A Design Lover's Guide To Detroit

A Design Lover's Guide To Detroit

Tess Wilson
Jul 10, 2013

I just visited Detroit for the first time, and though my stay was only four delightful days long, an extensive list of recommendations from locals meant I was able to pack a ton of fun into that short time. I was utterly charmed by Detroit's architecture, style, potential, food, and most of all, its people.


  • Detroit Institute of Arts (above): I've had the privilege of visiting quite a few museums in the past year, and the DIA might be the most impressive of them all- it truly is a treasure. The collection is large enough to spend an entire day with without being overwhelming, the murals are stunning, the Kresge Court cafe feels like a dream, there's marble as far as the eye can see, and admission is a remarkable $8 (compared with $18 for SFMOMA, $20 for MoMA, etc).
  • Michigan Central Station: Gorgeously ruined, and with 5 new mystery windows. Intrigue! As our sweet waitress at Mudgie's (see below) said, "Some people call it an eyesore but I think it's beautiful."

  • Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit: MOCAD is smaller than the DIA but definitely worth a stop: a modern art museum in a lovely old industrial building. The juxtaposition is fascinating, there's a good mix of work, the cafe (above) is very cool, and the suggested donation is only $5.
  • Street Art: everywhere. You'll see awesome examples almost everywhere you go, but Curbed has a handy map to help you out.



  • Detroit Artists Market (above):This combination gallery and gift shop is a great place to find locally made ceramics, paintings, jewelry and more at an impressive range of prices. I picked up a couple of gifts under $20 each.
  • Rocky's: This place is a unassuming wonderland of endless bulk bins of nuts, dried fruits, grains, spices, and old school candies. It also has a good selection of local kale chips, jams, sauces, and more.
  • Eastern Market: Everyone recommended a trip to the Eastern Market, Detroit's enormous, historic six-block Saturday market. It's surrounded by excellent shops and restaurants that are open every day.


  • Avalon International Breads (above): Of all of the lovely places I got to visit, Avalon was probably my favorite. From the sweet man behind the counter who ranked the five vegan cookie options for me in order of deliciousness to the men playing an intense game of chess at the front tables while their small children silently climbed all over them to the fact that an iced coffee, iced tea, two cookies, and an enormous slab of the best focaccia I've ever had only came to $10- this place is simply a joy.

  • Brooklyn Street Local (above): This cafe has the most low-key brunch I've ever had the pleasure of attending. In addition to local ingredients, banana walnut pancakes, quiche, omelets, and other brunch classics, their menu contains a few fascinating French Canadian favorites like poutine and peameal bacon.
  • Russell Street Deli: I arrived at Russell's moments after they'd closed for the day, highly disappointing since I'd heard such good things. The notes from my conversation with local artist and activist Nicole Caruth say "Russell's Deli- jam and art!!"

  • Astro Coffee (above): Top notch coffee in a super-stylish room, warm, helpful baristas (they sent us to Brooklyn Street Local, above), and tasty coconut cake.
  • Slow's Bar-B-Q: Several locals recommended Slow's- I didn't get a chance to eat there but I did check out their charming back patio just two doors down from Astro. The scoop is that it was opened by a former model: barbecue with a side of handsome!

  • Mudgie's (above): The bright orange walls, extensive selection of local pop, and cheerful, helpful servers make this place inherently happy. The menu is intensely local, and the sandwich list is extensive. Try the summer-special cold soups and one of the many local beers.
  • Great Lakes Coffee: Good coffee, good design, good sandwiches, and spicy oven-baked waffle fries that will make you wonder why fries are ever fried. I also tried the chilled chili chocolate and it was fantastic.

(I didn't want to keep repeating myself but all of the places listed above are ideal for mixed parties: omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.)


  • The Inn On Ferry Street: Located in Midtown, the Inn actually consists of "four restored Victorian homes, and two carriage houses". Gorgeous original woodwork!
  • Firehouse Hotel: The Foundation Hotel, being created in the Historic Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, sounds like exactly where I'd like to stay- they're keeping the fire poles! Perhaps my next trip to Detroit will be in 2015, when it's scheduled to open.
  • Collision Works (above): Also in the works is Collision Works, "an artful 36-room boutique hotel, co-working facility, and public event space" slated to open in the Eastern Market district in the spring of 2014.
  • Townsend Hotel: If you're staying in the Bloomfield/Birmingham/Franklin Hills area, I've heard good things about the Townsend Hotel. It certainly looked very sophisticated and stylish from the street.


  • Everyone: Detroit is amazing, but I doubt I would have fallen for it this hard if every single interaction with every person I met hadn't been so wonderful. From the airport shuttle driver who offered me his lunch of barbecue ribs because he was worried I wouldn't be able to find a restaurant open on the 4th, to the world's friendliest museum guards, the servers, the baristas, the counterman and customers at Avalon, the busboys, janitors, and waitresses at the restaurant where we were making cakes for a wedding, the cashiers, the shopkeepers- everyone was delightful, warm, welcoming, genuinely friendly, and obviously proud of their city and their work. I can't speak highly enough of my experience there.

But I'm sure you know way more about Detroit than I do- please share all of your Detroit favorites!

Special thanks to Nicole Caruth of Art21 and With Food In Mind, artist Stephanie Shevelkin née Sturton , and Apartment Therapy reader Jennifer W. for sharing their excellent Detroit suggestions with me!

(All images by Tess Wilson except for Collision Works rendering, via Inhabit)

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