Visitors to North Carolina may not expect to come across a medieval-looking castle on their travels, but one can be found in the city of Winston-Salem, where, in 1925, Nathalie Lyons Gray purchased 87 acres of land with the intention of building one of the grandest estates in the state.
Graylyn is a tribute to some of the most iconic styles to come out of Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. When it was completed in 1932, it was the second-largest home in North Carolina, only rivaled by George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate.
Visitors to Graylyn may feel as though they’re being transported to medieval Europe as they step through the doorway of the manor house, and in a way, they are. The doorway was carved from stone in 15th-century France and imported to the United States to create Graylyn’s grand entrance.
Nathalie Lyons Gray deep love for the medieval houses of Normandy is reflected in the exterior of the manor house, with its small windows set in stone walls and castle-like turret. The medieval theme makes its way into the interior as well. The cool stone entryway emits the smell of a wine cellar as you step through the doorway.
While Nathalie Gray took inspiration from the Normans (as well as bits of Italian Renaissance and classical French styles), Graylyn’s style as a whole can best be described as English. England’s conservative taste, serious disposition, harsh climate, and available resources gave way to styles such as Georgian Revival, characterized by dark wood-paneled rooms and furniture, heavy fabrics and wallpapers, geometric designs, neutral, earthy colors, and subtly ornate carvings and patterns. Graylyn exemplifies this shift from old to new by blending stone walls, arches, and medieval tapestries seamlessly with the dark woods and masculine grandeur of the more contemporary Georgian Revival style.
The Grays certainly had entertainment in mind when building their 60-room house. Private bathrooms in every room on the second floor featured gold fixtures, tubs made of solid marble, and showers with 17 heads. Guests could stay connected to the outside world through one of the 50 telephones and numerous radios throughout the house.
Sadly, the Grays weren’t able to enjoy their lavish retreat for long. After her husband died, Nathalie Gray handed over the manor house to her sons and moved into the guest cottage with her new husband. In 1946, she donated the estate to Wake Forest University. Today, anyone can visit this enchanting property, as Graylyn became an 86-room hotel in 1984 and in 2016, joined the national registry of Historic Hotels of America.
Know Before You Go
Whether you're staying at the hotel or just want to visit for the day, anyone can call ahead and schedule a butler-guided tour for an in-depth look at the property and its history.