Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we go inside the Nashville home of Brandon Miller and Jenn Yadon. This couple bucked convention and built a very modern home in one of the city’s revered historic neighborhoods. With the help of another couple, architect David Baird and interior designer Marcelle Guilbeau, they made a house so at home in its surroundings, it won an award.
It’s not every day you see a very modern house win a prize from an organization dedicated to preserving historic character, but the home of Miller and Yadon is not your ordinary dwelling.
The couple built their dream home in Nashville’s Little Hollywood neighborhood. The East Nashville community is populated with Spanish Mediterranean-inspired houses built in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of them feature stucco and flat roofs, giving the area a feel that’s more Golden State than Volunteer State, hence the nickname.
When building a new house in a historic district like this, modern might not be the first aesthetic to come to mind. But the couple had longed for a contemporary home since they left their newlywed digs, a loft in downtown Nashville. They loved the location, the look, and the feel of Little Hollywood, but they desired a 21st-century house for their growing family. They turned to Baird and Guilbeau, partners in life and at Building Ideas, for an answer.
It wasn’t the first time the quartet had collaborated. The architect and designer worked on the Miller-Yadon family’s previous house, a much more traditional residence due to the context of the neighborhood. This time around, Baird believed that they could go much more modern, because of the lines of the existing homes. "The Mediterraneans there are blocky with flat roofs," he says. When, in his mind’s eye, he stripped them of their Spanish ornamentation, he saw the simple forms that inspired the design for the new home.
"The new house is fairly simple, with a flat roof, a stucco exterior, and a large wooden trellis," Baird says. "It seems in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood."
So in keeping, in fact, that the architect won a design award from the Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission, a division of the Nashville Planning Department. Of course, accolades weren't the goal when designing the structure. Baird says the aim was to create the home his clients wanted in a style that wouldn't give commission members "heartburn." The approval process took six months.
Yadon says reasons for creating the home were to give the family more square footage and a better layout. At 4,100 square feet, their house is bigger than most of its neighbors, which hover in the 2,000-square-foot zone. Baird made the larger home look smaller by stepping it back. A trellis in the front lines up with the roof of the next door neighbor, and the upper story is set back from that. "Most people are surprised to see how large it is on the inside," says Baird. "From the outside, it appears smaller."
The exterior relates to the classic lines of the neighborhood, so it makes sense to carry echoes of a Spanish-Mediterranean aesthetic inside. Those historic notes include a rustic wood floor and ceiling that warm the space. They mingle with contemporary features such as concrete floors and a largely open floor plan. In other words, it’s a balancing act.
"When it comes to modernism, I am into the warmer midcentury look. I like symmetry, clean lines, and no knickknacks; but I do like a place that feels like a home," Yadon says. "Brandon prefers a more stark modern look with no frills, curtains, or pillows. Marcelle helped us find a middle ground."
That midpoint between warm and stark modern includes features like an entry with gallery-white walls and contemporary art, a long marble kitchen table that relies on a pillow laden wooden bench for seating, and bed enshrouded with ceiling-hung curtains for a fresh take on a canopy bed.
"We call the style Modern Mission," says Yadon. "We wanted it to be sharp, but a bit soft; timeless and warm; cozy, but without a lot of stuff."
Add to the mix two other priorities: Spaces designed for (and tough enough to stand up to) gatherings and kids. Children were actually the impetus for the project. The couple started considering a new house when their second daughter was born (Dylan is now six, Townes is three).
"We wanted furniture we could truly live on," Yadon says. "For example, we wanted fabrics that a child could make a mess on and we wouldn’t be devastated. We aren’t the kind of family to have chairs we can’t actually sit on or finishes that are so precious you have to be careful with them. We have a home that’s for living."
And that living, in part, includes having family and friends over often. In addition to frequent visits by their parents, this family uses happenings as a cause for gatherings. "It seems like most of our guests come for some kind of event—Super Bowl, World Cup, or the Oscars," Yadon says. "Once here, they break into two camps; those who want to watch the event in the media room, and those who could care less and want to socialize and congregate in the kitchen. In this house, we installed a barn door between the two rooms. That avoids an audio battle between the television and the talking, because we can close the areas off."
The question that remains: What does the community think? Given the building approval and ensuing award, you have to believe planning officials embraced the idea of a 21st century home in a early 20th century neighborhood, but how do the residents feel about the concept?
Yadon allows that contemporary isn’t the prevailing look in Nashville. "Styles are changing as the city has more transplants, but still most builders are creating classic homes," she says.
That said, she notes their home has generated a lot more curiosity and compliments than complaints. "We actually get letters in the mail that tell us that the house is cool and ask about the building materials," she says. "We also have cars stopping and people taking photos of it. Of course, there are some people who don’t like the style. And that’s the thing about style, everyone has their own."
But as far as this family and the city’s Historic Zoning Commission is concerned, there’s a new star in Little Hollywood.