Text by Jeanne Delathouder
Harpeth Side, as this cottage is named, sits quietly tucked into the curve of a road that backs into the picturesque Harpeth River on the rural outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee. Undoubtedly, it was this spectacular setting, along with the old home’s historic allure, that had homeowner and local artist Carol Reynolds drawing up plans almost immediately upon seeing it.
“My husband, Allen, and I discovered this property quite by accident on a Sunday drive out in the country, back in 1988,” says Carol, warmly recalling the memory. “We weren’t even looking to move—we were really very happy living in our tiny little 1930s home in the Highlands of Belle Meade,” she laughs.
Harpeth Side’s original owner was John Motheral of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who was granted 400 acres of prime Middle Tennessee farmland for his participation in the Revolutionary War. Records show that he had been paying taxes on the property as early as 1800, and his two-story log cabin was built in 1805, making it one of the two oldest homes in the region. In the 1870s, new owners followed common designs of the Upper South and covered the home’s original logs with clapboard and added a double veranda with Doric-style columns to the front of the house. “This was the way Harpeth Side looked when we first purchased it,” Carol says. “Initially, our first changes to the home were purely cosmetic—the kitchen and bathrooms all needed remodeling.”
Never calling upon the expertise of an interior designer, Carol insists she developed her impeccable eye for style from her own mother and her husband’s grandmother. “Two of the best decorators I ever knew,” she says.
The grandmother taught her to combine elegance and comfort without sacrificing one for the other. “Every room should be beautiful with an open-ended invitation to come in, sit down, and stay awhile,” she says. “I think I’m drawn to that philosophy because of my strong Southern roots.”
From her mother, Carol learned to think outside the box when it comes to decorating and also to have faith that you can always do-it-yourself. “I love pairing the unexpected with something grand,” she says. “My large antique French gilt mirror and old concrete bird bath live in perfect harmony in the master bathroom, and an old industrial railroad cart has taken up residency in my kitchen.”
After a major renovation in 1999, Carol changed her decidedly outdated eighties color scheme of cranberry red, hunter green, grays, and whites to a more restful tableau of subtle creams, taupes, pale blues, and soft greens—a palette to which she has stayed true for nearly 20 years.
“I love so many aspects of my home, but I especially prefer rooms where the walls don’t outshine the décor. These gentle hues feel clean and soothing to me while providing the perfect backdrop,” she says. The only exception to this rule occurs in the dining room, where Carol, a mixed media artist, put her expertise to work by adorning the space with an exquisite handmade wall covering from the Candice Olsen Collection that is colored in pale blue with subtle streaks of gold. “To me, it’s insanely beautiful and deserves its own spotlight,” says the artist. “I wanted to use colors that worked harmoniously together so that your eye can move seamlessly as you go from room to room.”
As much as she loves entertaining in her dining room, Carol admits that most entertaining begins in what she calls her “very tiny kitchen.” But without a doubt, the couple’s favorite place to gather is the screened-in porch that faces West overlooking the Harpeth River.
“From May through November, we literally live out there,” says Carol. “We keep a fire burning almost every night, even in the summer, and have watched many football games and played countless rounds of gin rummy on that porch.”
Nonetheless, of all the favorite rooms in her home, the place Carol perhaps loves the most is her art studio, an original smokehouse on the property that she refurbished nearly 10 years ago to include a fabulous front room and a loft. All of the windows, doors, the mantelpiece, and stairway embellishments are architectural salvage treasures the artist collected for years before she began the restoration, including the front door, formerly an abbey door in Normandy, France.
Today, Carol’s studio serves as an artistic extension of her home, housing hundreds of papier-mâché creations she has crafted over the years along with samples from her new line of stationery.
“The décor is a dramatic departure from the main house—very whimsical, and very pink,” says Carol. “I wanted a sanctuary of sorts, where my surroundings could inspire me—a place that beckons my heart to return and be inspired all over again.”