A blown-glass pendant by Wired Custom Lighting stands out over the dining room table in this Nashville residence. The chairs are covered with blue-patterned fabric from Pollack. Photo: Timothy Hursley

Designing the West: Design Harmony in Music City

When Kathy Anderson started her interior design firm in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1988, she never would have guessed that one day she’d work for musicians Jon Bon Jovi and Blake Shelton or help renovate the interiors of the legendary Grand Ole Opry. However, she did recognize that “Music City” was on the verge of a growth spurt at the time, with new record labels popping up regularly, alongside new hip neighborhoods.

The sitting room at Lone Oak Manor features vintage furniture from Eneby Home in Nashville and velvet drapery by Liberty of London.

So it’s no surprise that the music industry gave her firm, Anderson Design Studio, a boost, especially through referrals from one of her first clients: Tony Brown, former piano player for Elvis Presley. “I met him in my early 20s, and he hired me to do his interiors,” Anderson recalls. “When he was the president of MCA Records, he hired me to design their offices and then more homes, which, over the years, have gotten bigger and grander. That’s how I started getting referrals through the music business.”

Keeping with the Tudor style of the home, the dining room at Lone Oak Manor features a Julian Chichester dining table, Tomlinson chairs, and a chandelier from Eichholtz. Photos: Bob Fawcett

After realizing that interior design was her calling, Anderson studied at Belmont University’s O’More College of Design in her hometown of Nashville before spending the last two years at UCLA. She started her career with a firm in Los Angeles, where she learned about every aspect of the business. “It was a small firm that did everything from marketing and design to installations and art collections,” she recalls. “I run my business the same way even today. I worked for bigger companies and a large architecture firm in Nashville before going out on my own, but they felt more compartmentalized. Now I’m busy but more in control, and I can make sure it’s done right.”

For the music room of Lone Oak Manor — a 1920s Tudor-style residence in Nashville — interior designer Kathy Anderson and her team chose a Moroccan rug from Benisouk, wallpaper by Kelly Wearstler for the ceiling, and an encaustic art piece (to the left of the fireplace) by Carl Linstrum.

These days, Anderson has more help; she recently named certified interior designer Katie Stix partner, and the other senior designers with the firm are also certified. And with many repeat clients, she has developed a nuanced understanding of their preferences and styles. Anderson’s goal is to be involved with projects from the beginning, working with architects to ensure a seamless flow. “Then we can go back and forth,” she says. “The architects are approaching it from the outside in, and I’m going from the inside out, repping the client.”

Antler chandeliers from Wild West Designs and recliners from American Leather align with the rustic style of the living room in this custom-built hunting lodge in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Anderson and her team also chose a custom sofa from Ambella Home, upholstered in Ralph Lauren wool, and a classic Chesterfield sofa from Century Furniture.

In determining a client’s wishes, Anderson and her team strive first to understand how they live, often touring their current home to see the aspects they like and those they dislike. Then, her team shows the client images and storyboards of design elements to hone in even more. “Is it a fresh, light look they want, or a dramatic, vibey mood? This starts to come through, and we do that before choosing furnishings,” she says. “It’s all about communication and really understanding their life.

In the sunroom of this Nashville home, cognac-hued leather chairs from Thayer Coggin stand out among the surrounding neutral tones.

“I’m designing projects for other people, so I really like to interpret what the clients like, which mostly comes down to being a good listener,” she says. “Most people can’t describe exactly what they want, or they would just do it themselves. I have to read between the lines to create spaces that enhance their lives or businesses.”

In this custom kitchen, black stained oak contrasts with natural oak cabinets by Hartert-Russell, based in Nashville. Distressed green leather Saarinen stools by Knoll surround the island countertop bar, and the wood floors from Mansion Hill Custom Floors are part of the designer’s own Kathy Anderson Collection.

Anderson says that Nashville is an “amazing city to be a designer in,” and the rich music culture is often infused into her projects. This is especially true when designing bars for stars, such as AJ’s Good Time Bar for Alan Jackson, which is styled like the back of a boat on the third floor of a building. “They’re all so different,” she says. “Designing a bar for Jon Bon Jovi is very different from the Ole Red’s for Blake Shelton. I’ve done several of those: Orlando, Oklahoma, Texas, and we’re just finishing one in Las Vegas.”

Designed to feel like a treehouse, this morning room features green Opuzen mohair chaise lounges by Tomlinson, a handmade rug from Lapchi, and cabinetry by Hartert-Russell.

However, when it comes to homes, music might be touched on, but it’s not always the focus. “Nashville has become a big tourist destination, but for locals, it has a very warm, fun, friendly vibe while still being respectful of the spirit that brought it here,” she says. “Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and other early country stars are so respected, and those images might be brought in — and maybe even a guitar — but there’s also a lot of reclaimed wood and a variety of textiles.”

Brilliant shades of green in this custom glass tile design from Artistic Tile create a dramatic yet organic effect. The pendant over the sink is by Hammerton Studio. Photos: Shannon Fontaine

Some of Anderson’s most memorable projects include designing the Opry City Stage, a 16,000-square-foot entertainment complex in New York City’s Times Square; Starstruck Entertainment, a talent management company on Nashville’s “Music Row”; the backstage of the legendary Ryman Auditorium; and, of course, the Grand Ole Opry. “That was one of the most fun because it’s such a historic place in Nashville, hosting the radio show since the ’30s,” she says. After a flood in 2010, a quick renovation was required to reopen the building to host the show. For Anderson, this included designing 17 dressing rooms, backstage areas, and the front of the house. “It happened really quickly, which was good because it forced people to make decisions quickly. It was very satisfying, and it turned out great.”

An oil painting by Jeff Danley hangs in the luxury bathroom of the Presidential Suite in Nashville’s Opryland Hotel. Image courtesy of Anderson Design Studio

Other noteable projects are those that have stood the test of time. “That’s a real compliment to the design,” Anderson says, listing the popular, long-standing restaurant Sinema as an example. “You can go back 10 years later, and it still looks great.”

Another is a home she designed 30 years ago for Steve Winwood and his wife, Eugenia. “It’s a more rustic-contemporary style,” she says, “and they just love it and still live there today. We’ve updated some furniture, but they don’t feel like it’s outdated.”

Anderson is busy, sure, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “You have to be able to shift gears quickly,” she says. “That’s what I like about it: there’s never a boring day.”

Corinne Gaffner Garcia is a freelance writer and editor based in Bozeman, Montana. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Country Living, Martha Stewart Living, and many other publications; corinnegarcia.com.


Interior designer Kathy Anderson shares some of her design inspirations and insights.

What’s your favorite residential interior paint color at the moment? A color I use most often for cabinets and interior doors is a current favorite called Urbane Bronze by Sherwin Williams. It’s a nice iron color.

What are some unique ways that you’ve incorporated “Music City” themes into homes? Nashville is a very warm and friendly city. To give off that feeling, I try to incorporate reclaimed wood, leather, warm jewel tones, and warm tones in the lighting, such as 2700K lighting (a warmer color for traditional incandescent bulbs). I also like to incorporate images of the history of music in Nashville through things like Hatch Show Print, a working Nashville-based letterpress shop that’s printed iconic music posters since 1879.

How would you describe the interior style of your own home? Eclectic! Doing my house is the hardest because it’s difficult to step back and analyze my own personal taste. My furniture and artwork are an assortment of things I’ve collected over the years.

What’s one of your favorite design elements or pieces of décor in your house? I love my art piece by Tony Hernandez.

Do you have an artist that you love right now?I love Jack Spencer’s photography, and I would love to have a piece by painter Jeff Danley. I have placed several of his pieces in my projects.

What are your favorite places in Nashville for a fun night out? The Stage on Broadway always has great bands. I usually hit some of the bars we designed as well, such as Nashville Underground, Alan Jackson’s Good Time Bar, and Blake Shelton’s Ole Red. I love to hear live music, and Nashville always has the best!

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