An Asheville bed-and-breakfast delights guests with art, culinary events and cycling programs.
by Vanessa Infanzon
George Rodrigue’s “Lunch at the Club,” a limited edition silkscreen from the Louisiana-born artist’s Blue Dog series, welcomes guests into The Applewood Manor’s parlor. The piece is one of several from the owners’ personal collection adorning the walls of the six-room bed-and-breakfast near downtown Asheville, where a mixture of art, antiques and furnishings (such as Italian Sferra linens on luxury Duxiana mattresses) set the stage for contemporary comfort and luxury.
Robin and Stephen Collins moved from Austin, Texas, to Asheville in 2018 as part of their retirement plan. Their three daughters were heading to college, and the Collins wanted to find a project they could do together. Opening a bed-and-breakfast fit the couple’s personal and professional interests. “We selected Asheville for the long term,” says Stephen, 56. “We wanted to make an investment into the community.”
The Applewood Manor is a short walk from downtown in the Montford Area Historic District, a residential neighborhood of homes built mostly from the 1890s to the 1920s. The Collins integrate cycling, food, wine and corporate leadership — their life’s pursuits — into The Applewood Manor. Guests are treated to a breakfast of homemade breads, fruit and a soufflé served in the dining room. Homemade chocolate chip and toffee cookies, a family recipe Robin refined to yield the perfect amount of chewiness and crunch, are placed in each guest room. “From the very beginning, we thought about how we wanted to differentiate Applewood Manor,” Stephen says. “We want to have a platform to share our passions with existing friends and new friends.”
The Applewood Manor was built in 1912. Historic photographs of the home hang on the walls. It’s been a bed-and-breakfast since the 1980s, one of the longest running in the neighborhood. Over the years, previous owners imprinted their own style, often adding to whatever was already there.
The Collins invested $1.5 million in a chef’s kitchen, porch renovations and structural improvements. They replaced much of the furniture to reflect their own vision — antiques and furniture from vintage home-goods retailer 1stDibs decorate the rooms and common areas. “The structure is remarkably intact and faithful to the original vision of the first owner,” Stephen says. “It’s got some great history and some great bones. We try to bring the history of the house into the guest experience.”
Stephen is a software executive with 30 years of experience, serving on boards and investing in technology companies. He offers leadership workshops and executive coaching sessions, available to guests who book the services in advance. He’s also an avid cyclist, having raced at the amateur level for 10 years, and even hosts an annual cycling camp in Provence, France. His love of the sport is reflected by the full range of cycling experiences available to guests, from renting bikes for a self-guided tour to group events, such as a curated ride with a professional cyclist. Guests can try out the folding bikes made by London-based Brompton for an Asheville excursion or, for a fee, rent a 3T racing bike. “I wanted to incorporate cycling because it’s something I do every day,” Stephen says.
Robin worked as an interior designer for NYC-based furniture dealer EvensonBest in the late 1990s. Her style is evident in the meticulous details of the rooms, each named for apple varieties including The Macintosh and The Granny Smith. Colorful vintage food and cocktail menus decorate the walls in The Northern Spy, where the theme is French restaurants.
“When people walk in, the art is definitely something that pops,” says Robin, 55. “People walk in and they want to know about the house — they want to know about the history. They ask tons of questions. This makes me so happy. Every single thing you look at is personal to us.”
Over the last year, the Collins have expanded their culinary offerings by hosting guest chefs, including Mads Refslund, the cofounder of three-Michelin star Noma in Denmark. Refslund cooked using items foraged with Alan Muskat, founder of Asheville-based foraging-education company No Taste Like Home. “The guests were able to work in the kitchen with Mads,” Stephen says. “It was extremely interactive and engaging. Guests and chefs collaborated and learned together.”
Robin also offers cooking classes, sharing how to make her signature cookies, breads and dinners with guests. “We did pasta-making with two couples in December,” Robin explains. “They’d never had homemade pasta. Two weeks later, I got an email from one of the couples: They’d bought a pasta machine and were teaching their kids how to make it. I’ve never been more excited and proud in my life.” SP