To former Los Angeles dwellers Kaylee and David Wilson, there was something special about Tennessee designer Stephanie Sabbe. Her original yet familiar aesthetic had captured Kaylee’s attention well before a life transition spurred a return to her indie filmmaker husband’s native Nashville. “I followed her on Instagram for more than a year and loved her authenticity and her work,” Kaylee explains. “I knew moving here, we wanted to buy an old house and keep it old, and Stephanie would retain that character.”
When the Wilsons reached out for the designer’s input on a home they’d purchased in Green Hills, “She saw the address and said, ‘Wait just a second—I live five doors down from this house!’ I think we were always meant to be neighbors,” Kaylee recounts. Serendipitously, Sabbe had just finished the renovation of her own family’s abode—built the same year as the Wilsons’, in 1926—so she was excited to put into practice everything she’d learned along the way. The Wilsons, for their part, were more than willing to put their faith in her hands. “From the get-go, there was this crazy synergy,” Sabbe recalls. “It really was like getting to design my home all over again, only this time, I got to do it even better.”
Sabbe spearheaded a renovation that involved reworking the traditional floor plan to open the kitchen to the living spaces, even closing up a window to gain additional cabinetry space. “People are hesitant to do that,” says Sabbe. “But it allowed the Wilsons to have a proper kitchen layout, and there’s still plenty of natural light.”
Sabbe’s direction also added decorative cedar beams alongside an existing structural support in the ceiling. “I wanted them to look intentional—like they’d always been there,” she says, adding how the home’s original, load-bearing brick chimney was camouflaged between two cased openings—a move that gave the Wilsons the open floor plan they craved and allowed them to cook while watching their children play in the family room simultaneously.
Upstairs in the master suite, the renovation captured several square feet from the bedroom to create a larger, more luxurious bathroom. But Sabbe’s manner of addressing the cozy, cocooning sleeping quarters meant the reduced footprint was virtually unnoticeable.
Once she’d improved functionality for the family, Sabbe says she and the Wilsons entered a “total trust zone,” with the designer receiving carte blanche to curate a storied, soulful look. “We pretty much have identical personal styles, so anything I dragged over there—a vintage portrait sketch, Oushak rugs, Swedish monk chairs—they were always game for everything,” she says. Most of those finds came from Sabbe’s scourings of her self-professed “secret haunts” in Tennessee, some of which she repurposed for modern-day needs—such as shortening the legs of an Amish-made table found at the local flea market to create a makeshift coffee table.
Antiques—especially English-inspired ones—were central to Sabbe’s vision, but they were also incredibly personal for Kaylee. “I grew up in a family where antiques were appreciated,” she says. “We were taught from early childhood that furniture is an art and should be taken care of and passed down like stories. Stephanie also subscribes to that idea, and she has a way of making old things feel very fresh.” For example: A duo of carved antique chairs flanks a modern concrete console in the family room, while contemporary sconces illuminate framed oil paintings at the master bedside.
Surprisingly, “This was one of the first projects I’ve worked on where I felt like I got to truly flex my creative muscles in their entirety,” Sabbe reveals, adding that the Wilsons were unfazed when she suggested hanging a portrait of a man they didn’t know in the cozy, cinnamon-hued dining room. “I think they understood he would add age and character in a way a new acquisition couldn’t.”
Layering the home one space at a time, Sabbe addressed each as if it were a standalone chapter in a good novel. “It was like a domino effect—one room after the other,” she says, noting how paint colors throughout offer clues to her approach. “Of course, we wanted things to feel cohesive, but that variation you see was deliberate. I don’t think you can truly appreciate color unless you experience the relief of it.” Her philosophy on patterns proved much the same: “They deliver more impact when you’ve had a break from them nearby, and the juxtapositions create a rhythm as you move through the house.” For the Wilsons, that rhythm is somewhat like life itself—always in flux and, thankfully, always bringing a new adventure around the next corner.