When I arrived at The Cochrane House Luxury Historic Inn in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood in late April, I knew I was in for a pleasant mini-staycation after only taking a few steps into the bed-and-breakfast.
Co-owners, innkeepers, and sisters Roderica “Rica” James and Francina “Cina” James transformed a deteriorating historic mansion into the perfect getaway that is both airy and bright yet still cozy and intimate. Their goal was to create a space reminiscent of their own Detroit upbringing, evident in elements of The Cochrane House like the artwork and decor featuring nods to the city present throughout the first floor, the homestyle breakfasts they serve their guests, and even the names of the rooms.
“When we invite people in, this is what we feel like we’re giving them: an authentic Detroit experience,” Roderica says.
Roderica and Francina opened The Cochrane House’s doors in 2018, eight years after Roderica purchased the home in 2010 and after several years of renovations. The mansion was built in 1870 and was occupied soon after by Lyman Cochrane, a former judge of the superior court in Detroit and whom the home is named after.
Located on Winder Street just northwest of downtown, The Cochrane House is a short drive, or even walk, to some of the city’s popular attractions. From the window in my room, I could see Comerica Park and Ford Field, which are both less than a half-mile away from the inn. Head west down Winder, and you’re on Woodward Avenue, right across the street from Little Caesars Arena.
“We came together and we did it,” Roderica, 43, says of opening the bed-and-breakfast, adding that she purchased the home at a time when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession and Detroit wasn’t as much of a tourist destination as it is today. The sisters have been close their entire lives, and the debut of their business, she says, was all in God’s timing.
The duo had no previous experience in hospitality prior to opening The Cochrane House. Both sisters worked for their mother’s tutoring company and owned real estate in Michigan and Georgia, where Roderica lived for about nine years. Separately, Roderica is a former student intervention specialist for Oak Park Schools and Francina is a licensed attorney.
“When we opened up, we were very intentional,” Francina, 44, says. “We wanted to represent Detroit.”
When the James sisters began renovations on the mansion — “The house was gutted,” Roderica recalls — their first project was tearing down the walls of the first floor’s original five rooms to create one large, open-concept room.
Jazz, R&B, and soul music by artists like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Eric Roberson, and Robert Glasper can be heard playing softly through speakers. A lounge area near the entrance features two sofas, two ottomans, and a wooden coffee table beside an electric fireplace, where guests can sit to chat, read, or play one of the provided board games. On a table by the large bay window, out-of-towners (or even locals in need of a refresher) can find a binder filled with pamphlets and flyers explaining different things to do around town. At the small gift shop at the check-in area, guests can browse the inn’s merchandise and items by local makers, such as a T-shirt featuring a Detroit-centric collage by artist Desiree Kelly and pillows and tea towels from textile printing house Scarlet Crane Creations.
Toward the middle of the first floor is a long dining table followed by the kitchen located at the back of the room, where the James sisters whip up breakfast each morning. Guests order their breakfast on the inn’s website by scanning a QR code, and it is delivered to their door.
“We decided that we wanted to keep everything kind of homestyle,” Francina says. For my breakfast, I enjoyed gluten-free Belgian waffles, turkey bacon from Randy’s Sausage at Eastern Market, scrambled egg whites, pan-fried homestyle potatoes, and a glass of orange juice. “It was kind of like how our grandparents did [it]; they [would make us] a big breakfast,” she adds.
But it was the artwork and decor that I found myself gravitating toward. 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 ourselves to be represented; we want this place to represent what we saw as children,” Roderica says. Their dad is also an art collector. “So, you see [an Annie Lee painting] on the kitchen wall because my mom had Annie Lee in the house.” The Detroit flair is also present through works that the sisters commissioned for The Cochrane House. A large, colorful mural depicting local legends like Della Reese and Stevie Wonder by Kelly greets you at the top of the staircase. And fedoras featuring 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 by the fireplace. Other equally stunning works by Black artists from around the country such as Kehinde Wiley, Fahamu Pecou, Tawny Chatman, and Chanell Angeli enhance the room.
The second floor houses the inn’s lodging. The names of the rooms — 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 consisting primarily of Black-owned businesses. The Melodic and Jazz Fusion rooms are each 250 square feet with a queen-size bed and a freestanding soaking tub. And The Jazz Fusion Room has a private balcony. The Rhythm Section Lounge Suite, where I stayed, is a 600-square-foot space with a double-size bed, a steam shower, and a separate living room with a sofa, TV, and plenty of natural light thanks to the large windows.
“I want them to feel comfort; I want them to feel at home,” Francina says of her hopes for their guests. Indeed, if someone ever needs anything, like an extra toothbrush and more towels or even essential oils for their steam shower, Roderica and Francina are only a text away, as they live on the third floor of The Cochrane House.
The Cochrane House is more than a traditional bed-and-breakfast; the James sisters go above and beyond to make each visitor’s experience an unforgettable one. They offer private-chef dining, photography services, and spa packages. The duo have helped set up stays for anniversary, birthday, and engagement celebrations. The Cochrane House can be rented out for private events and retreats for up to 25 people. A winter wedding was held in 2019, and Roderica and Francina put it together entirely themselves (the couple got married in front of a Christmas tree by the bay windows). You can even have your car washed and detailed during your stay by Mr. Sunny Auto Clean, a local business the sisters work with.
“One of our most popular packages is our romantic celebration package,” Francina says. “We decorate the room; we do rose petals, chocolate-covered strawberries, balloons. All guests have to do is just show up, bring their significant other, and enjoy the room.” In fact, during our interview, Marvin Powell, who owns The Chocolate Experience and serves as The Cochrane House’s exclusive chocolatier, stopped by to drop off some chocolate-covered strawberries.
And it’s not uncommon for the bed-and-breakfast to host people from across the country — and even the world. Travelers hailing from San Francisco, Seattle, Alaska, Germany, Hong Kong, and other locales have lodged at the inn. During my stay, I chatted with another guest who was staying the night and catching a Tigers game (which unfortunately got rained out) before returning home to Canada from a weeklong trip in the U.S.
“It’s been amazing. I’m always surprised to see how many people we get,” says Francina, who credits word-of-mouth and Google reviews for their success. They must be doing something right — even celebrities and public figures like rapper and producer David Banner and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker have stayed there. “We didn’t know it was the Cory Booker until his security showed up to sweep the house,” Roderica says. “It was so funny.”
No matter who you are — a notable politician visiting the city, a local teacher in need of some much-deserved relaxation, a couple on a romantic getaway, or a group hosting an event — we’re confident you’ll be taken care of at The Cochrane House.
Rates start at $255. The Cochrane House Luxury Historic Inn, 216 Winder St., Detroit; 313-230-0398; thecochranehouse.com