The week after I helped my little sister, Kelsey, move into her dorm room, I spent a few days in Nashville with my older sister and her kiddos before heading back to New Orleans. While I was there, we got the chance to check out the Southern Living Idea House 2013 on the Fontanel Estate in Nashville.

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I was super excited to check it out, I mean who isn’t excited to check out a house featured in a magazine and designed by Southern Living? I figured it would be fabulous and I would be left wanting a house just like it. However, that was not the case. While many of the design elements and the grounds were pretty, I was a little disappointed overall. I expected some gorgeous mansion, but in reality it was a collection of several buildings that felt really choppy and separated. It was ridiculously impractical for any family to actually live in (the main house only had one bedroom and the rest of the bedrooms were located in separate buildings connected by a wrap around porch). That made more sense once I found out that they planned to use it as a bed and breakfast for the Fontanel Mansion estate after it was done being open for viewing as the Idea House, however I found the choppy layout uninspiring.

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Many elements of the design were pretty, but overall I was a little underwhelmed by that as well. There were only small snippets here and there of things I actually found inspiring. I thought overall the design choices were pretty expected and maybe boring? I know my design style is not completely traditional, but I still respect and find inspiration in other design styles as well. To me, for this to be an “Idea House” (essentially setting a goal for people to use it as inspiration), I personally don’t think it took enough risks in the design choices.

Here are some pictures and things I did like though:

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On the outside of the buildings, I did like the taupe-y grey paint color, combined with the creamy soft white trim, the darker neutral shutters and the brick/stone color on the bottom. Not exactly a new or groundbreaking design choice, but I thought it was pretty and classic, while still feeling modern/updated/2013. I do like the more classic design style of the building contrasted with the more modern steel railing and cute metal gutter system. I also really liked the Oil-Rubbed Bronze outdoor light fixture above the door (although you can’t see it super well in these pictures).

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That little building opened right up to a bedroom with two full/queen beds (not pictured) and then this little nook/kitchenette area (above) and a bathroom around the corner. I thought the wallpaper in this room was pretty and I really liked the wide plank dark wood floors and the creamy white trim.

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I thought this little kitchenette area was really beautiful. I love the wallpaper, the dark stained butcher block counters, the open shelving and the white accessories. However, I don’t think this area was super practical. I know it is an “Idea House” and so they aren’t exactly expecting guests, but design inspires me when it is both beautiful and practical/useful. I thought this area was beautiful, but was it useful? There was a small fridge, but there was no stove top/microwave/coffeemaker or any type of appliance to actually make food prep possible, therefore there was absolutely no use for any of those dishes, other than maybe a glass. Add a coffeemaker and a microwave, and then maybe it would have been a practical space. (but I think those are things the design team should have addressed)

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Turn the corner from the kitchenette area and there was this beautiful bathroom. I did really like this room. I thought all the marble tile was really pretty (love the hex tile on the floor!) and the lines of the sink are beautiful. It was very classic, but also felt new/clean/modern too. For a small bathroom, the layout of this room was designed well and it really did have it all– a walk in shower, a separate little toilet nook, a beautiful sink area and this nice little closet/storage area right across from the sink (below).

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Throughout the buildings, I did really like this style of molding. It was really pretty, but also really simple.

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Moving on to the next building, the door on the left led to a bedroom, bathroom, sitting and kitchenette area and the door on the right went up stairs and led to another bedroom and bathroom. You had to go outside and in the other door to get to the spaces though, they were completely separate. (Which makes sense if they plan to use it as a bed and breakfast, but as a house, the spaces were too separate.)

I did love the color of the wooden doors though, the transoms above, and the schoolhouse style light fixtures on the porch ceiling.

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Right outside those doors, on the porch, was this nice little seating area. The design here doesn’t overwhelm me, but the sectional and garden stools are nice.

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The left door (in the photo above) led to this bedroom/seating area. I liked the dark color on the walls in here, the sliding barn door to the bathroom, the open wooded/metal shelving, the white accessories, the white fireplace/mantel, herringbone pattern on the inside of the fireplace, abstract art, the tall curtains, the fiddle-leaf fig trees and dresser/side tables next to the bed. Overall, I really like this area and was one of my favorites in the whole Idea House. I think it is pretty and classic, but also has newer/modern elements. I think this was one room that really melded a good blend of the two together (while still keeping a country, Southern Living style). A lot of these elements are really popular right now (fiddle leaf figs, sliding barn doors, open shelving, white accessories, drum shades, etc), so although I like the room and I like a lot of the elements, I’ve seen them all already on design blog after design blog, so I wouldn’t say there is any element in this room that just overwhelms me with inspiration.

That doorway in the back led to another little kitchenette area that was cute (but also similar to the last one I already talked about). I didn’t get a good picture or get to study it very well because there was a guy painting in there while we were there.

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Sorry for the grainy picture here, but this was the sink area of the bathroom connected to the above living room/bedroom. It was spacious and had a nice closet there, but I think my absolute favorite element was that mirror on the vanity area. LOVE that shape. Behind where I was standing to take this picture, was another spacious room with a big tub and another spacious room off that one with a toilet in it. I didn’t include pictures of those rooms because I wasn’t that inspired by them and actually thought that the space in those areas was a little wasted (the toilet room was huge and just had a toilet and small dresser/table in it).

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Leaving the bedroom/seating area above, going out onto the porch and entering the other door, you were greeted by this staircase, then a bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. I do like the lantern light fixture in here, but the art is a little bit of a disappointment. I’m all for gallery walls, but this one was really uninteresting. This tall, neutral room would have been a great place to add a little more interest, color, pattern, anything really that would be eye catching and make me want to treat this as a room, a place where I would actually stop and look at the art, rather than just walk on by and on to the next room.

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I did like the sliding barn door in here as well, although when you slid it open, it opened a closet/eave area of the house. While it was neat that that room was sort-of secret, it meant you couldn’t close the bedroom door without opening this big closet, and therefore couldn’t have both rooms closed at the same time. Might not be practical for a real house.

One thing I really do like about this room was the fact that the ceiling is painted a color, while the walls are neutral. I love the idea of treating the ceiling as a 5th wall, and love the fact that they gave it some interest. I think it adds a nice cozy factor to the room.

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I really liked the windows throughout the entire set of buildings. They were all like these, with the muntins forming squares of glass, rather than the traditional rectangle. I thought they were a slightly more modern take on this traditional window style.

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The ticking pattern on the walls (and everywhere else) was actually fabric. I thought it was really interesting that they covered the walls in fabric, rather than wallpaper. They used to do that to cover the stone walls in castles back in the day. That isn’t something often seen in interiors these days and was inspiring. How cool would it be for the fabric to be a really cool pattern? There are lots of possibilities with that and I would love to see more interiors explore this. It gave the walls a nice softness. I’m curious as to the process involved (how they hung it, how they covered seams, etc.) I should have studied it further when I was there.

I’m not however the biggest fan of the fact that the walls, curtains, chair upholstery, lamp shades, curtains behind the bed, etc are all the same fabric. It gets a little too matchy-matchy. I would have loved to see them pair the walls with some other fabrics on everything else.

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A walk around the porch again led to the main house. This porch swing was nice and the ropes to cover the chains were a nice touch, although one I’d seen before. The big triple white door behind the swing was the door to the library/study (I’ll show it later).

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The porch of this house was enormous, it wrapped around all the buildings, so there were lots of little areas. I like the polka dotted rug and the side tables above and I’m in love with the beautiful trestle table in the outdoor dining area below. The geometric rug below is nice too.

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This beautiful wood herringbone door below is the center entrance to the main area of the main house. While I absolutely love this gorgeous wooden door and the transom above it, the door itself is a little small/skinny (less grand) of an entrance for it to be the main entrance to the house. The doors to the library/study were also on the front of the house, but were bigger (there was also another larger entrance on the opposite side of this front door, symmetrical to the library/study entrance).

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That door opened up to this enormous living area. The tall ceilings, horizontal paneled walls, windows along the top, and rustic wood beams were gorgeous. I liked the sliding barn doors here again leading to the kitchen area.

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This room was very pretty, but again I couldn’t get over how separated it felt. I mean who needs two separate living spaces in the same room? (a bed and breakfast maybe, but not a real house) In my opinion, this room felt like a little bit of wasted space. It took up almost half of the entire main house, but only functions as a living room.

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View from the kitchen (above) and view into the kitchen (below).

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I LOVE the old crocks on the kitchen island. My dad has collected these old crocks all my life and has a ton of them. (I have a couple in my house that he gave me). I really love the old patina they add to this otherwise more modern space. I also love the trio of plants themselves and the pretty ceiling pendant.

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I loved the deep teal-y blue color of the kitchen cabinets (the pictures online from Southern Living don’t show the color accurately at all!), although they did make the room seem really dark (and therefore the pretty big room seemed a little on the small side). I also love the butcher block counters (and the way they contrast against the white and blue in the room). The sink faucets here also have a really pretty shape. I did like this room, although it seemed dark and made me wish that ALL the cabinetry wasn’t painted such a dark color (This would have been a great room for two toned cabinetry). I would have also liked to see a little more open shelving and a little more personality in this room with art/accessories. It feels a little on the too industrial side for me.

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The laundry room was pretty, although pretty basic, but it did have nice windows in it. I love laundry rooms that have a counter top over the washer and dryer. I wish I had that in our laundry room, it would be so convenient. The sink and faucet in here are pretty too (although I would have preferred an apron front sink and perhaps a different skirt around it). This room was right off the kitchen, and on the opposite side of the house from the bedroom (and other buildings with bedrooms), which isn’t horrible, but it seems like it would have been more convenient on the other side of the house.

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I like the windows and the rug in here, but overall I thought the dining room was really disappointing. It was at the back of the house and almost seemed like an afterthought. The decor in here wasn’t anything spectacular and for a place (along with the kitchen) that seem like they are usually at the heart of a home, this room didn’t feel like that.

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The back porch was really spacious as well. I liked that the fabric screens rolled up and down to block light when needed.

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The master bedroom (or the only bedroom in the main house) was right off the back porch, but I didn’t include pictures of it, because it was really boring. This shot (above) was of part of the master bath/closet. The waterfall marble counter top on the sink was kind-of pretty, but the rest of the room isn’t anything special really. That room in the back was supposed to be the master closet, but it felt more like a mudroom or locker room.

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Ahh, the library/study. This was by far my absolute favorite room in the house. I liked the rich dark wall color (it made it cozy for a room that is meant to be quiet/serious), the tall windows with transoms, the geometric chandelier, and the patterned curtains. For me, this was the most inviting room in the entire house(s).

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Love that magnifying glass above. I think the thing I liked the most about this room was it was the one that had the most interest, pattern, accessories, and artwork. I think those things really make a space.

Last but not least, this bedroom was on the other side of the main house, in its own little building, directly across from the first room I showed you. Overall, I think this room is a little boring and hotel-ish, but the headboards are pretty.

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That pretty much wraps up the tour. There are some rooms I left out, these ones are just ones that I found the most inspiring.

I’m sorry if this post was a little negative about the SL Idea House, but I left it with such a disappointed feeling. I expected to be wowed and over-inspired but I really wasn’t. I’ve thought a lot about why I felt that way, and I think it has to do with several things.

I think that for an “Idea House,” too many of the choices were too boring. They were expected choices, not overwhelmingly creative and innovative ones. I know I might read more design blogs and keep up with the design world more than most people do, but I’ve seen these same choices over and over again. I expected more creativity or innovation or something. I think color is one thing they could have been a little more innovative with. I love color and I love bright colors and I know that not everyone does, but a lot of the rooms in this house were too neutral or they used expected color choices– light blues and greens, browns, some reds, etc. I think the teal-y blue color in the kitchen was perhaps a step in the right direction, but I would have loved to see some more creative colors and color combinations used throughout, even if in just small doses. Peacock, mint or teal blues, perhaps lavender or more raspberry pinks– there are a lot of really hot colors right now that would have been more refreshing to see.

I would have loved if the spaces had been set up in a more inspiring way (less of a bed and breakfast and more of a real house), but I guess I understand their decisions for practicality in the afterlife of this Idea House. However, I think the absolute biggest problem I had with this Idea House was that it felt like a Pottery Barn store or a furniture store, not a real-lived in home with a story. I guess that is to be expected, but I found it to be a little stale. The pieces all seemed new, they didn’t feel collected over time. There wasn’t any personality. The art and accessories were lacking. I didn’t see any paintings or art that I thought were very inspiring. I would have loved to see some vintage landscape paintings mixed in with more modern abstract pieces, prints, and black and white photos. I wish that they had used the art and accessories to make the Idea House feel more like a lived-in home, rather than a hotel or store.

Which maybe brings me to an even greater point, that interior design (to me at least) is more than just harmony of objects in a space, the beauty of rooms, or the quality of the pieces. It’s about the story that they tell–the art, photos, books, knickknacks, furniture pieces, memories–all showing a picture of their collected history together. They describe the personality and the history of the people who live there and what the interests of those people are. I love a pastiche of things in a space. A mixture of styles and pieces, thrifted tables next to handmade curtains next to a modern light fixture. But I think the story of them is what equally interests me, and why I find myself drawn to design blogs where people tell the stories of their own houses and I can see the rooms and the things in them change as time passes, how those areas are both beautiful and practical for their lives/families. In light of the amazing resource that is design blogs, I find that decorating television shows, magazines, and I guess Idea Houses too, just don’t captivate or inspire me in nearly the same way.


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