A 1960s ranch gets a total renovation in the suburbs

By Hollie Deese
Photography by Emily Followill

Designer Mark Williams never intended to stay in Atlanta, much less put down roots in Nashville. Raised in Boston, he always assumed he would return after college. But after studying at Georgia Tech he leaned on the connections he had made in Atlanta and began to grow his business.

“I figured I would end up in New York or Boston, back in the Northeast market somewhere,” he says. “But when you are in architecture school you meet so many professionals that come in to view your work. And when you graduate, that provides a warm market of people who have met you and are familiar with your work.”

He got started in one of those fresh-out-of-college low paying jobs and built his business from the ground up. He had a vision for what he thought he could do and started his first design firm when he was 28. Gradually his business and vision grew, and he is now the owner of the Atlanta-based architectural and design firm Mark Williams Design. He maintains a home and office there as well.

But once he met his now-husband Steve Summers, who is Dolly Parton’s creative director, Nashville was destined to be a part of their life together.

“Nashville has grown so much in just the last 10 years,” Williams says. “So many people have flocked to the city for those same reasons that people flocked to Atlanta 20 years ago: It’s a very livable city, there’s a reasonable cost of living, the climate is fantastic. And there’s natural beauty just a very short drive outside of the city. People are discovering that Nashville’s small-town charm is something that they want to be a part of.”

Renovating a classic

Williams describes the Brentwood home he and Summers bought about eight years ago as a “total unicorn. Sitting on more than an acre, the backyard overlooks a creek and is surrounded by parks and greenspace. But the home itself needed some serious work. The midcentury ranch, built in 1969, was stripped down to the studs and underwent a full year of renovations before it was ready for Williams and Summers.

“Every inch of it had to be completely redone,” Williams says. “In the end it worked to our advantage because it allowed us to not only reinvent the floor plan of the house, but also reinvent the mechanical systems of the house.” That meant new electrical wiring throughout and an upgrade to a tankless hot water heater.

They also added some serious square footage on the back; the now U-shaped house is double its original size. What was once the garage became a clean and modern kitchen with a custom stainless-steel wall. Artwork was showcased gallery-style, and the whole house was set up for entertaining, which came in handy whenever Dolly herself dropped by.

When their youngest was nearly done with college, they sold the home they thought they would live in forever. They agree it is truly more suited for a family with young children than it is for a couple of empty nesters.

“We realized it was time to pass it along to somebody with younger kids than our own, and that’s what ended up happening,” Williams says. “A great family with two little kids running in the yard, with the creek in the back and that big family room—which is the heart of the house. It was great for our family when everybody was home, but that’s not the case anymore.”

A self-described real estate junkie, Williams had resale in the back of his mind when he planned the home’s renovation anyway—as he does with all his clients.

“I always want to think it through to solve the Rubik’s cube for a family that accommodates every single one of their needs but doesn’t make it such a personal home that the next family isn’t going to get it, or is going to have to change everything after they move in,” he says.

He wants homes to be personal while still accommodating a broader market need—and he doesn’t think the two goals are total opposites. “There’s typically a way where you can find a pathway to accommodate both. And that’s what we did with this house,” he says.

Now that it has sold, they have a townhouse on Wedgewood Avenue and are excited about their next stage in life.

“There’s so many great neighborhoods, and we looked all over the place,” Williams says. “But my husband works in the 12thSouth area, so it just made sense for us to be within walking distance from where he works. We enjoyed being at the end of a cul-de-sac in the suburbs when the kids were younger. Now we are ready to enjoy something else.”