Crushing It with Flamboyant Style in a Formerly “Cold and Scary” Warehouse

DREAMING BIG
Robert Nicholas inside his 50,000-square-foot vision, Marquee. Located in the River Arts District, the design-centric marketplace features over 145 vendors.
Photo by Colby Rabon

I’ve always loved helping people move toward their passion and calling,” says Robert Nicholas, a former youth pastor. He’s discovered a unique way to do that on a grand scale with Marquee, a 50,000-square-foot River Arts District building housing more than 145 artists, craftspeople, and antiques dealers. Marquee officially opened its doors last December after extensive renovations to the long-deserted structure. 

Photo by Colby Rabon

Andy Cooper, one of Marquee’s inaugural participants, creates furnishings crafted from a variety of materials including reclaimed metal, wood, and glass. He says that after an initial meeting, Nicholas was insistent upon his participation in Marquee. “I was humbled,” says Cooper, “and now realize that it may have been exactly why I got to Asheville.” Cooper fully expects Marquee to become an anchor not only to the RAD, but that it will also emerge as a magnet business drawing visitors (and customers) from across the state and nation.

Small works and larger installations fill the voluminous space, including pieces by Ed and Kate Coleman, left, and mixed-media sculptor Molly Sawyer, center.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Anthony Guthmiller has also rented display space in Marquee for his one-of-a-kind items culled from a broad spectrum of design areas: Hollywood Regency, Mid Century and Asian items, multicultural artifacts, vintage glassware, barware, lighting fixtures, and upcycled jewelry. Says Guthmiller: “I’ve been in the ‘antiquing/thrifting’ business for several years and have always wanted a space that was more upscale … I like the fact that Marquee is a collection of creatives who have put together a curated array of items.”

Piece by Anthony Guthmiller

Prior to moving to Asheville in 2005, Nicholas and his wife Rebecca had been living in downtown Atlanta, where they’d become expert in acquiring and selling antiques. He says they traveled a lot, setting up antique shows across the South and in New England. Eventually, they felt it was time for a change, and they chose Asheville, knowing they could sell antiques anywhere.

Piece by owner Robert Nicholas

The Nicholases are no strangers to Asheville’s art and craft world. It was here they established Splurge more than 20 years ago — a business offering custom lighting, antiques, and vintage furnishings for residential and commercial locations. They eventually opened a storefront in Wedge Studios in 2014. The following year, the couple held their first Uncommon Market, billed as “Asheville’s largest, curated, pop-up market for antiques, art, vintage décor, and jewelry.” Splurge has now moved from Wedge Studios and is an integral part of Marquee. Meanwhile, the Uncommon Market will continue operations (the next event is scheduled for April 24 in the River Arts District).

Baskets from the Maadili Collective (Uganda)

Nicholas dreams big. He says he had the vision for Marquee seven years ago, but it remained on hold until April 2020, when the pandemic shuttered so much of the world, including Splurge. Still, he couldn’t get his idea for this grand project off his mind. Eventually he said, “I think it’s time.” He reviewed his idea with the property’s owners and they agreed it was time to move forward.

The cavernous building at 36 Foundy Street was originally used as a tannery, and in its last incarnation, it housed a car crusher that was part of a metal-recycling operation. When he first saw it, Nicholas says, “It was broken, cold, scary, and in need of major renovation.” 

He loved it.

Because of his continued interest, the owners gave him a key to the building “so that I could go at my leisure to measure and to dream.” While Rebecca is usually onboard with his ideas, “this one took a little more talking and time to come to fruition,” he admits.

The space is approximately the size of a football field and took over a year to get ready, including pouring concrete floors, insulating the ceiling, revamping the electrical system, and a lot more.

However, in a relatively short time period, the display spaces are nearly all filled.

“We are looking for art and antiques with a soul, things you can only find at Marquee,” says Nicholas.

He wants to eventually use the space for special events and perhaps even house a restaurant. For now, he plans to host a food truck in the lot next to the building, while continuing to refine what Marquee has to offer. 

The venue “will never be set to autopilot,” he says convincingly. “My mind doesn’t slow down.”

Marquee (marqueeasheville.com), located at 36 Foundy St. in Asheville’s River Arts District, is open 10am-5pm seven days a week. See also “Marquee Asheville” on Facebook and Instagram.

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