For the last 17 years, its bright, pink hue and unique heart-shaped dolphin fountain have drawn locals and visitors alike to the cheery Summerville bed and breakfast.
Situated along East Richardson Avenue, on a slight slope that gives passersby the illusion the two-story brick home—complete with large, white columns—is sitting lopsided, the business has welcomed guests from around the world.
“We’ve absolutely loved the people that we’ve met,” said Diane Thomas, co-owner of The Pink Dolphin Bed and Breakfast.
But making memories at the snug, Southern-style home are coming to a close for the couple, who’ve decided to sell the business and embark on a new experience together—though they’ve yet to iron out the details.
“It’s time to write a new chapter,” Diane said.
Her husband Ken Thomas agreed.
“We’re ready for a new adventure,” he said. “I think at our age we’re ready to kick back a little bit more, but it’s been fun.”
The couple explained they’ll most miss their quality conversations with lodgers.
“I’ve had people actually stay here at the table and sit here the rest of the day,” Diane said. “People just seem like they never want to leave.”
It’s also not uncommon for complete strangers to turn into owners’ lifelong friends.
"It’s more like staying with your aunt and uncle,” Diane said. "I have so many friends that just came to stay here and still are (our) friends."
She credited the way in which they run their business, in a more casual manner than other similar operations, as a top reason for their success.
“I think the key to our success has been the caring of the people, the caring of our guests,” Diane said. “Everything that we do is about how to make them more comfortable and enjoy Summerville.”
And the couple aren’t the only residents living full-time in the house. Guests are often greeted by wet puppy noses and wagging tails, though not until the canines are summoned. That's because the couple has trained their three current dogs—Cassie and her pups Chocolate and Abbie—to respect house guests.
“They have B&B manners,” Diane said. “It’s important that guests get through the door (first).”
Though not anymore, breeding Labs was a hobby for the Thomases. Over the years they've raised four generations of furry friends.
“We (have) had a handful that came to visit…and left with a Labrador puppy,” Ken said.
While the couple's favorite memories have always involved sitting and chatting around the kitchen table with people, one of their greatest keepsakes from the last several years has been their wedding day, which occurred on site. The pair rekindled young love after nearly 25 years apart.
Both Kentucky natives, Diane and Ken had attended different high schools growing up but met while competing on their individual schools’ drama teams. Diane later moved to Music City, and the high school sweethearts lost touch. She married the owner of a dinner theater based in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I didn’t close the deal in a timely manner and let her slip away,” Ken said.
For years, Diane and her first husband ran the Nashville business but they eventually divorced. It wasn’t long before a familiar voice phoned her one day in 2000. It was Ken calling to see if an old flame still had feelings for him. He explained it was a conservation with a friend about past relationships that sparked his desire to reach out to Diane.
“He said, ‘My God, you need to call her.’ I said, ‘That sounds like a pretty wacky thing to do,’” Ken said.
The call was a success, and the rest of their love story now history.
This past spring the Pink Dolphin officially went on the market. In June the asking price was $575,000. At the time, the couple said a few offers had been made on the home, but none too serious.
Now seasoned bed-and-breakfast owners, the Thomases were new to the industry when they first purchased the site in 2002. At the time, Diane had been looking for a place to operate a tea room, a concept not too widely represented in the area but a niche she said she thought would "align with the Charleston culture."
“I had never considered this; it wasn’t on my bucket list,” Diane said of the bed and breakfast. “I knew nothing other than just what you learn (about a bed and breakfast). I never stayed in a bed and breakfast before.”
When she first stumbled upon the house, it certainly wasn’t her cup of tea. It was zoned a commercial property, and the coastal color, the shade chosen by a contractor conducting structural work on the home in 1996, was far from her favorite.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able live in a pink house,” Diane said with a laugh.
She later had a change of heart and called Ken—already living locally—and asked if he wanted to run a bed and breakfast with her. By 2003, the couple had completed various cosmetic work around the house and property, mainly painting and adding personalized touches, including a large mural in an upstairs bathroom Diane painted.
It wasn’t long after opening the business that The Pink Dolphin rose to the top on Trip Advisor. Its No. 1 ranking remains a point of pride for the couple, especially because it occurred at a time when Trip Advisor didn’t allow paid reviews; and to date, the Thomases have never paid for one, Ken said.
They also love to enlighten visitors about the home’s history. Though built in the late 1880s, it’s not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, it is part of the town’s historic district.
“The house has quite a history,” Ken said.
According to the couple, the primary reason for the National Register not accepting the site on its list has to do with the design of the columns, and changing them would be too costly. Ken said most unique to the home’s construction is that the second floor was built first, in 1881. It was initially known as the Tyler-Rhames House—Tyler a local postmaster, the Thomases said.
The open area underneath the upper level served as a space for horses and carriages until a first floor was added five years later. The couple surmised the first floor space was filled in because of Charleston’s unprecedented earthquake in 1886. Also, because the second floor doesn’t sit on the first floor, the first floor has no load-bearing walls—the home receiving extra support from steel pipes, inside the brick columns, that’ve been driven into the ground.
In addition to the bed and breakfast’s two rooms, the property also includes two rental apartments—each with their own outside entrances. There’s also plenty of cooking locations, with a large, main kitchen, one half-kitchen out back and another full one upstairs. The second floor additionally boasts a scenic porch the couple revealed is the perfect spot for surveying nature’s beauty.
“To be out there in the morning with our coffee and watch the sun rise,” Ken said.
Also scenic is the garden and goldfish pond, which is located on the right side of the house when facing it.
“We really wanted it to be a coy pond, but the owls got so fond of the coy,” Ken said.
Perhaps, most iconic to the home's ornamentation is the front dolphin fountain—a décor piece close to Diane’s heart and one she designed and pieced together, painting pink to match the home.
For years, the coastal mammal has been one of her favorite creatures. Her first husband got her interested in swimming with dolphins and whales in different tropical locations around the world, and she's since continued.
Around her neck Diane even wears a silver chain showcasing a whale and calf pendant. But it was a calendar photo—one titled “Eternal Love” with two pink dolphins touching noses—that inspired the bed and breakfast’s catchy title.
“When I was looking at that (photo), I thought, ‘O, my gosh,’” Diane said. “I said, ‘Those dolphins are pink—we could call it The Pink Dolphin.’”
The framed photo now hangs in the home’s kitchen—also a reminder of the couple’s love story. That’s because Diane said she thinks the dolphin on the right resembles her husband.
“I always thought the one looked like Ken’s eyes,” she said.
But the home isn’t any less colorful inside. The yellow walls of the kitchen are as warm and inviting for guests as the hot, homemade breakfast Diane cooks for each one, and at any time they choose—even if that means cooking twice in the morning. Her staple eats include cheddar grits, biscuits and gravy, eggs any style, fruit compote and French toast with praline topping, among other items.
As the pair consider the home’s future and its next owner(s), they voiced one simple request—that they "enjoy it as much as we have," according to Ken.
“We know that the right person will come along and be the new caretaker of this pink lady,” Diane said. “She’s got a personality all on her own.”