by Tara Imperatore
When picturing suburban Nashville, you probably see streets lined with warm, traditional houses with winding driveways and covered entries—and you would usually be right, unless you are talking about this particular residence. From the front, this sleek, modern home makes a subtle statement with clean, straight lines and minimal landscaping; around the back, floor-to-ceiling windows open up the house to promote outdoor living.
The designers, husband-and-wife team Larry Woodson and Lelia Gilchrist, spent 30 years in New York before taking their contemporary design aesthetic to Nashville, opening Woodson Gilchrist Architects in 1997. “Over the last several years, since we’ve been in Nashville, we have been doing modern houses successfully and our designs have been accepted here,” Woodson says. “This specific home is in a neighborhood that thinks of itself as traditional. The owners came to us because of our other work they’d seen; so they knew we do modern, but it’s not modern that’s offensive to the neighbors.”
Though their residential designs may not necessarily be considered the norm in Nashville, they have the utmost respect for regional traditions and consistently incorporate them into their work. This residence is constructed of brick, a material often used in the area. The white façade is no coincidence either; it is a nod to the predominant exterior color of Georgian style homes, and is one among many on the street painted in this shade. “You could say we’re abstracting and playing with certain aspects of traditional architecture and changing them to make it modern,” Woodson says. “We want to do something that’s acceptable and people enjoy, but is not a derivative.”
As you move around the side and rear, the more overtly modern features of the property are revealed. The brick drops off almost entirely, with expansive picture windows in its place to take advantage of the views. The steep slope it is built into creates an upside down effect where you enter on the second floor and the bedrooms are downstairs. The lower floor is underground and concealed in the front, so it appears relatively smaller than its 6,000-square-foot size. “Modern architects like working with a slope because it’s exciting and we like the challenge,” Woodson says. “We don’t want to do something that’s easy.”
Coming from a traditional English cottage style home, the owners were looking for something more comfortable and casual. This resulted in an open floor plan, extremely common in modern residential architecture, with spaces flowing into one another and leading to the outside with great expanses and glass. “We started our conversations asking if they needed all these rooms,” Woodson says. “An open plan can make the house smaller and you don’t have empty rooms you don’t need. The spaces are more compact and you can focus on them.”
Also involved in the effort to produce this relaxed new living environment was New York interior designer Kevin Dumais. He worked closely with Woodson Gilchrist from the start to ensure a cohesive product for the client. “Being brought in at the beginning really gets you involved in the whole layout and design process of the house,” Dumais says. “Instead of decoration, it becomes more about a fully thought out design vocabulary with functionality, usability and detail.”
The collaboration is evident through various aspects of the interiors: the use of wood paneling and floor-to-ceiling shelving to punctuate the verticality of the architecture and windows; modern furnishings like reupholstered vintage chairs and dramatic hanging light fixtures and eclectic paintings and wall sculptures. A neutral color scheme maintains a balance between cool and warm, but Dumais made sure to incorporate his signature pop of blue in items like lamps, throw pillows and coffee tables. “This was exciting to work on because the owners were very hands on and shared their opinions, but they let me and the architect input where we felt our strong design influences lay,” says Dumais. “It was a good conversation between all of us.”