Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we visit the Nashville, Tennessee home of Rick and Suellen Stringer-Hye. When they remodeled their Tudor bungalow, they assembled a design team that brought their home into the 21st century.
When the couple purchased their 1,600-square-foot home two decades ago, they had new jobs at the nearby Vanderbilt University, two sons living at home, and no real intention to make it their long-term residence.
"We loved the style of the house, and we loved the neighborhood," says Suellen. That area, called Hillsboro Village, was built as a streetcar suburb for people working downtown before the state capital was known as Music City, U.S.A. The area is filled with eclectic, charming Arts and Crafts-style bungalows. The Stringer-Hye home, built in 1935, is no exception.
But, in addition to its period details, it had a cramped kitchen and just a single bath with an awkward layout that had the toilet tucked into the corner—not an ideal situation for a family of four. "We kept trying to find another house," says Suellen. "But the location is so perfect and the neighborhood is so great, we finally decided to marshall our resources, take the dive, and remake the house."
The team started with then-contractor Fred Lawrence, a former keyboard player for Waylon Jennings and principal at Lawrence Brothers builders who has since become a real estate agent. Lawrence brought on architect Susan Hager, who designed an addition that more than doubled the square footage of the house (it now stands at 3,200 square feet), and interior designer Marcelle Guilbeau, who was brought in to help with some of the more tricky design elements—including amplifying and incorporating the whisper of Spanish style in the dwelling.
All agreed that although some things needed to change (a master bedroom and bath, a master closet, and a family room were added), many things should stay the same. "One of the things I love about the house is that you can’t tell where the old part ends and the new additions begin," says Suellen.
The architect agrees, adding that preservation is important. "Every house has a life of its own and a story to tell. Historic buildings are the backdrop for lives come and gone. They are the result of many years of love, hard work, and problem solving by the occupants, designers, builders, and artisans," Hager says. "It's important to honor the dedication of those people and become part of the story."
The continuation of this home’s tale involved a two-story addition at the back of the house. On the lower level, it allowed for a bigger kitchen with better flow and a family room. On the second level, it provided for a master bedroom, bathroom, and closet.
For Rick and Suellen, it was a realization of a dream that brought their family and friends together. "The whole time we had lived in this house, it felt like there was no comfortable place for us or for the kids and their friends to gather," she says. "The family room allows this to happen. It also gives people a place to hang out during parties, because everyone really does want to be near the kitchen."
The transformed kitchen introduces some new notes and builds on some little noticed architectural features. "The great thing about these Arts and Crafts bungalows is that they have a very eclectic nature. They are so many roads you could take with them, so many different sensibilities," Suellen says. "I studied Spanish and had lived in Spain for a time. We had both been to Morocco and lived in Japan. My vision of the house had some elements of Spanish architecture, it was the aesthetic we wanted."
The concept wasn’t completely foreign to the home. "It was kind of an evolution of what was there," says Rick. "In the old house, there was an ogee arch on an alcove to the side of the kitchen. We always liked it, so the shape was included in the passage between the kitchen and family room, and we continued the element upstairs."
The interior designer says that the trick was to add some drama, but not too much. "We did add the wood beams downstairs, but it’s not overdone," Guilbeau says. "We put in some rich, indigo subway tile that Suellen loved behind the cooktop, around the fireplace in the living room, and upstairs behind a Japanese soaking tub. It’s the color you would find in a patterned Moroccan tile, and by itself it’s intense, but mellow if not overdone."
The strong hue appears again in the paint and the wallpaper in the guest room. "Suellen brought in a sample of wallpaper that had the same color as the tile, and I thought it was perfect," says Guilbeau. "When she decided to use the paper in an alcove, and paint the rest of the walls that color, it gave the room an almost celestial feeling."
The blue hue shifts to turquoise in the master bedroom, and the alcoves are repeated on the wall and the ogee arch appears again in the headboard. "One of our biggest challenges was choosing colors," says Suellen. "I felt that if we could get the architecture and the background colors right, the decorating would follow."
The transformation isn’t limited to the house; the stand-alone garage was also reimagined. Prior to the remodel, the structure was little more than a storage shed. "All the garages on this street are pretty small," says Rick. "No one really uses them." The family wanted to make the space a home for their interests. The original structure is now a recording studio for their youngest son, Peter, who is a songwriter, vocalist, and guitar player in the much-talked about Promised Land Sound. An addition makes space for a yoga studio and a bathroom. "We are a yoga family, so we use it for that now, but it could be an office or an art studio," says Suellen.
Now that the project is done, the family has no regrets. "It’s wonderful to walk into the house after a long day at work and feel surrounded by good vibes," Suellen says. "It’s the house I’ve always wanted."