Couple embrace the finer aspects of downtown living

By Hollie Deese
Photography by Reeves Smith

When an architect falls in love with a building — even when it isn’t theirs — they have a tendency to get ideas and make plans. Usually they don’t get an opportunity to make those plans happen. But sometimes they do.

Ron Gobbell had moved in 2002 to The Quarters, downtown condos for which he designed the renovations. He walked by, and dreamed about, his current home every day for four years. Two parts of the 19th-century Church Street property were housing a law firm, and a portion had been empty for nearly 30 years. That abandoned part became available for purchase, and he jumped on it. After discussions with the law firm in 2006, they all agreed that he would develop all three buildings together.

“I have a passion for historic style,” Gobbell says. “This building was built in 1852, so the roots were laid eight years before Lincoln was president. It was kind of a spec building, three buildings built together at the same time.”

They put seventeen units in the Church Street Lofts, and then Gobbell and his partner, Janet Kurtz, moved into one condo. (Kurtz runs Kurtz Hospitality Marketing, which boasts clients like Black Rabbit, Butchertown Hall and Liberty Common.) Former Regions Bank CEO Jim Schmitz moved into another condo, and a third unit on the corner went to someone else.

“Ron is really a downtown pioneer,” Kurtz says. “A lot of people don’t realize but he opened his architecture firm 41 years ago, and then moved his office space into downtown.”

Gobbell recently sold the GHP Environmental + Architecture firm, previously known as Gobbell Hays, to his daughter Dominque Arrieta while he runs the firm’s project management group. He was architect of the MiLB Nashville Sounds stadium, and he is currently managing the MLS Soccer stadium.

When owner of the corner unit passed away, Gobbell bought that space, too, reconfiguring the condos again like a sort of Tetris game. He sold his and Kurtz’ lower-level master bedroom to their neighbor and combined newly purchase corner space with their middle unit for a total of 3,000 square feet.

What was once their entrance hall is now a wine cellar that can hold about 500 bottles, though Gobbell jokes they drink it almost as fast as they collect it. What was once their living room is now an open space that houses dining room, kitchen and entertainment. The original master bedroom is now a closet.

Making it meaningful

The couple have chosen meaningful items to fill the space over the past 13 years, but none of it is too precious. A favorite vase of Kurtz’ was brought back from Iran when Gobbell was in the Peace Corps. The dining room table was Gobbell’s mother’s. They had an original door from the middle condo fashioned into a coffee table.

“We like to have people over, and if a glass of wine gets spilled, a glass of wine gets spilled,” Kurtz says. “We don’t want to have to go to pieces over something like that. We have fun, and our lifestyle — relaxed luxury, livable luxury — is absolutely what defines every decision that we make.”

A sailboat model displayed in the dining area was left to Gobbell by his longtime business partner Steve Hays, who passed away last year. He also bequeathed them some cases of wine he had collected over the years, mainly ’90s vintages that were not properly cared for in later years. They provide a hit-or-miss experience for the couple each time they pop a bottle.

“We just open them up, and if we got a good one, we got a good one,” Gobbell says. “But we always toast him. He was a good guy.”

Kurtz and Gobbell came to their relationship with their own art collections. “I think that’s actually why we got together, because he wanted some of my pieces of art,” Kurtz jokes. Examples of everything from mixed-media works and paintings to sculptures can be found all around their condo.

“The Arts Company is a tenant of ours, in our building, and Anne Brown is an old friend of mine. We collect, and we buy stuff that has a story that means something to us. We don’t just collect for investing — we wouldn’t know how that would even work,” Gobbell says.

Doing what feels right

Ultimately, the way Gobbell and Kurtz live is all about what feels right and about the downtown lifestyle — something neither would ever want to trade.

“Of all the places I lived it has the most sense of community because you see somebody else who lives downtown and you all kind of bond,” Gobbell says.

Kurtz’ attraction to downtown living goes back years.

“One of the reasons that I was inspired to live downtown — in addition to us being together — was that when I had been to Paris in college studying abroad, we stayed with this woman who had a place that was not dissimilar from this. It was much, much larger, but it had the elements of the historic building with the brick and exposed ductwork,” Kurtz says. “It was beautiful, and we could just walk everywhere. We had no shortage of restaurants or access to transportation and nightlife and livelihood, and it just had such a great cosmopolitan feel.”

Their elevator goes all the way to the fourth floor where a rooftop deck puts them face-to-face with a key feature of Nashville’s downtown skyline — the AT&T building on Commerce.

“The sun is just wonderful up here,” Gobbell says.