For these transplants from the North, being Southern hosts was always in their nature.
Monique and William Armstrong had it all in the North; Monique: a career at the United Nations that allowed her to mingle with folks from all over the world, wearing $1,000 suits and scarves; William: a flourishing career as an artist, working on films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Barbara Streisand, and Woody Allen. The couple had two houses in New Jersey, six blocks away from the ocean, a guesthouse, and a loft in New York. Or, as Monique puts it, “We were just having fun.”
But in 1999, while working as the lead scenic artist on the sets of The Legend of the Bagger Vance, William fell in love with the history and architecture of Savannah. He called Monique down from New York.
“Choose a home,” he said. “We are staying.”
Monique and William purchased a brick shell and a temporary home, and then hired the construction crew from The Legend of the Bagger Vance, who completed the restoration in record time. (Monique acted as head contractor for the project; the home is now registered with the National Register of Historic Places.) But after they couldn’t sell their temporary home like they had intended, they decided to keep both.
“So, we started a bed and breakfast and I became an innkeeper,” she joyously says. The outcome: the Armstrong Inns Bed & Breakfast, which now consists of five historic townhomes scattered throughout the city.
The walls of each building are adorned with William’s New York-Nantucket artwork and Lowcountry paintings that help the viewer to see the world differently and uniquely. The halls are filled with Monique’s attentive hostess abilities; the kitchens are brimming with food she stays up late into the night making for her guests.
Running a bed and breakfast can be hectic and chaotic throughout the day, yet, in typical Southern fashion, the couple moves from task to task with poise.
“I cannot plan what I am doing from day to day. Some would say, ‘This woman, I cannot do her life,’” Monique jokes. “I am very blessed because I move from one thing to the other without getting scared, and if something is to happen, I say, ‘Ah well,’ and go with the flow. If you make plans, you are frustrated. You are stressed.”
Perhaps their tenderness and hosting abilities are a result of their former life of luxury in the North, or perhaps it’s simply in their nature. And although the two would deny the titles of Southerners, they possess all of the characteristics and qualities that define the ideal Southerner.
As Monique reflects back on first moving to Savannah, she says, “It is scary, a new life, but it is a life. It is wonderful. Here in Savannah, we are just in the right place. I know it. I just know it.”