Christmas ornaments decorate the spiral staircase at Carriage House, a Capitol Hill bed-and-breakfast on Third Street Southeast.
Most tourists visiting Washington, D.C., sleep in beige, cookie-cutter hotel rooms with pay-per-view movies on the flat-screen TV, stocked mini-fridges and an optional wake-up call from a drone-voiced front desk.
Others experience the city more like locals. On Capitol Hill, two bed-and-breakfast inns, tucked away on streets lined with row houses, offer more intimate experiences for guests than a Marriott or a Hyatt — visitors are sleeping in someone’s home rather than a hastily cleaned hotel room.
Both B&Bs are located in the most residential parts of Southeast: Carriage House is halfway between the Capitol South and Eastern Market metros, and A Capitol Place is five blocks northeast of Eastern Market.
A third B&B, Maison Orleans, was converted into a medium-term rental property earlier this year.
Current and former innkeepers said they distinguish themselves from chain hotels with personal service, whether that means recommending restaurants and tourist attractions or simply having a drink with their guests late at night. B&Bs on Capitol Hill also allow visitors to get to know the neighborhood, something few tourists in the District even consider.
The two inns on Capitol Hill do not look alike, but they have a few things in common: pleasant owners, tasteful decorations and similar rates, which run about $150 a night depending on the season.
A Capitol Place, a few steps from Lincoln Park on 12th Street Southeast, is owned by Jim and Mary Pellettieri. The row house is a split-level, with a small staircase leading up to the Pellettieris’ home and a separate staircase leading to the English basement where guests stay.
Jim Pellettieri spent his career at the Department of Defense, and both he and his wife were on NATO’s staff in Brussels in the late 1980s. They bought their home in 1990, and their European experience is evident inside the guest apartment: The walls are filled with French posters and Belgian photos, and the narrow hallway that leads into the main bedroom brings to mind a flat in London or Paris.
Mary Pellettieri said she enjoys the variety of people who have stayed with her over the years, including professors, museum curators and families with young children, as well as citizens of faraway countries such as Georgia.
“It’s worked out great,” she said. “I rent it with a minimum of four days, or monthly too. We’re as busy as we want to be. We make friends from all over the world. Why give them to hotels that don’t care?”
Diane Powell has embraced that same philosophy at Carriage House on Third Street Southeast. Powell, a Tennessee native, moved to the Washington area in 1986, and she and her husband — both NASA employees — opened the inn in 2004.
Carriage House hardly resembles A Capitol Place. For one, it holds more people. When Powell bought the property, it had only a small two-story house. She and her husband soon built a three-story house behind it, and they now rent out the cabin to families. In addition, the main house has four furnished bedrooms for rent, each with its own theme and private bathroom.
The most popular room, Powell said, is one with a red bedspread and three decorative hats hanging just inside the door.
“I really try not to have little old lady bed-and-breakfast rooms,” she said, walking into the aforementioned bedroom. “This one is as close as you can get to little old lady, but this is the one that everyone requests. Everyone asks, ‘Can I have the room with the hats in it?’”
Another difference between the two inns is the amount of space available on the property. Carriage House boasts a tidy courtyard in between the cabin and main house, as well as a balcony. A Capitol Place lacks those amenities but does have Lincoln Park up the block.
The clientele is also a bit different, as Powell said she tends to host guests who come to the District to lobby Congress. And finally, there’s the company Powell keeps: her cat, Mimi, and Boots, her Alaskan dog that hates the cold.
One of the perks of staying at a B&B is the local perspective that the owners offer, and the Pellettieris and Powell make sure to point their guests to the most interesting places in Washington. Mary Pellettieri said she occasionally goes with guests to the Smithsonian museums, and Robert Pohl, a local tour guide who helps run the inn when the Pellettieris are out of town, is there to provide his expertise as well.
Powell’s favorite sites are the Library of Congress and the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, a complex off Connecticut Avenue with an expansive garden and artifacts from 18th- and 19th-century Russia.
A Capitol Place and Carriage House opened on the Hill years after another well-known bed-and-breakfast, Maison Orleans. That B&B, located on Fifth Street Southeast, opened in 1987 and housed guests for nearly 24 years.
Owner Bill Rouchell said he loved meeting interesting people from around the world. In his case, two guests he hosted three years ago may have saved his life by taking him to the emergency room. Rouchell had serious heart surgery soon after, and he and the couple who drove him to the hospital remain close.
Rouchell closed the inn in May of this year because of a combination of health issues, slower business and burnout from what he described as a 24-hour-a-day job.
When he closed his B&B, Rouchell didn’t completely leave the property-management game. He turned Maison Orleans into a longer-term rental property, and his most recent guest was former Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.).
Rouchell said his commitment to his guests often took precedence over social engagements. If they wanted to check in late at night, Rouchell was there.
The Pellettieris have found a good way around this problem: They spend part of the year at their vacation home near Sarasota, Fla., leaving Pohl in charge.