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At Home with Nancy Vienneau and Bill Neill

Scaling back from a Belmont four-square, one couple decided to go small and streamlined.

Written By:  Nancy Vienneau

Photographers:  Caroline Allison

No single flash of insight prompted us to change everything, leave our lovingly restored century-old four square on Belmont Boulevard, and downsize into a custom-built modern home. Like many big decisions, ours arrived in increments.

Boomers with children grown and married, we had rooms unused in our 3,300-square-foot abode. We were growing weary of the upkeep demanded by a Victorian-era home. More than that, we'd become discontented with our accumulation of stuff. We'd changed, and we longed for a streamlined life.

Aside from being smaller, what would that look like? I'm a chef and food writer; Bill is a visual artist. Our unrealized desires for a gourmet kitchen and painting studio with north light in the Belmont home had been supplanted by what the structure allowed: a galley kitchen and low-slung basement with narrow windows. We'd find something to better suit us, this time in a contemporary bent.

Our search of existing properties turned up nothing. I remember telling Bill, "If we're ever to get what we really want, we're going to have to built it ourselves."  

We hunted for a lot. After months, we found it: a blighted home on a slope at the end of a cul-de-sac, in a neighborhood abutting the urban core. It had a stunning downtown view and was on the brink of foreclosure.

We planned to get it at courthouse auction, but a group of buyers scooped it up before it came on the docket. Resolute, Bill tracked them down and made a convincing offer. Sometimes, you get lucky. In August 2014, we were bound to build our dream home.

How big to dream in how small a space? We contacted Larry Woodson of Woodson Gilchrist Architects, a local architect whose modernist work we admired. We described our vision: an open floor plan that combined living space and my ideal kitchen, with our master suite on the same floor; walls of glass to capture the views; a studio for Bill, with wall space for his sizable abstracts; my writing office; and a guest bedroom and bath. Could that be accomplished in 2,000 square feet?

Woodson embraced our ideas and designed a three-tiered home: Stacked atop of a garage and north-facing studio is the main floor, containing all our essentials. (Yes, with a sleek kitchen, 48-inch professional range, and 10-foot island commanding the living room!) Ascend the floating staircase to the upper level for the guest suite and my office, complete with built-in desk, bookcase, and a long window looking out to the city.

We were thrilled by the prospect of 12-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling commercial storefront windows. And, a bonus: a rooftop deck as large as the main room of the house.

Hands-on throughout the project, Woodson kept the builder on track, while guiding us in choosing finishes. We opted for a neutral palette: white walls, ceilings, baseboards, cabinetry; blonde maple floors; charcoal quartz counters; and a charcoal exterior.

That became a challenge. Woodson's design of the outer envelope called for Hardie board sheets covered in battens at four-inch intervals, thus creating a striking corrugated effect. The siding subcontractor abandoned the job when he realized he underbid it. In the frenetic construction environment Nashville was (and still is) experiencing, it was daunting to find workers to take on the job. It delayed the project by months.

We give props to our contractor, David Tachek of Noble Constructors, who remained diligent in the face of bailing subs, shifts in material availability, and general cost creep. It resulted in a home we've fallen in love with.

We now have harmony and economy of space-every line has a purpose, every thing has its place. Bill's art comes to life on the walls. My kitchen infuses its own warmth and vitality. Evenings, when I enter my office, I am ever uplifted by the glittering city spread out before me. On the rooftop deck, I reel not just at the skyline, but also the liberating sense of being smaller, yet feeling so expansive. Have I ever seen so much sky?


Larry Woodson
Woodson Gilchrist Architects

David Tachek
Noble Constructors LLC

Caroline Allison
Caroline Allison Photography

Bill Neill
Bill Neill Visual Artist

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