Adults are invited to experience true hospitality in Asheville, North Carolina.
By Hope S. Philbrick
When calling to confirm my reservation to stay at the Reynolds Mansion Bed & Breakfast Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, with owner Billy Sanders, who owns and lives at the mansion with his partner Michael Griffith, I explained that I’d be coming from nearby Hendersonville after a zip-lining adventure; I wasn’t sure what time I’d arrive. “Just come when you’re ready,” he’d said.
I felt welcome as a guest even before I arrived.
That feeling just kept getting better and better.
Old homes can sometimes feel pretentious and stuffy to me. Not so here! When I pulled up to the front of Reynolds Mansion, I was greeted by a friendly lady who practically leapt down the steps to meet me with an eager handshake. I was escorted inside, introduced to Billy, and given a brief tour of the property. After I was shown my guestroom and assisted with luggage, I parked my car then returned to my room. It was clean and luxuriously appointed. I took a long soak in my private clawfoot tub, climbed into what might be the world’s perfect mattress, and crashed from exhaustion: I slept 15 hours straight, a small miracle for a workaholic insomniac like me!
Reynolds Mansion is a historic structure filled with antiques. But it feels homey, thanks in no small part to its owners. “Reynolds Mansion is our home,” Billy says. “Mike and I do not limit ourselves to just a certain part of the house nor do we expect you to stay in your room either. We want you to enjoy the Mansion as if it were a home away from home.”
Fewer than seven brick houses that date from before the Civil War still stand in Western North Carolina and Reynolds Mansion is one of them—plus it’s the only one that’s open to overnight guests. The Mansion was built in 1847 for a family of 12, then passed through several generations of the Reynolds family until Billy and Michael purchased the 13-room home with a wrap-around porch in 2009. After extensive renovations—all completed under the watchful eye of the state since the building was marked for preservation—the B&B opened in 2010.
Thanks to helpful Reynolds family members, 80 percent of original furnishings are in the Mansion; the collection represents different generations of homeowners. Much of the artwork hangs in its original spots. “Where you see Scarlett O’Hara, that is a placeholder for where an original portrait hung,” says Billy, adding that any Scarlett painting will be removed when the original portrait is recovered.
The five-acre property (what remains of the original 1,500 acres) also boasts a carriage house and pool that was built in 1919. The kitchen was added to the main house in 1921. The main house is a total of 18,000 square feet, with four stories that boast 12-ft. and 16-ft. ceilings. Steam heating was added to the Mansion in 1926; prior to that it was warmed by 15 fireplaces. Walls are painted colors true to when the house was built—the colors were revealed by digging through 36 layers of paint and wall coverings! The two wallpapers that remain hanging date to 1936 and 1940.
The Mansion is solid brick, three layers thick. So guestrooms are quiet! Perfect for deep, restful sleep.
Because the Mansion was under a preservation easement when Billy purchased it, the remodel involved bureaucracy and red tape. It was a true labor of love. Built by slaves, the Mansion showcases quality work and detail crafted by skills that are lost today.
Billy wanted to be an innkeeper since he was 20 years old. “We don’t often in our lives get to do what we want to do,” he says. “But when it happens, it’s a really great thing.” After working as the vice president of human resources for United Healthcare for 20 years, he decided the time had come to make a change. “I needed those years in corporate life,” he says. “One, to grow up and, two, to be able to afford this.”
“What I wanted was to become an innkeeper, but I became a caretaker of a historic home,” he says. “That became a bigger job; that is what I was meant to do.” Sanders funded the entire restoration. “One day in your life you’ll do something not to make a buck, and it will be very significant.”
The average ‘lifespan’ of an innkeeper is seven years; Billy has been innkeeper at Reynolds Manor for 10 years and has no plans to leave.
He joins guests at the breakfast table each day; most breakfasts are savory rather than sweet (my personal preference!). He shares entertaining tales of the Reynolds family and Mansion history, life as an innkeeper, Asheville and North Carolina history, and more. There are many fascinating revelations: As one example, Asheville’s first female doctor ran a tuberculosis clinic at the Mansion for four years; her medical records are still in the attic.
Each three-course breakfast showcases whatever is new from the meticulous garden and is served on formal china. The dining table can seat 34—though Billy prefers no more than 24 for comfort and ease of serving. It’s the second largest dining table in the county (second to Biltmore Estate), crafted by Philmark in Morganton, N.C., with the final assembly completed in the dining room.
You could stay at Reynolds Mansion for two and a half weeks and never eat your breakfast off the same china pattern twice. (Most American guests stay for two or there nights, though Europeans tend to stay for a week.) “I have 18 different sets of china,” says Billy, who tracks the rotation on a chalkboard hidden from guests’ view. “I don’t repeat a pattern until you’re gone.” His record-keeping is so meticulous that on future visits you also might not see a pattern that you saw before.
Two nights at Reynolds Mansion is enough to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. But I’m guessing that you, like me, will want to return to soak up more hospitality.
The Hope Diamond
A previous owner and resident of Reynolds Mansion, Evelyn Washington McLean, was the last private individual to own the famed Hope Diamond before it was gifted by jeweler Harry Winston to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. (partly to keep its rumored curse from harming any more individual owners); former owners of the blue gem also include King Louis XIV and King George IV. Now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the Hope Diamond is second to Mona Lisa in number of museum visitors who come to see it.
When your name is Hope and you happen to be staying in a B&B that has a replica of the Hope Diamond, you might be so bold as to ask if you can put it on. “Of course!” was the answer I got. Here’s a portrait of Evelyn Washington McLean wearing the real Hope Diamond and a selfie of me wearing the replica with Reynolds Mansion in the background.
- Check-in time is 3-6 p.m.; check-out by 11 a.m.
- Registered guests only
- Children are not allowed at Reynolds Mansion; guests must be at least age 16
- Pets are not allowed in the main house but are permitted in the Carriage House suites; 35-pound weight restriction and $25/day non-refundable pet charge. (If you plan to bring a pet please review all pet requirements on the Inn’s website.)
- No smoking
- Complimentary parking
- Complimentary Internet access
- Breakfast is served in the dining room at 9 a.m.
- One guestroom is always kept available for a Reynolds family member…it’s possible that you might meet one during your stay
- “You have to have a B&B where people are going to come or you won’t have one for long,” says Billy. Asheville lures tourists year-round, but January and February tend to be slower months.
- Rates from $205/night
Reynolds Mansion Bed & Breakfast Inn
100 Reynolds Heights
– Property photos courtesy Reynolds Mansion; remainder © HSP Media LLC
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