When Annie and David Colquitt first visited the Swag on their honeymoon in 2011, neither imagined that one day they’d own the luxury inn and its 250 acres of mountaintop vistas bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just outside Waynesville, North Carolina.
In 1969, Dan and Deener Matthews bought the land—formerly a turn-of-the-century potato farm—and carved out a road to the top of the mountain where they repurposed historic log cabins into a comfortable, modern lodge and surrounding outbuildings. Although they originally intended the home to be a private residence, the Matthewses decided to open its doors to guests as the Swag, an all-inclusive resort, in 1982. Since then, generations of travelers have retreated to the secluded hideaway, a perennial pick on top resort rankings by local and national media alike.
Annie and David, who live in nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, got wind that the Matthewses, longtime friends of Annie’s grandparents, were looking to sell the property in 2018. They jumped at the chance. “The hospitality industry is not something we set out to be in,” says David, who had been exploring nearby business ventures at the time. “We wouldn’t have done this if we hadn’t been so attached to the Swag.”
The Colquitts closed on the Swag in April 2018, a week before the property opened for the season. “What the Matthewses built is so special,” Annie says of the reclaimed timber lodge and a few accessory buildings, which together offer fourteen guest rooms as well as cozy dining and living spaces for the Swag’s guests. But like most places constructed and decorated in the seventies, the lodge needed a modern touch-up. “We want to make it our own and update it a little without changing its character,” Annie says.
The couple recruited the Charleston, South Carolina–based interior designer Kathleen Rivers to aid in invigorating the interior. Rivers “has done a lot of work in Western North Carolina, including the Chattooga Club [in nearby Cashiers],” David says. “She gets the mountain aesthetic well. She gets that we don’t want everything [to look] new and different.” So after the Swag closed for the season last year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Colquitts and Rivers got to work.
Up first: the main living room, where they updated the curtains and valances, re-covered the sofas, replaced the rugs, and switched out the kitschy rocking chairs for ones with a little more soul. The dining room furniture also got a facelift, along with three of the guest rooms and one bathroom, where they refreshed anything with fabric—rugs, bedding, window coverings, chairs. “This is a quirky property—there aren’t a lot of right angles,” Annie says, with a laugh. “Keeping the character intact is where the magic comes from.”
They hope to finish revamping the interior by the beginning of next season. “We’re also looking to do a little construction in the off-season,” David says. The Colquitts are working with the Atlanta architect Keith Summerour to extend the living room, create an outdoor dining space, and, within the next two years, add an event barn and a small spa.
“We want people who have been coming every year for thirty years to say it feels like the same place it’s always been, just a little nicer,” Annie says. “We want the Swag to continue to be the Swag.”