Couple’s quirky Paragon Mills home takes inspo from famed NYC tavern, Monkey Bar.
By Emily Davidson
Photography by Julia Steele
Frieda Projansky and Russell Somer take an unapologetic approach to design in their playful, eye-catching home. The fun-loving couple purchased the house in 2020 and soon developed an appetite for decorating during the pandemic. Bold colors and striking retro patterns dazzle in the themed-room, tchotchke-filled space.
“The thing I love about kitsch is that it’s very self-aware that it’s loud,” Projansky says. “Kitsch is not trying to be subtle — it’s meant to be obnoxious.” Kitsch design ignores standard principles of interior decor, like balance and moderation. The only rules are to have fun and explore creativity without limitation.
Projansky, who works in technology as a software tester, hails from Chicago. Somer grew up in Long Island, New York. The two have been dating for two and a half years. When they decided to buy a home, they were drawn toward neighborhoods near Nolensville Pike. “We’re really passionate about South Nashville and the diversity here,” Projansky says. “It’s basically a cultural mecca. It was important for us to live in a neighborhood that reminded us of where we’re from, to be surrounded by diversity.”
The split-level home built in 1962 is a perfect fit for the eclectic pair. Somer’s band, Spirits Republic, rehearses on the lower level, which also houses a tiki bar. Upstairs holds the main bedroom, office, kitchen and parlor. The floorplan offers an ideal separation of space for people with varied interests. At 2,200 square feet, the four-bedroom, two-bath home offers plenty of room and includes an elevated deck and spacious yard.
The house boasts original artwork from famed Manhattan drinking hole Monkey Bar. Somer’s family owned the neighboring lodge, Hotel Elysée, for the better part of the 20th century. The hotel is widely known for the piano bar, located just off the lobby, which was featured on “Sex and the City” and “Mad Men” and frequented by a long list of celebrities, including Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Tennessee Williams. “The fact that we have a piece that was in the original Monkey Bar hanging right next to our tiki bar is so special,” Projansky says. “It’s serendipitous.”
Somer’s grandmother handed down her well-preserved 1950s furniture. Those pieces anchor the pair’s color-coded spaces. For example, the gold room — a parlor for hosting guests, having conversations and drinking tea — features a pair of gold-hued couches, as well as a round, floral table and well-polished wood floors. “I feel grateful that we have a space that can allow for that,” Projansky says. “A lot of homes only have one living room or entertainment space.”
The home office is painted dollar-bill green. “We’re both working remotely right now, and it reminds us of why we spend so much time in there,” Somer says with a laugh. “It’s our version of being serious and not too serious.” Differentiating the rooms allows the pair to define the purpose of each area. Each space has a different feel and theme, with accessories belonging to different styles and periods. The disharmony of the color palette is intentional.
The red room is loud, vibrant and perfect for entertaining. Oozing with personality, the red and cream seating set is a standout feature. Projansky purchased it at a postmodern store in Chicago, though it took some convincing to get her then-roommate on board. “The guy selling the couches to me said he was glad I was taking them,” Projansky says. “He said that they had been in the showroom forever and that no one would buy them because they were hideous.” The space features a coordinating rug, large gumball machine, jumbo-sized apple sculpture and flashy guitars.
Adjacent to the red kitsch area is the authentic indoor tiki bar. Ever-evolving and party-ready, the bar features a teal-themed backdrop, a large tiki totem, pineapple string lights and color-coordinated knickknacks and tiki mugs. “It fits well with our style,” Projansky says. “Tiki bars in the ’50s and ’60s were all about playfulness and being whimsical and escaping your everyday life.”