While they ultimately spent 17 years overseas, one worldly couple had already thought far ahead, building a Forest Hills, Tennessee, home they planned to eventually come back to. When their return to Nashville became reality, the pair began formulating ways to reinvent the residence. Designer Roger Higgins emerged as the perfect partner on that journey. Over the course of seven years and even a visit to Asia, he helped his clients distill a distinct design vision. Higgins’ creativity was thus fortified by the rare fortune of time, allowing ideas to gradually evolve and refine. And the uniqueness of that opportunity was much of the appeal for the designer. “For years, my clients were in a glittery high-rise in Hong Kong,” Higgins shares. “They were fortunate enough to travel the world, to see the best of design, and to collect serious art and antiquities along the way. They wanted this Tennessee home to be an expression of those experiences while serving as a gallery for their incredible collections.”
Though the house boasted plentiful living space, the owners still wished to reconfigure portions of it, particularly on the lower level. The couple had already retained architect Steve Durden for an earlier phase of their home’s renovation, and midway into Higgins’ contributions, Durden came on board to reinvent the residence’s ground floor. His revisions produced a wine room, a spacious study and wet bar for the husband, plus a luxurious salon and dressing space for the wife. Just off the kitchen on the main level, the architect also fashioned a porch that features a pyramidal skylight reminiscent of the Louvre, a feature that floods the home with natural light.
Higgins, meanwhile, was methodically curating its interiors alongside fellow designer Ann Shipp. Guiding their approach were three descriptions that consistently topped the clients’ wish list: classic, clean-lined and clutter-free. “The architecture of the house is French-inspired, formal, with a slate roof and manicured gardens surrounding it,” Higgins reveals of the grounds, which were finessed by landscape architect Ben Page. “The bones are classic, but I wanted to incorporate some contemporary elements that would modernize the home and deliver those clean lines.” The design team replaced most of the traditional windows with steel ones, a move that changed the house dramatically. Higgins then reimagined the library by lacquering its trim and bookshelves in a striking Valentino red, also outfitting its ceiling with silver-leaf tea paper as a nod to the couple’s time spent abroad.
Higgins kept most other spaces neutral to establish an understated backdrop for the couple’s blue-chip art collection, which includes a mix of pieces by Pablo Picasso, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Frank Stella, Charles Brindley and Damien Hirst, among other notables collected over the decades. “We chose appropriate lighting for all the art, which set the mood of each room,” the designer notes. And with such important works occupying every space, Higgins wanted the furnishings to be equally noteworthy.
To maintain a collected look, the designer married pieces from different periods and provenances, effortlessly blending Biedermeier with Barbara Barry; Eames with Clarence House; Baker with custom case goods. Similarly, his scheme paired simple sisal rugs with antique Persian ones. “To me, the fun is in the mixture of things,” he reveals. “Give me a tall, ornate, gilt mirror—the bigger the better—above a beautiful antique rosewood chest, and I’m happy.” Higgins’ favorite rooms tout a sense of history—an effect pronounced by his deftness for pairing pieces one might not necessarily expect to find side by side.
Despite this wealth of interesting objects, Higgins was careful to ensure a collected look that would be streamlined and edited. “My clients like symmetry and order,” he assures. Keeping to a narrow palette allowed texture to essentially substitute for pattern, ensuring no single space appeared too prominent. “What’s nice about that simplicity is that the house can remain dynamic,” adds Higgins, noting how art seamlessly moves from room to room, allowing the residence to function exactly as intended: like a gallery for his clients’ collections.
Higgins, for his part, believes the time and care spent tweaking the design were key to perfectly capturing the essence of these owners. Sums the designer: “This project is the culmination of a lifetime of global travel, of seeing and learning and discovering beauty, then bringing it all back home to Nashville.”