29 May A house that heals
As I approached the home I’m about to share with you, I felt a calmness. Maybe it was the James Taylor music but I really think it was the aura of the gardens and the allure of the entire setting that put me in a zen like mood.
This magical home on the lush and posh road known as Woodlawn in Nashville is occupied by a couple that knows a thing or two about creating classic and beautiful architectural elements. As James Dunn of Vintage Millworks says on his Instagram account, (@hands_of_vintage_millworks,) “I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing but designing and building beautiful things out of wood for my clients.” And that he has done for decades. His company’s millwork graces residential and commercial buildings throughout the mid-South.
So you always wonder how someone that creative chooses to dwell, or at least I did!
He and his wife Margaret live in one of the most unique homes I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Because James grew up in northern Michigan, he’s always been inspired by old barns and wood.
When he moved from the corn fields of that area to the gold coast of Florida, or West Palm Beach, he began his real education in woodworking from old masters of the craft, many of them from Italy. He told me when it comes to furniture design and making things out of wood, his philosophy is like Ben Franklin’s. “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
So when they decided to build their own home, they went with an equestrian style carriage house. It got a lot of attention when it was built and still does because of the style and color. But when you consider the architect was Bobby McAlpine, it’s no surprise. The two have worked together on many projects and when Dunn decided to build this house, he and McAlpine each did their own drawings of what the house might look like, and turns out, their drawings were quite similar!
The mix of 1 x 6 tongue- and- groove horizontal siding is from a Canadian granary building circa 1900. All the exterior and interior doors have quite a story behind them too. James rescued rafters from Nashville’s Union Station train shed demolition years ago. He happened to be driving by, stopped the bulldozer operator and asked if he could find out how James could purchase the material that would have gone to the Jack Daniels’ distillery furnaces for fuel!!! The doors were milled from 2 x 10 rafters. The entry door below is made from a common grade walnut.
The inside of the home is as charming as the exterior, with the walls made from 1 x 6 horizontal tongue – and -groove either common cypress or poplar. The exposed beams are rough cut poplar from a middle Tennessee Amish sawmill and many of the interesting light fixtures are from Preservation Station in Nashville. Almost everything has a story. Even the Charlotte Terrell painting above the living room fireplace reflects the farm property they own outside of Nashville.
The home has such an understated elegance and warmth about it. Speaking of warmth, the floors may look cold but they’re not! One inch thick concrete Peacock pavers with imbedded radiant heat keep their feet warm.
There’s so much interest without anything flashy or trendy. And that’s what the Dunns are all about. He doesn’t care for synthetic materials and says he has to be honest in his work. Wood is the real deal, and like anything organic, it never stays the same but constantly changes so maintenance is involved, but that’s fine by him.
You didn’t think I’d let that interesting staircase to a third floor go unmentioned, right??? Of course not. It takes you to a special retreat for grandchildren but the coolest thing is an opening that overlooks the downstairs, and meant to mimic what would have been a place to toss hay bales from in an old barn.
You just know the grandkids love this space!!! And the adults too.
In the library you’ll find walls that are hand planed pine, some of which was taken from a 1730 New England barn. I personally love how all the rooms off the dining area when you first walk in have lower ceilings, giving that intimate feel, like you’re in a cocoon along with classic decorative touches throughout the home done by designer Mark Simmons.
The kitchen has a beautiful view of the back yard with a banquette that’s so inviting. Instead of using upper cabinets, they went with one long open shelf on one wall lending to the rustic simplicity of the space.
While James was showing me the kitchen, we got on the subject of how much this house helped him heal after a major back surgery some years ago. I can see how it would. As architect Bobby McAlpine writes in his book, Finding Home, ” Good architecture is not about novelty or difference. It’s about comfort and resolve…in an accurate casting between house and location and people together. “
Whether sitting on the screened in porch, or being outside by the soothing water feature, the tranquil nature of this home and its gardens would make anyone breathe deeper and have a sense of well being.
Another McAlpine quote seems fitting here. “At its best, design is an accurate representation of who you are.” Amen.
Thanks so much to James and Margaret Dunn for opening their peaceful retreat so I could share it with you.