Chefs Backstage at Sinema
an unrehearsed dinner series
Chefs Backstage at Sinema: an Unrehearsed Dinner Series A cast of Nashville chefs will join Sinema’s Kyle Patterson in this playful dinner series. Loosely based
Servant buzzers are tucked away inconspicuously in the historic home on Iroquois Avenue, as though a ghost staff awaits their summons. One hides behind a strip of decorative molding; another waits patiently on the floor underneath the dining room table. Were this still 1916, when the house was brand new, a perfectly manicured finger might press the buzzer in the living room for cocktails, while a foot, clad in a silk shoe, would tap the other to beckon the cook.
In the early 20th century, the living was easy at this Belle Meade beauty. One can imagine an untroubled lifestyle, where buzzers signaled desires and servants attended to them posthaste, packing picnic baskets, polishing golf shoes, and delivering flutes of champagne. This unassuming home is no longer inhabited by servants and a family, but rather by a thoroughly modern married couple: Brian Setzer, the CFO for HighMark Health Plans, and Michael Dixon, the president of Travelink, the American Express Travel office in Nashville.
It is the very picture of stealth wealth, this sprawling, white clapboard home that peeks out shyly toward the street from a two-acre lot. With its beach-y design and sense of privacy, it would fit perfectly into the landscape of the Kennedy compound. Built in the Greek Revival style, the architecture cleverly disguises the home’s size, which is approximately 6,200 square feet, including a carriage house and a separate garage.
“It doesn’t look like one of these typical mansions, even those that existed then,” Dixon says. “I think that is pretty cool.”
In 1916, this home was among the first on Iroquois Avenue, originally owned by Albert Sidney, a Nashville native and one of the early promoters of what was then the “new community” of Belle Meade. Since then, it has housed a “who’s who” of Nashville, including a young Bronson Ingram, the late Corinne Parrish, the late Neil Parrish and his wife, Nan, and, in modern times, Garth Brooks’s brother, Kelly Brooks.
The current owners purchased the home in 2013, after passing by it for 20 years while jogging.
“We just couldn’t resist the historical significance of what has always been an elegant and inviting family home,” Dixon says. “It is true Americana.”
Dixon has endeavored to bring back some of the original furnishings. One is the living room chandelier, an exquisite crystal number believed to be Baccarat that is six feet tall and three feet in diameter. It originally sailed over from England with Corinne Parrish via the RMS Queen Mary. An inveterate collector of antiques, Dixon’s taste contributes heavily to the home’s décor. He has introduced carpets from Istanbul and gorgeous antiques, including an ebonized Aesthetic Movement credenza from the 1800s in the living room and terrace furniture that dates to the 1860s.
Interior designer John Larsen, of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, casts his artistic eye over the home, as well, arriving at colorful décor schemes and high-end wallpapers that include Scalamandre, Farrow & Ball, and Colefax & Fowler. Entering the home, one passes through a foyer decorated in glamorous Farrow & Ball wallpaper. It leads into a 45-foot-long hallway, a holdover from the architectural styles of yesteryear.
“It’s a fabulous entertaining feature, and it just makes you feel small,” Dixon says.
Guests can easily adjourn from the home to the backyard, where they are met by an enormous patio that is perfect for entertaining, but it wasn't always that way. When the couple arrived at the home, “The yard had gone to Grey Gardens,” Dixon says, referring to the infamously overgrown Hamptons mansion of “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale. “There were all of these boxwoods, but they looked like they were one minute away from going to heaven.”
Now, he says, “The garden is one of the most stunning aspects of the house.” It includes a neatly manicured side garden that the couple nicknamed “The Oval Garden.” Its grass looks like an emerald-colored carpet. Color is found in the garden year-round through a blend of crepe myrtles, hydrangeas, roses bushes, and magnolia trees. The back wall, covered in English ivy, is original. A small, but luxurious, detail is a plunge pool that had been covered over. Dixon and Setzer had it dug out and renovated.
“That was one of the surprises,” Dixon says.
While it is clear that Dixon drives the décor, what is Setzer’s role? “Money!” Dixon says. “And the right of veto, seldom exercised.”
Both men also believe their role is to maintain the character of the house. “I think that’s how all of the owners have seen ourselves in this house,” Dixon says. “We’re preserving a legacy.”