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At Home with Vadis Turner

A native couple returns home from New York, putting their indelible mark on a downtown home, built in 1880.

Written By:  Trisha Boyer

Photographers:  Heather Durham

Vadis Turner and Clay Ezell both grew up in Nashville and even attended The Ensworth School for a stretch of the same time. But the two didn’t connect until many years later, while each was home from New York visiting family and friends.

After more than a decade in Brooklyn—Turner working as an artist, Ezell as a literary agent—plus the addition of a young son who was reaching what Turner describes as “bus exhaust height,” the couple grew excited about the possibility of returning home, to a city that has become remarkably different than the one they’d left behind years ago. Although buying a brownstone in Williamsburg always felt out of reach, while searching for Nashville real estate online in the wee hours of the morning, Turner discovered a two-story brick building, built in 1880, where her growing family could try their hand at living in a mixed-use building in the heart of the city.

The building was in need of a complete overhaul, so the couple partnered with Nick Dryden, of Dryden Architecture and Design (DAAD), who has been instrumental in reinventing many of Nashville’s burgeoning neighborhoods. By chance, when Dryden first moved to Nashville in 1996, he worked for an architect just a block away from Turner and Ezell’s new building.

“I was familiar with the neighborhood and happy to see Vadie and Clay committed to making their home right in the middle of downtown,” he says. “With development at an all-time high and land costs skyrocketing, seeing a single-family dwelling like this downtown is super rare.”

From start to finish, the house was a pure labor of love. “It presented a lot of surprises,” Turner explains, eyes opened wide for emphasis. “We knew that would happen, but, really, we didn't realize how significant those would be.”

McLean Barbieri, interior designer and partner with Annali Interiors, was involved in the project from the start and praises Dryden for doing “a fabulous job keeping the character of the original building, while adding both functional and beautiful spaces.” As walls were stabilized, living areas carved out, the first floor converted to a commercial space, and a breathtaking rooftop deck erected up top, Turner and Barbieri teamed up to breathe life into the vacant rooms, as only an artist and designer could.

The three-bedroom, two-bath house was significantly larger than the couple’s previous home, giving Turner a bit of a green light to indulge her passion for flea-market finds and Craigslist. Their move also coincided with Ezell’s mother downsizing from her traditional Belle Meade home, throwing another era of style and furnishings in to the mix.

“I’m a bit of a collector,” Turner says. “I like putting old stuff with new stuff, family stuff with strangers’ stuff. And I discovered that trading my artwork with other artists has been a wonderful tool for me in this project, too.”

What emerged is a vivid home, brimming with original art, color, pattern, and texture that seems to mirror Turner’s effortless personal style, with each room laid out in a way that feels welcoming and settled. “This was in no way an average project for me,” Barbieri says. “Vadie and I bounced ideas back and forth, often through late-night texts and emails. We had fun choosing which spaces would be layered and colorful and which would be a rest for the eye.”

Barbieri describes her favorite rooms as those where contemporary and traditional collide, like in the living room, where a mid-century chair, upholstered in Electra Eggleston fabric, sits in front of a large antique mirror; a traditional still life hangs in front of the mirror, and everything is anchored by a colorful, Moroccan rug. Or the entryway, where Schumacher dragon wallpaper wraps into a hand-painted ombre stair railing, leading up to a chandelier Turner inherited from her mother-in-law—which has since been painted bright yellow and adorned with 100 plastics bananas.

“I think, with Vadie and Clay, we created one of the most exciting houses in Nashville,” Dryden adds. “Their house is a one-of-a-kind house that has Vadie’s touches everywhere.”

Like the ever-changing skyline rising higher above their new residence, much has changed in the lives of Turner and Ezell as well. During the two-plus years between moving to Nashville and settling into their home, they had a second son. Ezell continues his efforts to make Nashville more sustainable through his new business, The Compost Company, LLC. For Turner, the move was never about her art career, but Nashville has afforded her some incredible opportunities to show her mixed media art, including a stunning solo exhibit, Tempest, at The Frist.

“It just feels so good to be home, in this house. To have it all done and not making any more big decisions,” she says. “I’m profoundly grateful to live and work here.”


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