For homeowners Greg and Cristina Brophy, a tree-covered lot overlooking Nashville’s 3,000-acre Percy Warner Park was reason enough to purchase a lush property in Forest Hills, Tennessee. But equally intriguing were the man-made features found on the 6-acre site, including 64-year-old local limestone retaining walls essentially wedged into the hillside. “The stone drove so much of our home’s design,” Greg reveals. “We wanted a house that looked great with, and celebrated, those existing walls.” These components became crucial as he and Cristina set out to create a visionary residence imbued with influences of northern California, which the couple previously called home.
The Brophys requested an organically inspired house that would afford privacy while existing symbiotically with its landscape. And because an elegant swimming pool also topped their wish list, their architectural plans with residential designer Jonathan Torode evolved to become a U-shape to wrap around it, affording watery vistas from every room. “It was important to bring views of the park into the home,” adds Torode, who responded directly to the topography, then created a floor plan that allowed for strategic sight lines from key rooms. Building materials were kept intentionally neutral: stucco, concrete, wood, metal and the beloved limestone—plus a proliferation of metal windows and doors to lure the eye outside.
The lot proved challenging because of its steep slope. Problem-solving included reinforcing the foundation with micro piles of steel and concrete. For this complex but delicate task, Torode is quick to defer credit to general contractor Jim Mullowney, who—along with a team of engineers—demonstrated immense structural expertise. With the residence securely situated, Mullowney’s commitment to go the extra mile paid off. “Now, it looks as though our home was built right into the hill,” Cristina describes.
Indoors, several elements echo the old-world gestures seen outside. Character-grade oak floors and hand-hewn ceiling beams keep the look natural and understated as hand-troweled plaster walls come alive in the ambient sunlight. “We really wanted simplicity and restraint,” Cristina says, adding, “We decided against crown molding; only minimal baseboards.”
The abode is divided into distinct areas linked by broad, light-filled passages. One leading to the primary suite even includes a vestibule as a transition space, integrating antique French linenfold doors Cristina found in Atlanta—complete with original iron hardware. “We wanted components like these to be the artwork as much as anything else in the home,” Torode notes. “Those doors add to the richness one experiences in the house every day.” Another passage leads to Greg’s office, itself a showcase of structural precision and complex materiality. Here, millwork crafted by Mullowney with fellow carpenter Kevin Yatsinko frames a 10-foot-tall steel-plate fireplace as a focal point.
When furnishing the home, Cristina was influenced by the architectural features inside and out. “I kept going back to the stone walls; that was my foundation for the interiors, because they have such a warm, organic feel to them,” she shares. An 18th-century walnut table in the dining area and a circa-1600s bench in one hallway exemplify her special selections, though she contrasted these with modern furnishings and metal fixtures to fit the scale and tone of the house.
A sprawling backyard with elaborate hardscaping rounds out the experience. Paying respect to the scope and scale of the property, landscape architect Ben Page’s team installed materials that fit the aesthetic goals and existing stone walls. “The stones used for the terraces and walkways are all indigenous to Tennessee and include a rare color of crab orchard stone endemic to the area, nicknamed ‘squirrel’ due to its subtle grays and tans,” Page reveals. The landscape architect’s most commanding vista is framed by a pair of artisan-forged, diamond-patterned steel doors. Similarly, his insertion of Slender Silhouette sweetgum trees—a favorite of Cristina’s—bring complementary structure to swaths of native plantings, including Rudbeckia daisies and other wildflowers that thrive locally. “Ben’s selections are beautiful now and will be even more so in the years to come,” Cristina muses.
For now, she and Greg appreciate how the house and yard both change with the seasons. Old-growth sweetbay magnolias flower in the spring before native grasses brandish pink plumes come fall, with winter days casting long shadows into the interior. It’s all part of the seamless link to nature the Brophys desired, and which they can enjoy whether seated around the fire pit or within the window-bordered breakfast nook. “We feel like we’re outdoors even when we’re indoors,” Cristina says. “That’s how we want to live.”