feel like a private oasis.
The new proprietors tackled much of the work themselves, juggling Cuong’s commitments as the owner of the popular Pickled Carrot food truck and Whitney’s schedule as a personal trainer. When the state went into lockdown, they faced the added challenge of homeschooling their three adopted boys while caring for an infant daughter and hired contractors to help lighten the load.
Cuong took the lead on construction, while Whitney and her mother, designer Laurel Dewell, made over the interior. The two women spent months visiting antiques malls and vintage furniture retailers to select the furnishings and décor that would honor the home’s rich history and provide a beautiful backdrop for special occasions.
“Each room is meant to be dual-purpose. It can be for an event, or it can be a bed-and-breakfast,” says Mai, standing in the library just off the main parlor. With dark paneled walls and built-in bookshelves, the room lends a masculine touch to the downstairs, where the living and dining areas are flooded with natural light. The marble-top buffet can serve as a bar for larger gatherings, or B&B guests can relax in an armchair with a glass of wine before heading upstairs to sleep. “We wanted it to be used for both things, without feeling like someone’s home or an event space—we blend those two together,” she says.
The second story offers four guest bedrooms, each with a clawfoot tub and an en suite bathroom. Every room has a different theme and is neatly appointed with sumptuous soft goods, custom draperies and refined artwork. “We have handpicked all the little boxes and lamps and everything that goes in these spaces,” says Mai, who hopes that guests will be inspired by the unique details. “I really see this as being a trendsetting place and somewhere people go for décor and design ideas.”
Although most of the furnishings are antiques, the house feels far from stuffy. “If it’s beautiful and it’s good design, it will never go out of style,” says Dewell. The Brownlow House also features artwork and décor items from her own family’s personal collection, weaving their story into the tapestry of the home’s history.
The new owners already have plans for expansion, including turning the freestanding garage into a banquet hall or café that opens to the patio. But for now, they are excited to welcome their first guests and give them an unforgettable experience. Says Mai, “This house is full of family, it’s full of memories, and it wants to create more memories.” *
Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and international travel. Read more of her work at lesliejthompson.com.
The Brownlow House
815 N. Locust St.
Denton, TX 76201