WWhen I arrived Staying at The Cochrane House Luxury Historic Inn in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood in late April, I knew I was in for an enjoyable mini-stay after walking just a few steps into the bed and breakfast.
Co-owners, innkeepers and sisters Roderica “Rica” James and Francina “Cina” James transformed a decaying historic mansion into the perfect retreat that is both airy and light, yet cozy and intimate. Her goal was to create a space reminiscent of her own Detroit upbringing, which is evident in elements of the Cochrane House such as the artwork and decor with nods to the city throughout the first floor, the homemade breakfasts that she serve their guests, and even name the rooms from The Cochrane House.
“When we invite people over, we feel like we’re giving them that: an authentic Detroit experience,” says Roderica.
Roderica and Francina opened the doors of The Cochrane House in 2018, eight years after Roderica bought the house in 2010 and after several years of renovations. The mansion was built in 1870 and soon occupied by Lyman Cochrane, a former Superior Court judge in Detroit for whom the house is named.
Located on Winder Street northwest of downtown, Cochrane House is a short drive, or even walking distance, from some of the city’s most popular attractions. From my room window I could see Comerica Park and Ford Field, both less than half a mile from the inn. Head west down Winder and you are on Woodward Avenue, directly across from Little Caesars Arena.
“We came together and we made it,” says Roderica, 43, of opening the bed and breakfast, adding that she bought the home at a time when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession and Detroit was not as much of a tourist destination as it is today. The sisters have been close all their lives, and starting their business, she says, was all in God’s timing.
The duo had no hospitality experience prior to the opening of Cochrane House. Both sisters worked for their mother’s tutoring company and owned properties in Michigan and Georgia, where Roderica lived for about nine years. Separately, Roderica is a former student intervention specialist at Oak Park Schools and Francina is a licensed attorney.
“When we opened up, we were very conscious,” says Francina, 44. “We wanted to represent Detroit.”
When the James sisters began renovating the mansion—”The house was gutted,” Roderica recalls—their first project was to tear down the walls of the original five rooms on the first floor to create one large, open-concept space.
Jazz, R&B and soul music from artists such as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Eric Roberson and Robert Glasper are played softly over loudspeakers. A lounge area near the entrance has two sofas, two stools and a wooden coffee table next to an electric fireplace where guests can sit to chat, read or play one of the board games provided. On a table by the large bay window, non-residents (or even locals in need of refreshments) will find a binder of brochures and flyers explaining various things to do in the city. A small gift shop in the check-in area allows guests to browse the inn’s merchandise and items from local manufacturers, including a Detroit-themed collage t-shirt by artist Desiree Kelly and pillows and tea towels by textile printer Scarlet Kran creations.
In the center of the first floor is a long dining table, followed by the kitchen at the back of the room where the James sisters prepare breakfast each morning. Guests order their breakfast on the inn’s website by scanning a QR code, and it’s delivered to their door.
“We decided we wanted to keep everything kind of homemade,” says Francina. For breakfast, I enjoyed gluten-free Belgian waffles, turkey bacon from Randy’s Sausage at Eastern Market, scrambled egg whites, house fried potatoes, and a glass of orange juice. “It was like our grandparents [it]; you [would make us] a big breakfast,” she adds.
But it was the artwork and decor that I was drawn to. The sisters filled the first floor of the inn with paintings, sculptures, and other furnishings they had in their previous homes over the years, as well as items that belonged to their parents and other family members.
“We want to be represented; We want this place to reflect what we saw as children,” says Roderica. Her father is also an art collector. “Now you see [an Annie Lee painting] on the kitchen wall because my mom had Annie Lee in the house.” The Detroit vibe is also present through works the sisters commissioned for The Cochrane House. A large, colorful mural depicting local legends such as Della Reese and Stevie Wonder by Kelly greets you at the top of the stairs. And fedoras with hand-painted nods to the city, like Motown and the Tigers, by Florida-based artist Melissa Charyse of Mass Creatvty, are displayed on the wall next to the fireplace. Other equally impressive works by black artists from across the country such as Kehinde Wiley, Fahamu Pecou, Tawny Chatman and Chanell Angeli enrich the space.
The accommodation of the inn is on the second floor. The room names — The Melodic Room, The Jazz Fusion Room, and The Rhythm Section Lounge Suite — were inspired by Paradise Valley, a former entertainment and business district in the city that consisted primarily of black-owned businesses. The Melodic and Jazz Fusion rooms are each 250 square meters and furnished with a queen-size bed and a free-standing bathtub. And The Jazz Fusion Room has a private balcony. The Rhythm Section Lounge Suite I stayed in is a 600-square-foot space with a double bed, a steam shower, and a separate living room with a sofa, TV, and lots of natural light thanks to the large windows.
“I want them to be comfortable; I want them to feel at home,” says Francina about her hopes for her guests. If anyone needs anything like an extra toothbrush and more towels or even essential oils for their steam shower, Roderica and Francina are just a text message away as they live on the third floor of Cochrane House.
The Cochrane House is more than a traditional bed and breakfast; The James sisters do everything they can to make each visitor’s experience a memorable one. They offer private chef dining, photography services, and spa packages. The duo have helped arrange stays for anniversaries, birthdays and engagement parties. The Cochrane House can be rented for private events and retreats for up to 25 people. In 2019, a winter wedding took place, which Roderica and Francina put together entirely by themselves (the couple married in front of a Christmas tree by the bay window). You can even have your car washed and cleaned during your stay by Mr. Sunny Auto Clean, a local company the sisters work with.
“One of our most popular packages is our romantic celebration package,” says Francina. “We decorate the room; We make rose petals, chocolate covered strawberries, balloons. All guests have to do is just show up, bring their significant other, and enjoy the room.” During our interview, Marvin Powell, owner of The Chocolate Experience and exclusive chocolatier of The Cochrane House, even stopped by for a couple of chocolates bring over coated strawberries.
And it’s not uncommon for the bed and breakfast to host guests from across the country — and even the world. Travelers from San Francisco, Seattle, Alaska, Germany, Hong Kong and elsewhere have stayed at the inn. During my stay I chatted with another guest who was staying the night and watching a Tigers game (which unfortunately was rainy) before returning to Canada from a week long trip in the US
“It was amazing. I’m always amazed at how many people we get,” says Francina, who credits word of mouth and Google reviews for her success. You must be doing something right — even celebrities and socialites like rapper and producer David Banner and US Senator Cory Booker have stayed there. “We didn’t know it was like that the Cory Booker until his security showed up to sweep the house,” says Roderica. “It was so funny.”
No matter who you are – a distinguished politician visiting the city, a local teacher in need of some well-deserved relaxation, a couple on a romantic getaway or a group hosting an event – we are confident you will be catered for at Cochrane House.
Prices start at $255. The Cochrane House Luxury Historic Inn, 216 Winder St., Detroit; 313-230-0398; thecochranehouse.com
This story is from the July 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.