There was no question that this house, a 1960s abode in Nashville’s Forest Hills neighborhood, was alluring—a sturdy, stone-walled grand dame still holding her head up high. It was the sort of house that does not reveal itself up front but enchants slowly, room by room, rather than all at once. Previously, it had belonged to an older couple who’d spent years there lovingly layering it with upholstered surfaces, patterned wallpaper and trim. But the new owners—a young family—were eager to embrace change. “It needed a palate cleanser,” designer Ray Booth recalls, comparing the process of updating it to a makeunder.
The home’s hallmarks were rather unusual, too. Though Booth never turned up any images of how the structure appeared when first built, he believes its architectural origins were English-inspired. The floor plan also had a rambling quality. And although the dwelling’s interior detailing was sound, years of redesigns and renovations had begun to cloud its original intentions. “There were numerous extra spaces that we needed to assign function to,” explains Booth, who was assisted on the project by designer Perrin Mayne.
Working within the existing frame—rather than razing and rebuilding—Booth notes, provided for discovery, possibility and opportunity. The primary bedroom, for example, boasts a sitting room with a door leading directly into the kitchen, allowing the owners to quickly dip inside. Booth responded with an en suite banquette for this space, envisioned as a private mini dining nook. “The owners already loved the residence they bought,” he says. “So, much of our task was maintaining the charm—while utilizing all of the interesting spaces that had evolved out of its journey as a house.”
The kitchen and bathrooms were thoroughly upgraded during the project, including all cabinetry, as dated elements and appliances were stripped away. Here and throughout the house, the gracious arched windows, intricate millwork and exposed beams were left mostly intact, although a few received fresh coats of paint to unify the overall palette. “We removed the context of, say, an ochre checked fabric wall,” reveals Booth. “Now, those elements have a chance to stand on their own.” General contractor Matt Daniel, a frequent collaborator of Booth’s, proved essential during this stage, executing details that meld imperceptibly with the home’s original characteristics. “Working beside someone you’ve had a long-standing relationship with takes so many questions out of the process,” the designer notes. “Matt is a vital partner in any project’s success; there is a calmness he brings to the process.” Together, the duo’s efforts helped the succession of rooms unfold even more harmoniously.
A high-ceilinged hallway lined with arched windows, for instance, marks the passageway between an older and newer section of the house—so light-filled it reads as a sunroom. The kitchen and family room merge into a generous volume with a dining section and child-size sitting area—the latter of which leads to a Dutch door and wraparound screened porch. There’s also an intimate library near the entry, a welcoming front sitting room adjacent to the main family room, and a seating area off the dining room that serves as an inviting pre-dinner cocktail spot. In every space, Booth explains, the emphasis was on dialing back, “as well as recoloring to provide some calmness and modernity,” he says. “Quieting things down became the home’s defining theme.”
This simplified approach continued well unto the exterior, where existing plantings received a major chop. “Everything was overgrown and wild, hanging over the house and land,” says landscape architect Gavin Duke, another longtime Booth collaborator who completed the project while with the former Page | Duke Landscape Architects. “Ray and I were in immediate agreement about editing for clarity.” Among the most significant changes: Two driveways were converted to one and nearly a dozen 12-foot boxwood shrubs were collected across the property then replanted at the front for privacy. Duke’s fresh insertions include showy Delaware Valley rhododendrons, bigleaf magnolias and drought-tolerant river birch trees as punctuation points. “It’s an orderly wildness now,” the landscape architect concludes, adding that the family loves the results so much, they’ve since hosted a garden club party.
Reflecting on the project, Booth reveals he’s most proud of how the homeowners were willing to work with their property’s every quirk. “The rabbit hole can go deep,” he notes, referencing how one change can lead to a cascade. “These clients had the courage to go ‘all the way.’ Because they truly loved their home from the beginning, this family had the foresight to bring it to its full potential.” For this reason, one Nashville estate is now more fetching than ever.