Call it an opportunity born of disaster. Damage from a felled tree was what convinced one Nashville couple to reevaluate their long-beloved home, located in a shady enclave of Belle Meade. The near-century-old abode had fit them well in younger years, but with their children grown and eyes on their future together, the pair saw a moment worth seizing. As repairs gave rise to renovations, leading to modern architectural updates that support aging in place, the home’s interiors came to inspire a greater focus on wellness, with rooms designed for family gatherings, plus spaces where the husband and wife each can retreat and recharge. “The homeowners have uniquely different tastes,” notes their designer, Robin Rains. “He prefers uncluttered contemporary; she’s drawn to tradition and opulence. What they shared was the desire to embrace contrast and explore common ground.”
The husband and wife—both business owners active in the nonprofit community—turned to architect Kem Hinton, whom they already knew through a previous commission and civic projects around Nashville, to head up the home’s renovation. “The challenge was to give the owners options while keeping the home’s wonderful historic ambience,” explains Hinton, who worked with project manager Steve Johnson and project designer Katie Woods to add an elevator, redesign the kitchen and bathrooms with more forgiving footprints, create enclosed porches and convert a guesthouse into the husband’s office.
To connect the rear volumes to the main house, Hinton devised a clever addition: to one side is a glazed corridor overlooking the courtyard and, to the other, a contemporary guest suite that may one day transition to a ground-floor master suite. “It’s accessible design without compromising character; the addition honors the scale and materials of the house,” says the architect, who followed the home’s original roof forms but added steel windows for transparency. For efficiency’s sake, Hinton and builder Salem Forsythe excavated the couple’s adjacent land for new geothermal systems, providing landscape architect Chris Barkley and landscape designer Hannah Goodgion the chance to enhance the entire property.
While the husband’s clean-lined preferences are more evident along the architectural envelope, the wife’s tastes and interests are better revealed within it. “I’ve never met anyone so passionate about all things beautiful,” Rains says of her client. “Flea market finds, fine antiques, all of it; she loves to tell stories of how she found each piece.” A collection this vast required careful analysis to determine display and storage needs. There are silver pieces, ceramics (“She has an enormous collection of Chinese, European and even dime-store blue-and-white porcelain,” Rains adds), boxes in numerous luxe materials, mirrors, photographs, etchings and sketches sourced from Wyoming, where the couple has a home. There are paintings, too, including several by local artist Kit Reuther.
To link elements together visually, Rains kept walls white and floors neutral, employing burnished gold tones as a continuous thread throughout. “We chose neutral fabrics for larger pieces in the living room, as we knew we’d be layering Fortuny fabrics with various color tones, but we kept some antiques in their original fabrics,” explains the designer, who worked with Hinton to adjust architectural details as needed. For example, the living room’s mantle was removed for a pared-down look, while wainscoting was added for interest. Rains also selected mirrored paneling similar to that present in the room’s previous iteration because “it brought depth and enthusiasm to the space,” with the added effect of amplifying the opposing dining room’s dramatic new wallcovering. “The wife says it reminded her of their home in Italy,” notes the designer, who purposely eschewed a rug and chandelier so as not to distract from the Arcadian scene.
Liaising with team members Kate Ladd Chlebowski, Jenna Miller and Haley Davis, Rains continued in the same decorative vein, painting a pale blue-and-white checkerboard pattern on the kitchen floor, papering the master bedroom in an exotic animal print and coating the library in a rich dark green. “I think we’ve forgotten that a house needs a library, Rains posits. “It reminds us to embrace the joy of unwinding with a good read.” The wife’s personal meditation room, for that matter, is her sanctuary. “It’s where she reflects, prays, reads and recharges,” Rains says. “This room is about nourishing the soul. We all need spaces like these right now.” Antique Himalayan singing bowls, bird feathers and photos of her grandchildren are just a few items that help center her.
“The home exudes this couple’s life story,” Rains concludes. “They respect each other’s tastes and embraced the challenge of blending them. I was given the ability to layer, not match, with no rules. There was something very freeing about that.”