The view doesn’t deserve all the fawning attention. The Beaux-Arts house is quite a looker itself, with two-story-high fluted Ionic columns topped by Scamozzi capitals, a garland-ornamented frieze and stained-glass windows that sparkle with the intensity of precious gems. The exterior coat of paint resembles thick white butter-cream frosting; I wanted to scoop it with a silver spoon.
When I checked in, the front desk employee — he sits at a real desk, not a counter — gave me a quick twirl around the lower level. He showed me the men’s and women’s parlors (separate, of course) and the elephantine wooden cabinet original to the property. He explained why it still resides in a corner of the main parlor: No one could figure out how to remove such a colossal piece of furniture.
The main house, alas, doesn’t accept overnight guests and is used mainly as a showpiece and a lobby with coffee in the morning. Visitors stay in the 10-room annex in the back, which dates from a less noble era: the 1970s. Across the street, James’s former home, Rosemary Hall, is now the Rosemary Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with a Gilded Age interior and the same creamy exterior.
Not playing favorites, but I was glad that I’d picked Walter over James. Lookaway’s guest rooms are named after flowers (gardenia, wisteria, primrose), herbs (rosemary) and romantic constructions (veranda). In my Rosemary Room, I felt a Southern drawl forming on my tongue as I peeled back the lace curtain to gaze at the camellia garden. I also had a sudden urge to write my deepest thoughts into a diary. I blame the dreamy girl decor: floral bedspread and pillows, white wrought-iron headboard, supple wingback chairs and an armoire where I could tuck away my secrets.
The room did have its idiosyncracies. For one, the TV was on the smaller side. I tried to drag its pedestal, the dresser, closer to my private screening area, the bed, but was foiled by the electrical cord. In the bathroom, I couldn’t fully convert the running water in the tub to shower mode, so I ended up taking a bath beneath a light rain falling from the shower head. The only glitch I couldn’t work around, or rationalize, was the tiny bottle of mouthwash left on the sink. The green liquid was partly gone and the seal was broken. I support recycling — but only up to a point.
The next day, I returned to the big casa for coffee and a banana plucked from a fruit bowl. I took my mug outside to the front stoop, back to the scenery that dared me to lookaway.
103 W. Forest Ave.
North Augusta, S.C.
Rooms from $99 a night.