A Design Lover’s Guide to Asheville, North Carolina
Known for its access to the great outdoors and the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, its long tradition of craftsmanship, and a thriving culinary scene, Asheville, North Carolina, has long drawn creatives seeking a connection to nature. Stroll the streets of the Appalachian city, and you’ll find a rich architectural heritage ranging from the Art Deco City Hall, to the French Renaissance Biltmore Estate, to Arts and Crafts-style homes that paved the way for more modern and contemporary styles.
Similarly, Asheville’s contributions to craft and design—from pottery to basket weaving to woodworking and beyond—can be traced back centuries, and a new wave of makers and entrepreneurs have settled in to carry on the legacy. "The enticing thing about the Asheville scene is that there is space to develop one’s own design practice, and access to a lineage of craft history," says Karie Reinertson, who runs the local design studio Shelter Collective with Rob Maddox.
In Asheville, reverence for heritage and hunger for innovation have created a je ne sais quoi that’s earned it the nickname "The Paris of the South"—though you won’t find any pretension among the locals. "Asheville was living out so many of today’s trending diversions not just before they were cool, but when they were decidedly uncool," says Gillie Roberts, owner of the city’s low-waste shop Ware. "Microbreweries, Tevas, farm-to-table restaurants, acupuncture, stores decked out with a small jungle of plants—all of these things were alive and well in Asheville long before they found their way into square images on the Internet."
To help us understand just what makes Asheville so Asheville, we asked Roberts, the Shelter Collective and designer and sculptor (and Dwell 24 honoree) Casey Johnson to give us their recommendations for an extended stay exploring the city’s flourishing cultural and design scenes.
Eat & Drink
For a morning boost, head to cafe-cum-floral design studio Pollen for an artisanal brew and a seasonal arrangement of hand-picked, ethically sourced stems.
In a setting that Roberts describes as "moody, boarding-school chic," the recently opened coffee shop serves beverages that rival cocktails in their complexity (think: "topped with dried roses or ruby-colored ice cubes that flavor your drink as they melt," adds Johnson).
Roberts describes this as "the sourdough bread-and-wine shop that millennial dreams are made of, my own included." Be prepared for a bit of a wait, though: "It also has a line of locals around the block every morning because everything Heidi [Bass] bakes is glutenous bliss, and Brett [Watson] is the world’s most approachable wine snob."
"Simple has magically not found its way onto whatever lists people are reading before they come to Asheville…until now," says Roberts. "Catering to most dietary restrictions, it offers juices, breakfast sandwiches, vegan crunch wraps, and gluten-free pastries in a midcentury-meets-’90s public school office setting (but, like, in a good way)."
Get your fill of authentic, "deliriously good" Southern fried chicken at this locally-owned joint.
Run by five-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani, this downtown staple offers Indian street food in a colorful, industrial-inspired space.
Find classic burgers and overflowing lobster rolls at this counter-service spot run by the team at The Bull & Beggar, an upscale New American restaurant in town.
This is where you want to go for "a delicious and enormous slice of pizza," says Johnson. The decor is similarly big and bold, featuring murals and metalwork by Asheville locals.
Burial Beer’s Forestry Taproom
A crowd favorite, this taproom and kitchen serves refined American fare in a rustic setting—opt for the communal tables or outdoor seating if you’re feeling convivial. Take it from Roberts, who says, "I’d like them to feed me dinner every night for the rest of my life."
Tucked away in Black Mountain, about a 20-minute drive from Asheville, this restaurant, cafe, and marketplace serves South African flavors in a lively setting—don’t forget to stop by the farmyard to say hello to the animals.
A fantastic list of natural wines, a delectable menu, and an intimate ambiance with cozy outdoor seating makes Leo’s House of Thirst a neighborhood mainstay in West Asheville.
True to its name, Citizen Vinyl is first and foremost community-minded. The building, which houses a record press facility, cafe, bar, recording studio, and record shop, was converted from the Citizen Times newspaper lobby in the city’s downtown.
A coffee shop by day and a craft cocktail bar by night, this downtown destination has a vintage feel that pays homage to the historic building it’s in, thanks to ponderous chandeliers, industrial materials, and checkered floors.
Located in the Chemist Spirits gin distillery in the South Slope District, Antidote feels like "a turn-of-the-century speakeasy," says Johnson, with expanses of dark wood, wallpaper, and vintage art.
These ceramics are an Asheville staple, and for good reason: "beautiful colors, playful form, and locally, ethically made," says Reinertson.
This West Asheville shop specializes in CBD, but you won’t find any cheesy blacklight posters here. Reinertson describes it as "the head shop if it got Birkenstock Arizonas and grew up on Alexander Girard and Vitra design books."
"The folks at Palm + Pine know two things above all else: plants and design," says Roberts. "If you don’t think you’d ever be tempted to buy a suncatcher or wind chime, it’s because you haven't been here yet."
Step into this boutique stocked with the most exciting emerging and independent designers, and step out the best-dressed denizen of Asheville.
"We have friends that don’t have kids that still like to hang out at this adorable shop," says Reinertson. "[They have] wonderful staff and fun, quality toys and clothing for kids."
This secondhand bookshop in West Asheville has an impeccably curated selection, a knowledgeable staff, and the bonus of an adjoining cafe. "Never trust a town that doesn’t have a good bookstore," cautions Reinertson.
Lined in pale wood and understated textiles that recall a minimalist home, Ware proves that "sustainable products can also be things you want to look at," says Roberts, the proprietor. The goods here earn any of the following badges: low-waste, local, organic, plastic-free, reusable, natural, refillable, and handmade.
This 36,000-square-foot depot in East Asheville hawks upcycled furniture, antiques, salvage materials, industrial items, home decor, and consignment that "create a maze of offerings spanning decades and tastes," says Roberts. "You pretty much have to experience it to understand it. Just know that it's rather well trafficked, so the inventory changes quickly from one week to the next."
In the River Arts District, this design-forward marketplace hosts vendors specializing in everything from modern art to antique furniture to imported crafts.
The industrial buildings lining the French Broad River, abandoned during a flood in 1916, have been repurposed as artist studios and galleries in this district, also known as the RAD. "The densest collection of older, established studios and cooperatives for painters, potters, and glass artists runs along Depot Street, but the fun continues closer to the river at Foundy Street," says Roberts. "Walking from one to the other is a dreamy way to scope out original art, get your steps in, and enjoy the scenery all at once." Be sure to stop by Akira Satake Ceramics to see nature-inspired pieces that look whipped by wind or scarred by fire, and clothing store Rite of Passage, featuring products by textile manufacturer Sew Co.
The national nonprofit, which funds craft scholarships and supports the next generation of makers, hosts a changing exhibit on the ground floor, and a co-working space above with furniture and textile art designed by our friends at Shelter Collective.
"My Northern European genes have never been more at ease than just upon entering the sauna or just after exiting the cold plunge and plopping into one of their heated chairs," says Roberts. "Pairs nicely with a CBD soda."
Of course, no trip to Asheville is complete without a hike. "The true driving aesthetic of this town is the mountains that made it," says Roberts, and Johnson agrees: "The food, drinks, and art are great, but you can’t visit Asheville without spending plenty of time in the mountains." From the greenway along the French Broad River, to the winding roads in the tucked-away Town Mountain neighborhood, to the Warren Wilson College trails that thread along pastures, farmland, and the Swannanoa River, there’s no shortage of breathtaking treks to be had. Some favorite pastimes, however, are Crabtree Falls and summiting Black Balsam Knob.
"Asheville often reminds me of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or other Nordic destinations," says Roberts. "Not because we share design sensibilities in the least, but because as soon as the sun comes out, you’ll find every one of us scrambling to find a place to drink and eat outside. And, at that point, we rarely care what furniture we’re sitting on while we do it."
Now that you’ve got a full itinerary ahead, you’re going to need a place to stay. Here are a few Dwell-approved options to rest and recharge while visiting Asheville’s vibrant design community.
This restored steel factory in Downtown Asheville mixes original industrial features into its modern boutique hotel design. Fun fact: The original foundry forged the steel for the nearby Biltmore Estate.
This bed-and-breakfast-style hotel sits in a 1912 New England Colonial-style home that was a private residence until the 1980s. The eclectic style of each of the six rooms (and private cottage) gives the traditional B&B experience a modern interpretation.
At just 400 square feet, The Nook in Swannanoa, North Carolina, manages to meld Japanese tranquility, Scandinavian simplicity, and a handmade, Appalachian sensibility just 15 minutes outside of Asheville. Full circle moment: Karie Reinertson and Rob Maddox of Shelter Collective helped design it.
Discover more about Asheville at exploreasheville.com.
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