Return to Nashville a colorful adventure

By Hollie Deese
Photography by Julia Steele

Mixed-media artist Vadis Turner and her husband, Clay Ezell, co-owner of The Compost Company, are Nashville natives who both moved to New York. That’s where they met and made the connection that not only were they both from Nashville, they had gone to the same school.

“But I’m four years older. I can proudly say that I was not checking him out when I was in the fourth grade and he was in the first grade,” she jokes. “But it was love at first sight when we met as adults.”

She studied art at Boston University then moved to New York in 2000. She quit her full-time job in 2004 and started teaching part time at Pratt Institute. For ten years she divided her time between teaching and creating works of art.

But the art was always her calling.

“Art is something that we all do growing up, and then most people phase out of it for whatever reason,” she says. “It was something that was always with me. I was just too nervous to quit because when you quit, it gets really hard to start again. But it’s hard to decide what needs to be brought into the world and to trust your ideas enough to see them through sometimes.”

After she and Clay married and had their first child, they began to talk about going home. They were ready to have a second baby and wanted to be near their families as they raised their children. And she really wanted a dishwasher.

“I had no intention of ever moving back to Nashville, not that I didn’t have a great childhood here. I did. But Nashville, when I was growing up, didn’t have much to offer artists. Period,” she says. “Now there are so many people moving from other places and mixing it up and bringing their dreams here — it made it really enticing to move back home.”

It’s been nearly two years that they have been back. Now they have that second baby — and the dishwasher — in a three-story building renovated by Nick Dryden of DA/AD. Finding their downtown home wasn’t easy, but once they did? There wasn’t any other option.

“We were looking for a place downtown that could be altered so that we could live upstairs and rent out the downstairs,” she says. “We needed parking, but we wanted to be able to walk downtown. There just aren’t a lot of those spots.”

One very early morning she was in her pajamas on her couch in Brooklyn. She Googled “building for sale in downtown Nashville” and found their house. She called and made a date to fly in to see the place. When she arrived, the owner couldn’t meet her because of a sick dog—she had to go home without even stepping inside.

She flew back a second time and this time got the house, which had been stripped down to its foundational elements. “It’s ‘second empire,’ which didn’t really mean a lot to me until I started to live here,” she says of their late 1800s abode. It has its original hardwood floors, exposed brick and confusing layout.

“I pride myself on being creative and being able to do creative problem-solving, but I could not figure out how to do this,” she says.

That’s when she turned to Dryden, who moved the tiny kitchen to the front of the house, created rooftop access for outdoor living that overlooks the city, and even added skylights to let in more natural light. Meanwhile, she has added color and personality by trading her art for the works of others.

Architectural touches are everywhere, like salvaged doors and fixtures from Braxton Dixon’s collection, gold lion wallpaper in the master bathroom and custom tile Turner laid out herself, spelling out their initials.  But she also had a design assist from McLean Barbieri of Annali Interiors.

“She worked very hard alongside me with the interior design of the whole place,” Turner says. “She was a pivotal force in the creation and visualization of my home.”

And they were right — Nashville now has so much more to offer artists than it did when they left. So they are here to stay.

“I’m not a pioneer,” she says. “I came back after it was already cool. We definitely didn’t move here for my career, but to my great surprise it has been incredible for me. The opportunities that I’ve had because I live in Nashville could not be matched if I lived in New York.”

See Vadis Turner’s work during Nashville design Week at Zeitgeist Gallery.
For a full listing of Nashville Design Week events, visit the calendar now.

Tour Vadis Turner’s downtown home