The House in Sweet Magnolias: a Real-Life Inn Poses as the Charming Spa

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Bringing us all the good vibes of Gilmore Girls with an extra serving of cheery camaraderie, Sweet Magnolias follows lifelong best friends Maddie, Helen, and Dana Sue as they juggle relationships, family and careers in the charming small town of Serenity, South Carolina. Or so the story goes.

Based on a highly popular book series written by Sherryl Woods, Sweet Magnolias is centered around the story of Maddie Townsend, whose life is overturned when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Luckily, she has all the support of her close friends, and after years spent outside the workforce, she dusts off her business skills to take charge of her best friends’ newest project — planning the town’s only fitness spa for women.

The location for the spa: a most charming historic mansion that’s actually a real-life bed and breakfast.

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Renovating the Sweet Magnolias house to turn it into a spa. Image credit: Eliza Morse/Netflix

Sweet Magnolias was actually filmed in Georgia, not South Carolina

Similar to other high profile TV shows — like the popular Ozark series, which is actually set in Georgia, despite the action (and, well, name) placing it in Missouri — Sweet Magnolias is not actually set in Serenity, SC.

In fact, there is no town of Serenity in South Carolina, and the entire show was shot in Covington, Georgia, a popular filming location that’s served as background for dozens of hit shows and movies, including The Dukes of Hazzard, In the Heat of the Night, Legacies and The Vampire Diaries.

The book series was indeed based on a South Carolina location — more specifically, the city of Sumter, SC — as the author points out herself in Stealing Home, one of the books in the Sweet Magnolias series. But the Hollywood-ready town of Covington was chosen instead, likely also due to the many tax incentives Georgia offers filmmakers.

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Renovating the Sweet Magnolias house to turn it into a spa. Image credit: Eliza Morse/Netflix

How about the actual house in Sweet Magnolias?

While the city of Covington proudly brands itself as “The Original Hollywood of the South” due to the many movies and TV shows that have been filmed here, the house itself has a very special claim to fame.

According to the city’s tourism office, Margaret Mitchell was the first to discover the historic Antebellum mansion while writing Gone With the Wind. Mitchell fell in love with the mansion after seeing it in a news clipping she found back in 1939. It served as inspiration for Ashley Wilkes house in the book, and also parts of the movie; whenever the exterior of the house was shown in Gone With the Wind, footage of Busch Gardens in Pasadena, California was used, overlapped with a painting loosely modeled after this home. That was the first time the charming mansion was recognized by Hollywood. 

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Renovating the Sweet Magnolias house to turn it into a spa. Image credit: Eliza Morse/Netflix

But before it’s camera-ready past, the mansion — or rather “The Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast” — had a rich history that got it included in the National Register of Historic Places. Its history dates back to 1836, when it was home to local Judge John Harris, later purchased by Frankin Wright at the end of the Civil War for the humble amount of one thousand dollars.

Wright and his wife, Salina, named the house “The Cedar” and invested in the property, refurbishing it and adding a garden to the rear of the mansion; they later sold it in 1903 to a Nathaniel S. Turner, a cotton broker who again changed its name, dubbing it “Whitehall”. Turner was also the one to add the third floor with the dormer windows, an expanded colonnade, and a second-floor.

Now, the home operates as a bed and breakfast (one that you can actually go stay at), under the name of Twelve Oaks Inn. Brimming with 12 luxurious bedrooms and 12-and-a-half bathrooms, the famous mansion stays true to its antebellum period charm, but with updated amenities and appliances.

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Written by Georgie Mihaila

The main wordsmith behind all those Fancy Pants Homes. Avid reader and a sucker for superhero movies. Read, write, and dream real estate.