Bynum Design Goes to South Africa!

A few months ago I visited South Africa, which I can truly say was life-changing—and not just because I lost my wallet in the gift shop at the airport while buying design magazines. I have a few words on the subject, but mostly I have lots and lots of photos to share.

South Africa

Lion in Africa


Bynum Design South Africa

South Africa

Elephant in South Africa


Our travels took us to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and a few other, smaller cities. As a designer, and a human, I’m really lucky that I get to travel as much as I do and to spend so much time in hotels as I do because you come across some of the most incredible design in hotels and get to fake-live in these beautiful environments. Some of the hotels we stayed in in Africa were just magnificent. And almost everywhere we went, there were all these things that harkened back to the English and to Dutch colonialism; so the architecture kind of looked like Rosemary Beach everywhere—except it was real.

South Africa architecture

Child in South Africa

Lilypads in South Africa


There were houses that were these bright pinks that fit right in there, which goes against my rule about light and color and distance from the equator. (South Africa is opposite the equator, and I ordinarily tell people that the closer a place is to the equator the brighter the light is, which is why you see all those colorful exteriors in the Caribbean that look fantastic. In Nashville, if you try to do a bright, beachy exterior, it most of the time looks really tragic because the light’s not right.)

pink house in South Africa

Lion in Africa

On the other hand, I also didn’t expect to see so much wonderful, wonderful modern architecture in Africa, especially in Cape Town. It was kind of shocking. You have an impression of what some place is going to be, and then when you get there it’s never what you thought. Thankfully.

Mud hut South Africa 2

I thought Africa was going to be mud huts, and we did see some of that, too. We went to this one village, and it was sort of a tourist village. (You know that’s where they take everybody.) But their huts really were made of mud and straw, and it was so amazing to see that up close and to see how effective these houses are. It’s hard to imagine that people live like that, but they don’t know what they don’t have, and they’re probably much happier than we are. One of the huts we saw had an entertainment center and a gigantic TV, and there was a curtain that separated it from the bedroom and it was like, Where am I?! I guess he was the chief of the village or something. I didn’t see any satellite dishes anywhere; I don’t know how he got this TV. Maybe he just got a TV somewhere and propped it up on his entertainment center? I don’t know.

Mud Hut in South Africa

Mud hut South Africa

My one disappointment about Africa is that I wish we’d gone to somewhere more authentic. I wanted to see topless women. I wanted National Geographic. I wanted real and raw. Lip plates and neck rings. But I guess that’s in a different part of Africa, and you probably take your life in your own hands going to those places.

I want to close this post in Johannesburg, where we stayed at a place called Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa. This was full-on glam. It was sort of new, but it looked very old. It wasn’t the architecture that inspired me really, but how they put furniture together. They had all these wonderful, dark-wood African antiques next to these Lucite cube tables. The way they married these styles was really sophisticated. I’ve seen all that stuff married together before, but the way they did it and in this totally white room with all this dark furniture and so much detail, it just did it to me in a way that I’ve never experienced before. Even the duvet cover mesmerized me, and in the dining room the tablecloth was this texture I’d never seen in fabric before. It was the most gorgeous thing, and it was just a simple little subtle detail.

Fairlawns Boutique Hotel

Fairlawns Boutique Hotel Africa

Fairlawns Boutique Hotel

The thing that got me about South Africa was in my head. It wasn’t like I saw a field of grass and decided to go green or anything like that. It was more of a real, emotional response to just being there. It was overwhelming. I don’t know if it was because I was in a part of the world I’d never been before or if it was because of what I was seeing or the people I was meeting. Their accent was amazing, and they were so warm. I can’t explain it; I hope my pictures help.

Boat in South Africa

Rainbow in South Africa


Stay tuned for a post about our trip to Italy, too!

Story of a Home: Our Twelve Twelve Condo

When we were asked to be one of a handful of Nashville interior design teams to stage one of the new Twelve Twelve condos in the Gulch, the builders wanted our help amping up the design drama to help these things sell.

Twelve Twelve Nashville

It’s worked, as Twelve Twelve is forecasted to be sold out by year’s end. So while we’re happy that we accomplished what we were asked to do, we’re mostly happy that we have this gorgeous space to show for it. And we’re grateful to have had photographers StudiObuell to capture it.

Bynum Design TwelveTwelve condo

A couple of months back, we shared our inspiration boards with you. Now, here’s the real deal:

Bynum Design Nashville

It ended up being liberating to not have much square footage to work with (we had two bedrooms, the tiniest of which we repurposed into a Music City-appropriate music room, and two bathrooms). And of course it was helpful that they didn’t just hand us the keys to the castle; they handed us the castle and let us go for it. There were a few things already done, but for the most part we got to select everything from the unit itself to the finish scheme.

Nashville interior design

We were even able to choose a Sonos music system and the TVs. We picked out the rolling window shades, paint colors, and of course all of the furniture and accessories. If you’re curious about any of the above, we sourced most of it from our shop, D. Luxe Home (and we’ve dedicated a separate blog post detailing where everything came from). This project was very much a group effort—with insights and ideas coming from those on-staff at Bynum Design as well as from the fabulous Sally Kyle.

Island in Kitchen Island in Condo in Nashville, Tennessee

We knew from the get-go that it was sophistication we were after. But my overall approach was, at the end of the day, to create a unit where I would want to live. (Speaking of the end of the day, it’s especially sexy up there at night.) Mission accomplished; I could move right in. Had I bought this unit, I would have probably done exactly what we did to it.

Street sweeper brushes as art

I think the biggest ah-ha! moment for us in tackling this space was to do the opposite of what most people do when designing a high-rise unit—that is, to center everything around the view. We came to understand that while the view is important—and dazzling—it’s not everything, and we don’t want to be facing it the entire time, so we placed a lot of furniture against the window wall and created several zones in the one main room. Creating a cozy, flexible space was what was most important.

Bynum Design Twelve Twelve condo Nashville, TN

We even moved the original location of the TV from the wall they had it on to an inward wall because we wanted you to be looking in, not out.

We created a space to watch TV …

Bynum Design Nashville interior

We created a space to eat…

Twelve Twelve The Gulch Nashville

… and then we created a separate space with these fab swivel chairs. You can be in one and talking to whoever’s cooking or looking out at THAT VIEW. It is just perfect.

Bynum Design Nashville

Our other prevailing way of thinking about this project was to bring details from the exterior of the building and reference them in our design. For instance, we identified a detail on the building that we really liked above the freight dock; there’s a giant, three-story wall of wood slats, all different widths. At one pint, when we were feeling like the space was just so long and needed to be broken up a bit, we looked to the narrow mullion in the center of the windows and decided that was the prefect place to take that wood slat element and introduce it into the interior. We had this made by a carpenter who specializes in high-rises; who knew that was a specialty?! It turns out that the fact that everything that goes in and out of a high-rise building has to fit inside an elevator requires some extra creative thinking.

Bynum Design wood slat wall

There was another room—technically a guest bedroom—that didn’t have a door on it. (Since it’s in Nashville we wanted to give the condo a music theme, so we envisioned the second bedroom as a music studio where you would write and play guitar. We’ve got little music motifs everywhere in this condo.) For the music room, we had another one of these wood-slat “thingies” made and hung it on a barn door track. You can see through it, but it gives you the feeling of privacy, and it adds texture in a space that really didn’t have any texture.

Interior barn door Nashville

Another challenge we faced is that this unit didn’t yet have an island or a kitchen table, but it did have soffit on the ceiling that designated where the island was supposed to go, even though we didn’t want to put our island there. We ended up moving the lighting away from where it was originally supposed to be to tighten up the kitchen work area and to give us space to do the thing with the swivel chairs.

Bynum Design kitchen island condo Nashville

In the master bathroom all we really had to do is paint the walls super dark, and it popped.

Twelve Twelve Nashville, TN

So it all flowed, we used the same color throughout the condo, even on the trim, where we used an oil-based paint so that there’s some sheen.

Bynum Design Nashville interior designer Twelve Twelve The Gulch

The guest bath gave me one of my first opportunities to play with wallpaper, and we selected one made of recycled newspaper shreds.

Weitzner Newsworthy wallpaper

We also used a gorgeous grasscloth wallpaper in the master bedroom on the bed wall. It’s a silk-looking thing that’s the same color of the walls.

Bynum Design Nashville interior design

Bynum Design Nashville design

Finally, in the foyer, we again introduced an element from elsewhere in the building. There’s a lot of aged mirror in the interior design of the building, and we wanted to fully invite the vibe of this building into the unit. Rather than mirroring that whole wall we found these two fabulous screens with three panels each. We mounted them to the wall in the foyer, and put this glam white piece of furniture with gold handles in the alcove opposite it. And of course the crystal chandelier deserves mention. We wanted to wow when you walk in the door, so we swapped out one of the existing can lights for this one.

Bynum Design foyer

That about covers it. We’re pretty sure it shows, but we had an absolute ball conceptualizing this condo and bringing it to life.

Nashville home stager

For more details on this space and the things inside it, visit our D. Luxe Home blog post or feel free to reach out to us. We are currently accepting Nashville home staging projects and would love to hear from you.

I’m Not an Architect (But I Wanted to Be When I Grew Up)

Not so long ago, I got this weird letter in the mail from the great State of Tennessee’s Board of Architectural and Engineering Examiners asking me to take down all of the references to architecture on my website since I’m not an architect.

It’s not that I had forgotten that I’m not an architect—did I mention that I’m not an architect?—it was just an honest mistake, some crossed wires between my copywriter, web designer, life and myself. (We quickly removed all references.) And these crossed wires became live wires when someone felt like giving me a hard time about semantics.

It’s illegal to call yourself an architect or to call your work architecture if you don’t have an architectural license. What I am is a residential designer. What I do involves creating habitats for shelter with gorgeous interiors, exteriors and landscaping. It is, in effect, architecture, interior design and landscape design. But I’m not an architect. I have a degree in interior design. And, by the way, I’m not a landscape architect either, just in case the State Board is concerned.

What’s the difference? A degree, years of training, and the fact that I can’t stamp drawings or create commercial buildings or design homes that are over 5,000 square feet.

I was mostly trained outside of a classroom, and though I once intended to seek an architectural degree, I just never got around to it. Now life and work are booming, and I don’t see the need—even though all signs have pointed toward design and architecture my whole life.

See: This is me at my drawing board in 1965. I call it “Dee the Draftsman.” I was five years old in this photo my mother thankfully saved for me.

Dee Bynum Bynum Design Nashville

And in ninth grade, when I was assigned a term paper about a career path, I wrote mine about architecture. And I still have it. The writing was on the walls, almost literally, in spite of the fact that I grew up in a ranch house in the suburbs of Nashville that had a dividing wall down the middle with rooms on each side and a stairwell at the end. You know the type. I always loved “The Brady Bunch” and “The Munsters,” mostly because I was fascinated with the houses, and I was very into redecorating or rearranging my room—and often. Even on vacation, we would check into a hotel, and I would move all the furniture that wasn’t bolted to the wall. It’s a sickness. I was weird, and I just always knew what I was supposed to do.

During high school, my mother was gone from home one day, and I took the opportunity to resolve something about our ranch house that had long bothered me: The stairwell on the end of the house had a window in it, and it was next to the living room. I always wondered why that window existed. It didn’t do anything but provide daylight in the stairwell. So, having helped my father build out our basement years prior, I got out his Skillsaw and cut this big rectangular hole in the wall. I didn’t do it right; I didn’t put a header in or anything—I just cut the studs in half, cut the drywall and made the biggest mess. I was so happy to realize it wasn’t load bearing. And when my mother arrived there was this big rectangular hole in the wall. Once she came to her senses we finished it, hung a stained glass on a chain in front of that window (next to a fern), painted it and it looked awesome. Everybody on the street was just mesmerized. Here we are in Podunk, and we had just cut a hole in our wall. It was the talk of the neighborhood.

In 1978, I went to college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, discovered interior design, and it stole my heart. But architecture kept calling me still. Around 2000, I decided I really wanted to return to school to get my architecture degree. I had a long talk with Manuel Zeitlin, who I admire still to this day. He was and is a friend who happened to be a revered architect here in town. He suggested I go to Boston Architectural College, where he received his degree. He almost had me convinced, but then I was like, “Look, I am an adult, and I have a house and I have pets and I have bills and I can’t just fold up and go to school.” Then, that very Sunday in the newspaper there was an ad in the classifieds for an architect intern at this little firm here in town. They did really wacky stuff that I loved. I called them and said, “I’m not an architect, but I’m your guy. You’ve got to hire me.” (See, I’ve been saying “I’m not an architect” my whole life!) And they did. I only worked there for a year and a half when I realized I had to start my own design firm.

The planets have been aligned for me to do this—whatever you want to call it—since 1965, but I didn’t completely pay attention until I was an adult, and by then maybe it felt too late to stop, drop and get my license. But that’s OK because I’m more than happy to be able to do the things I do today and to design the homes you see on my site and along the streets of Nashville. Just don’t call me an architect; I’m proud to say I’m a residential designer. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me design a fabulous house for you!

Gardening Tips: Spring in Nashville

These photos of my yard are probably the closest you’ll get to seeing my house. I live in a cute and drafty old stone Tudor. Meanwhile, I build houses that are more “chic” than “cute” and more energy-efficient than drafty. I have a yard I’m proud of, and I’m perhaps most proud of it in the spring, when Nashville indeed springs up around us. 


A few months ago, I wrote a blog post (with some fab Pinterest inspiration photos) about ways to create a resort-like outdoor space, but in this post I’m getting a little more specific with foolproof gardening tips and tricks. I should start by saying that landscaping is such an important personal thing. Not everything works for everyone and different light conditions may prevent you from being able to do all the things that I describe in this post, but these are some pretty good guidelines for most yards and conditions across middle Tennessee.

Foolproof springtime-in-Tennessee plant combinations: Some of my favorite combinations of blooming plants and trees this time of year are Bradford pear trees (can’t believe I’m saying that) and forsythia and redbuds and dogwoods and bridal wreath spirea and daffodils. That combo is just magical, and it’s so Nashville. And don’t forget the azaleas and the rhododendrons. My favorite azaleas are this intense purple, and when they bloom they’re electric.

Purple rhododendron

The ultimate year-round plant combination: There are certain, specific plants that I like over and over in landscapes, and this may sounds like a cop-out, but when you put hydrangeas with boxwoods and arborvitaes it just always works in middle Tennessee. Hydrangeas start to be perfect right about now, but at any time of the year, I’m a sucker for hydrangeas with arborvitae and boxwoods. During the winter months, this landscape becomes a whole other canvas. When you see a heavy frost or a snow on a landscape with hydrangeas, boxwoods and arborvitae, you get a shrub that was all leafy in the summertime that’s now just twigs right next to a ball of green. There’s just something about the way the winter weather treats this combination of plants that makes it almost as lovely and stark in the winter as it is lush in the summer.


Plant contrast: I’m kind of classic about plantings, but I’m also kind of peculiar about the way they’re put together. I think the best landscapes are formal and informal all in the same space, and I think juxtapositions—think tightly clipped, round boxwoods next to plants that are just wild and untamed—create the most interesting yards.


White flower power: I pretty much just like white flowers, especially in a formal setting. Really the reason why is because of the way white flowers look at night. White flowers are the only flowers that reflect whatever light there is in the dark, whether it’s the moon or the streetlight or a light coming from the inside of the house. Plus, day or night, I love white with all the different shades of green—lime green and dark green. It’s fun to have all the mainstays in your garden that I mention above and then fill all the blank holes with white impatiens if you’ve got a shady garden, or white vinca in areas that are sunny.


Embrace the wildflowers: Everyone in Nashville wants to have gorgeous lawns, and I want that, too, but really only in my front garden, which is more manicured. In my backyard, I like to embrace the wildflowers that come with spring. I put off mowing until the very last minute, because it kills me to wipe out all the little violets and strawberry vines and dandelions and clumps of clover. It looks like a pasture back there. And, of course, in the middle of that pasture there are boxwoods and arborvitaes and things. So it’s sort of formal, but very unmanaged this time of year. I think it’s good to take pleasure in the season’s first wildflowers.


Too much of a good thing: I like for plants that are alike to be clustered together. It’s more of a commercial approach, but I think things like hostas look best when they’re clumped together in masses, rather than just one here, one there.


By the moonlight: Plenty of people use floodlights on their house that just blind you and make it so that you can’t see anything for the light. But I love when somebody instead puts a spotlight in a tree and it mimics moonlight as it shines down and makes shadows from the tree limbs on the yard. It’s also cool to put uplights against the wall of the house, behind plants, to create those shadows. You still get light, but you can actually see what you’re looking at.


Are you a gardener? What are you favorite plants for springtime in Tennessee?

Introducing: Our Newest Old House Project

Hillview Heights Nashville Bynum Design

I’ve lived in 12South for a bazillion years. My grandparents called the neighborhood home when I was growing up, and I bought my little home here when it was still crusty and working class. When I moved here the neighborhood was filled with older people, and they all kept their yards flawless and their houses—even if they were painted orange—were fabulous.

I was surrounded by such characters—so was right in my element—and I loved them. Every Sunday they were all away at church until 3 o’clock, and when they baked, you could smell it from a mile away. One woman, Ms. Hill, lived in this little brick house. There was a gorgeous hydrangea bush outside, and she was always in there baking a pie. I loved her.

12South Nashville

After she passed away, somebody in her family held onto her house as rental property. Then, this classic house fell into my lap, thanks to my realtor friend who called me about it and said, “Can you believe that house in your neighborhood just sold?” I was like, “No! That’s Ms. Hill’s house!”

Bynum Design 12South

When that person’s funding fell through, you better believe I was standing next in line for this house, which was probably built in 1937 or 1938. The basement is the most pristine thing you’ve ever seen. The foundation is solid, and the floors are all level. It’s on a corner, and it’s cute as hell.

I just couldn’t resist.


I’m trying to protect my street from the bulldozers. I’m doing a renovation and expansion to my house, and I found out this week that some of my favorite neighbors are also going to do a second story addition on their house. I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to preserve and update this house and to help protect 12South’s character.


Here’s what we have planned for this house:

1) I’m going to put a second floor on the house, not unlike what I did nearby with the Lawrence house.

2) I want to make a section of the exterior super tall and change the pitch so it’s steeper like what Bynum Design normally does.

3) I’m also going to see if I can connect those porches so that there’s a wraparound. I want to put a really cute dormer here on the roof.

4) On the backside I’m going to build back and either extend a master suite around a courtyard—like we did on Lawrence—and connect it to a garage, or have a detached garage and a courtyard space between the house and the garage and hopefully put in a swimming pool.

5) Ms. Hill had a huge hydrangea bush, but some stupid kids who lived in her house for awhile just mowed it down. I’m going to try to resurrect it if I can find the roots. The house itself is almost hidden behind this magnificent magnolia tree (that Ms. Hill planted for all I know) so I’m going to have the tree trimmed.

6) Plus, much, much more.

Dee Bynum

Important side note (which you will not find in ordinary MLS listings): A neighbor on a corner adjacent to this house is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s an old man who has been there forever. He’s just the coolest man—so, so awesome. Whoever ends up living here will be beyond lucky to have a neighbor like him.

I’m so excited to get my hands on this home. I’m gonna do right by Ms. Hill. Stay tuned.

How to Pick an Exterior Paint Color

Bynum Design Nashville

I was tempted to call this post “Foolproof Exterior Paint Colors,” but that would be misleading, because even though I do share 12 of my favorite exterior colors, they were all arrived upon after much hemming and hawing and hand-wringing. So before you take my word for it on any of these paint color selections, read my tips about the process of how to pick the best exterior paint color for your house.

1. Consider the light and the time of day. There’s something about the light, inside versus outside, that makes selecting an exterior color more difficult than an interior color. I guess because we spend so much time inside it’s easier to pull together a paint scheme if you’re in the right light. When you go outside, and you take a color that you love for interiors, and you put it on the outside of a house, it just doesn’t work somehow. And it’s because the light’s different. When I’m picking a color, I’ll go back at different times of the day to see how it does in the changing light.

2. Try as many as six to eight colors. I’m a perfectionist, so I will agonize over finding the right exterior color. I’ll go with all my paint decks and sit there and hold stuff up and stare. We’ll drive contractors crazy because we’ll want six or eight quarts of paint brought over to decide and blocks of color put up. Even then, when you paint a square on a house, you can’t really visualize it because you’re not seeing it related to the color of the trim, or the effect of different light or shadow.

3. Remember where you live. It cracks me up when people in Nashville paint colors on their houses like in Florida or the Caribbean. The light’s different here, so it looks garish. When you’re near the equator it’s a whole different ballgame. What I’m trying to say is: If you see a picture of a beach house on Pinterest that you love, you should not go paint your house in Nashville the same color because it won’t work. The further north you go, that’s going to continue to change, so a color that works well here may not work in Manhattan or Wisconsin.

4. Have patience with the process. Exterior colors are tough. It’s a process, really, to arrive at an exterior scheme. If you throw up a paint scheme on a house and it doesn’t work, you’re going to get a sinking feeling every time you pull in the driveway. Take the time to pick out the perfect color. It’s worth it.

5. Complement the landscaping. Your paint color has got to be appropriate to both the style of the house and to the landscaping. For instance, if you’ve got tons of landscaping, you don’t want to paint your house blue. That was a tenet of the Craftsman movement—that paint colors should be muted and earth-toned, grounding the house to its surroundings. This means different climates are suitable for different color families.

6. Contrast versus similarity. If you’ve got enough detail on the house, I love having similar colors together on an exterior because it’s subtle, part of the art. If you have a lot of texture on an exterior, I will even sometimes paint a house in one solid color because the shadows create that interest. It really works, especially on a lot of our white houses. There’s no need for a secondary color unless it’s the front door, as we’ve done.

7. Ask a pro for help. Should I tell you some of my secrets? Oh, heck, here are they are. These are 12 of my favorite exterior colors. I hate applying the same answers to more than one project, but we do like to hold on to colors that have been successful for us in case we ever need to come up with a scheme quickly. This makes me sound like I only use Sherwin-Williams colors, which isn’t completely true, but which is mostly true.

Exterior Paint Colors

One: Nebulous White
Two: Alabaster
Three: Repose Gray
Four: Gray Matters
Five: Amazing Gray
Six: Intellectual Gray
Seven: Gauntlet Gray
Eight: Foothills
Nine: Brainstorm Bronze
Ten: Urbane Bronze
Eleven: Black Fox
Twelve: Tricorn Black

If you live in Nashville and need help selecting an exterior color, we welcome you to call us for a paint consultation.

A Sneak Peek at Our Twelve Twelve Condo

TwelveTwelve Nashville Bynum Design 6

When the people behind Twelve Twelve, Nashville’s new glass-encased luxury residential high-rise, asked Bynum Design and D.Luxe Home to stage one of their models, we didn’t hesitate.

We were one of five local interior design teams picked to style a space in this statuesque 23-story building, made up of 286 units of posh living, including seven penthouses and two guest suites—all punctuated by breathtaking views. Our unit was a canvas we were beyond excited to paint—literally and figuratively. We were able to choose flooring and wall coverings, window coverings, paint colors and many fixtures, and to furnish it exactly the way we wanted. We were even kindly allowed to do some additional construction on the unit to better suit our vision.

TwelveTwelve Nashville Bynum Design 6

Our strategy was to decorate our unit exactly as we would if we were going to move into it ourselves. We also aimed to mirror the sexy sophistication and detail of this magnificent building’s exterior in its interior. And finally, while the temptation in a space with a view as sweeping as this one is to make it “all about the view,” we understood that in reality people aren’t going to be spending all of their time draped against the glass, gawking at the Nashville skyline. Instead, it was most important that the space be livable and comfortable and that the view serve as a backdrop instead of the focal point. So we placed a lot of furniture against the window wall and chose to make the focal points of the room be inward rather than outward.

TwelveTwelve Nashville Bynum Design 6

While we put the finishing touches on our unit to get it photo-ready, we thought we’d share our inspiration boards with you.

TwelveTwelve Nashville Bynum Design 6

Stay tuned and check back to the blog soon for the full reveal of our Twelve Twelve dwelling, plenty of details about the construction and design process and sources for some of our fabulous furniture and accessories. (Hint: You can find most of them at D.Luxe Home.)

TwelveTwelve Nashville Bynum Design 6

For Love of the Old Houses

Most people assume I live in a house that I designed and built, but I don’t. I live in a house in 12South that was built in 1928. And it still has its original windows.

Old house door

This morning when I opened my blinds I could feel cold air blowing through. My windows weren’t open; that’s just how “ventilated” they keep the place. But to me it’s kind of romantic. When I was a kid, everyone in my world wanted an old house. Now for some reason, we don’t want to live in old houses. We want all things new and flawless. But here’s the truth: new and flawless is only going to be new and flawless for about two years. After that things are going to start happening. Today, homeownership for Americans under the age of 35 is at an all-time low, but it’s been my experience that those Millennials who do purchase a home prefer to purchase a new one. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about what my Marathon Village neighbor Mike Wolfe (of American Pickers fame) is aiming for with his new HGTV show in the works, Nashville Flipped, which would “tell the story of each renovated home, including through historical research, by delving into the surrounding neighborhood, and through stories told by past residents.”

Old houses

An old house is all I ever wanted. To think that no one wants them anymore, and that throughout Nashville we’re discarding them quickly and thoughtlessly, would affirm a sad trend of not valuing our country’s history. If we don’t keep something, there will be nothing. They’re not doing this in Europe, I promise. My No. 1 objective in the new year is to try to save some old houses in Nashville. Unfortunately, we’ve become a throwaway society, and it’s become no big deal anymore to just bulldoze an old house. Bynum Design has been guilty of it too and has torn down a few houses. But you better believe that the houses we’ve demolished were in terrible shape and weren’t contributing to the neighborhood.

I’m not saying everyone should live in an old house. I want a new house, too. Well, that’s not exactly true; I’m working on a concept to keep the old house I have—a smallish Tudor that I’ve lived in forever—by salvaging the exterior and adding on to it to make it into the house I want. I think that’s where we should go as designers and builders in Nashville. We should respect what’s there and enhance it—make it better and make it live bigger and give people the things they want in a new house in an old house. This is more important now than ever, when empty lots are becoming more and more scarce, and we’re more often faced with the decision of whether or not to keep the dilapidated house that came on the lot we just bought or to just scrap it and avoid the headache of figuring out what to do with it.

Old house porch railing

What I am calling for is more renovations and less bulldozers. The house we renovated on Lawrence Avenue (see photo below), we renovated extravagantly—even taking off the roof and adding lots of height, not to mention a courtyard, two-car garage, and pool in the back—all while keeping its 1935 façade. That was a respectful response to that house and its history. (Speaking of old house history, I love to think of the house as it was being built. Poet T. E. Hulme wrote, “Old houses were scaffolding once and workmen whistling.”) The result: the flow of that lane through 12South isn’t interrupted. If you’re in an old neighborhood, you at least should make the house you’re renovating or building speak to the houses around it (even if six months later all those houses are gone because someone tore them down).

903 Lawrence Avenue

I understand that renovating is more intimidating than building to most of us. But just because it’s intimidating—and costly and time-consuming—doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. And builders have a great opportunity to show people how well this can be done. You really can make a fabulous new old house. Here’s how:

Typically, these houses have eight-foot ceilings, and no one wants that anymore, so you have to take the roof off. And the floor system off. And make the walls taller. And figure out a way to raise the exterior but keep it tight. No big deal, right? People don’t want to live in little rooms. They want “open plan.” There’s a trend to make your house feel like a loft, and it’s a great look. We do it. You can do that in an old house, too. You have to do serious things to it, and it’s hard work. I get it. But it’s well worth it. (It’s also worth noting that old homes don’t always have to go bigger. Mike Wolfe showed that with this reimagining of a 1932 home in East Nashville’s Cleveland Park, where he kept its original 1,300ish square feet). I hope that East Nashville can get some overlays in place and avoid what’s happened in 12South. Because 12South is almost gone in a way. There are so few remaining original houses.

Old house

Maybe, like I said, it’s just that no one wants old houses anymore—but I really hope that’s not true. If it is, I think we’re going to look back and regret some things. We won’t be able to see our history anymore, and the new history we’ve built for ourselves so quickly and so shoddily may represent who we’ve become. Just as we have to give older people more grace—and use our imagination a bit to see them as they once were: young and strong and beautiful—the same courtesy should be extended to old houses. Louisiana author Grace King wrote: “We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

If you live in Nashville and are interested in doing a thoughtful, dramatic, quality renovation in 2015, I hope you will consider hiring Bynum Design.

Nashville’s Gentrification: A Response to The New York Times

This is awkward for me to talk about. I’m a developer, after all, and in the midst of the biggest building boom of our city’s time. So addressing some of the criticism recently lobbed at Nashville—specifically how we’re hemorrhaging character faster than developers can build crappy houses out of crappier materials—is not exactly within my realm of comfort. Except that the subject means absolutely everything to me.

When The New York Times wrote in December that “gentrification is threatening Nashville’s soul,” I agreed with them. Point by point, here is my response to Steve Haruch’s NYT piece, which was hard to hear for many in Music City, but, in my opinion, spot-on.

The New York Times Nashville Gentrification

“A common refrain around here, from the mansions of Belle Meade to the working-class neighborhoods across the Cumberland River, was ‘we can’t become Atlanta,’ by which folks meant bloated and out of touch with history and Southern traditions.”

Nashville is rapidly losing its identity, falling into step with the homogenization of America. Some days it seems that everybody is in a mad rush to destroy our city as fast as they can because they don’t know when our day in the sun will end. It’s all, ‘How fast can I do this?’ And ‘How much can I sell it for?’ This is what started to happened before the recession, and now everybody and their brother have jumped back on the bandwagon, thinking they can flip a house because they watched it on HGTV. Now everyone’s doing it again. It’s driving up costs, and it’s driving up demand for lots, and it’s completely confusing the architecture of the neighborhoods. We’ve got so many different thought processes side by side; on one street you might have 10 different thoughts—and maybe only one or two of them are even good. It’s disruptive. For as many new homes as we’re putting up, I don’t see a new style of architecture evolving. I just see greed on everyone’s behalf.

Neighborhoods are being scraped, and we’re replacing them with new houses made of new and questionable materials. A lot of these materials and technologies that are being developed—we don’t know what they’re going to look like a few years down the road. Remember in the ’80s, there was a trend to use Dryvit—an “outsulation” finish that looks like stucco? Suddenly Mediterranean houses all over town popped up clad in this new-fangled material. But then everyone discovered that because Dryvit is essentially made of something like Styrofoam, it looks great only temporarily—until a golf ball hits it or a weedeater knocks into it. It dents, and you can never fix it. And it has something in it that bugs love, but no one knew that when Dryvit became a thing. The same thing could very well be happening in Nashville now. We don’t know how these houses are going to look in 70 or 80 years. We know what the stuff looked like that they got rid of. And that was our identity. I would be scared to death to live on the third floor of one of these new tall and skinny houses in a high wind or during a tornado. I wouldn’t be in the house. I’d be out driving, trying to outrun it.

I’m spending a lot of time in this post talking about how things look, but I don’t want to miss the point that as we’re building all of these new houses, we’re inevitably pushing out people who are older or who are low income and can’t afford rising property taxes—people who may have things to contribute to the greater good. These people are part of what made Nashville a unique place to live in the first place. Now they are having to go somewhere else to live, and now we are not unique. Sometimes Nashville looks and feels just like everywhere else. It’s frustrating to go to Atlanta and see how old neighborhoods—and neighbors—are being wiped out. I think it’s kind of a tragedy. In Atlanta and Nashville, we’re losing some of our spirit in the process.

“For many of these new gentrifiers, the old Craftsman homes are just too small, so developers have been buying up these small houses, then demolishing and replacing them with much larger ones. In many cases, the lots are stuffed from property line to property line with a new species of local housing: ‘two-on-ones,’ also known as ‘tall-and-skinnies’—ugly conjoined properties that look like a duplex that’s been sliced in half and partly reattached at the rear.”

So many of the new tall, narrow houses being built in Nashville look as terrible as they do because they’re built too high off the ground. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, as I think it’s important to keep houses in proportion with their surroundings. In the old days, houses were made to be close to the ground. Now we have codes that prevent you from doing that because stacking them up higher prevents termites, as the wood’s not in contact with the ground. Developers often have very small footprints to build on and they want to fulfill the hunger for significant square footage, so they have no place to go but up because they’re just trying to create space. Unfortunately, square footage has been driving the cost of houses forever. When banks appraise houses they primarily do it based on square footage, so everybody, in their greed, just wants to build the biggest thing they can.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though—even if a lot is tiny. For instance, anytime Bynum Design has built a home on a hill, we try to scale that down and somehow have our plans follow the landscape—adding steps inside the house—so that it’s not, say, short at the back and a bazillion blocks high in the front. I also think that rather than paying $400,000 for a tiny lot or rather than tearing down a worthwhile house that seems too small at first glance, developers really would do ourselves a far greater service in the long run if we bought up some of the old houses and remodeled them or updated them with roomy additions. Otherwise, it will become true that you can’t have a unique experience in Nashville anymore. As a designer, that’s really disappointing to me; I want us to think bigger than we are so we don’t regret what we’ve become once the spotlight drifts away from us to fall on some other new “it” city.


“The enormous new homes are often clad in the trappings of the humbler bungalows they replaced: clapboard siding, knee braces at the gables, exposed beam-ends. The results can be grotesque, as if the skin of a small house has been stretched over a much larger one.”

You can see really obvious examples of what Steve Haruch is talking about if you drive around. Since new houses are going up next door to old ones, plenty of builders are halfheartedly nodding to the prevailing architecture with these kind of “grotesque” details. But they’re not thinking through what they’re doing, and they’re not doing it right. They’re just making the houses bigger and then slapping on a few details that are made up, that don’t belong. At Bynum Design, we aim every single day to massage these kinds of historical details into our designs. We don’t just apply them like they’re buttons or pockets—an afterthought once we’ve achieved some sky-high square footage number. We really work it from a design standpoint, and I think—I hope—that’s the difference.

Maybe it’s easy for me to talk, since I’m one of the lucky ones. Because we can build and design our houses, we don’t have to pay a builder fee or a design fee, so we can spend more money on the quality of our homes and still sell them for the same and make the same amount of money but make them better. I still maintain, though, that all Nashville developers have a huge opportunity—even a responsibility—to build better houses in this city they call home. They can use better materials. They can pay more for labor. They can take more time with a project. It may increase the cost, but it’s worth it. I want to still be doing this 10 years from now, when the economy isn’t as swell and the houses I’ve built here can really stand as a testament to my craftsmanship and to the ability of Nashville to weather growth beautifully.

I remember Nashville’s last big building boom—maybe it was in the late ’80s or early ’90s—and there were cranes as far as the eye could see. It was an exciting time. It is now, too, but I’m jaded now. I’m older, and sometimes I find myself driving down a street I used to love and feeling depressed about the way it’s changed. But other times all this “progress” really does leave me pleasantly surprised. The other day I drove up to Division Street from down around Broadway; it was a gorgeous day, and I got up to where they just tore down that fabulous old house on the right, and the new view that unfolded in front of me was unbelievable. I was like, “Where am I?” You could see the Pinnacle Building in the distance and all the new apartments along Demonbreun, and it was magical. It felt like home.

The Story of a Home: Hansel in 12South

Bynum Design Montrose Avenue Nashville

Earlier this year, we told the story of Gretel, one of the two 12South homes we built side by side in 2010, right as Bynum Residential Design was becoming Bynum Residential Design. Now it’s time for Hansel’s tale.

The Process: This house was one of the first houses to offer a different take on the “connector conundrum,” which is how to put two beautiful houses on one very desirable Nashville lot and yet have the houses stand apart aesthetically. I had done two houses on one lot in other ways—for instance, on 10th Avenue and Gale Lane, but they were all connected, almost like an apartment building, and we weren’t trying to make them different. This is the first time I really tried to change the language of two homes, in spite of their connector. So far as I know, all the builders that had built homes with a connector prior to this made them mirror images. This was a complicated but fun challenge, to come up with two entirely different floor plans and exteriors. But it was an important one for me. We set about creating a masculine and a feminine house. The one we’re talking about in this post we called Hansel, and it was to be the man—the dark opposite to the light farmhouse, Gretel, we built next door.

Bynum Design exterior

What Stands Out:

Craftsman Style. Not so long ago, Vaulx Lane was one ugly place. I am very careful to preserve and respect the existing architecture and flow of our streets, but in this case I felt free to create a new language. For Hansel, I used Craftsman details like tapered columns, overlap trim pieces, a Craftsman front door, and modern Craftsman brackets. Even the windows on the garage door supported this Craftsman language.

Bynum Design Nashville garage Bynum Design exterior Hansel

The Trim. I loved playing with the trim on this house, inside and out. Of course, ordinarily the exterior trim would all be the same color, but instead I had some of it painted white (the same white as the Gretel house next door) and then used dark trim on the parts clad in shake siding. That’s not a response that most people would have given it.

Bynum Design side of house

The Entrances. Honestly, the side of the house is a little more dramatic than the front. But this brings up an important point and reminds me of the conversation that we’ve had so many times with people who want to hire us to change their facades. Somebody will say, ‘Can you come talk to us about just changing the front of our house?’ And we tend to say, ‘Well, the front of your house is no more or less important than the other three sides.’ I think all four sides of a house should be equally addressed. So, for this house to have that kind of drama on the side is appropriate because of the approach to the house from the garage.

Bynum Design looking into kitchen

Dark and Dramatic Interior. This wasn’t a super big house square-footage-wise, sitting at just over 2,000 square feet, but nonetheless the interior built a lot of drama. It’s a two-story space with a bridge that spans above the kitchen. I’m also pleased with the beauty of the master bathroom and its relationship to the style of the rest of the house. And I thought the stairwell was especially pretty.

Brown tile shower Bynum Design bridge

Challenges Faced:

Attractive Opposites. We were trying to make these houses opposites, but still complementary in a subtle way. The opposite of light is dark. The style of home is different, the colors are different, and the roofs are different: on one the shingle color is charcoal and on the other it’s weathered wood. It was all about making them completely different houses—the antithesis of each other. This was even reflected in the landscaping—one had boxwoods and arborvitaes, and one had more of a Brentwood landscape. One was rolling, and one was flat. It was all part of trying to make them completely opposed.

Bynum Design Nashville

Future Floods. The biggest challenge here was the site because, right before we began building, the Nashville Flood completely covered this area and left many nearby houses submerged. I didn’t want anyone to ever have to deal with that again, so we took on a lot of infrastructure stuff here. On the Gretel side of the lot, we created almost a freeform drainage pattern, and put rocks in and planted grasses around it. On the Hansel side, we gave it a flat lawn and made it not-so-freeform, which meant we had to bury pipes and install french drains.

Bynum Design Nashville stone fireplace

Apprehension. My biggest challenge was an emotional one. I wrote about this in the Gretel post, but I didn’t know how people would respond to my work. It was scary to put this stuff out there and to see what people thought. It’s baring my soul through construction.

Bynum Design

Happily Ever After. The response to Hansel and Gretel was reaffirming. And it’s my hope that it helped establish a new way of thinking about the construction challenges posed by Nashville’s connected homes. This home, and the one next to it, was a jumping off point for my career, and I still look back at it with pride.

bynum design kitchen Bynum Design Nashville TN

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