Second Time Around
Story by Joe Morris
Homeowners who poke around used-goods stores are trying to thread a particularly tricky needle: find a great sofa or chair or bookcase — and do it on a budget. It can be a complicated endeavor, as one person’s “thrift” is another’s “vintage,” and is priced accordingly.
Imagine a designer whose goal is to outfit an entire home, inside and out, with vintage, antique, reclaimed and other tossed-aside and forlorn materials. It’s a holistic view of sustainable design, and it’s something that Chelsea Conrad has jumped into with both feet with a 1920s bungalow in East Nashville’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. The project used a wide range of products that ticked all the small-footprint boxes: Most if not all furnishings and finishings were locally or sustainably made, repurposed from other projects, antique or secondhand. And in the case of items that had to be new, they were purchased as part of a carbon offset plan created with Terrapass.
“I wanted to renovate a property from the ground up using only sustainable resources,” says Conrad, who relocated to Nashville a New York a few years ago and who studied at Academy of Art University and the Fashion Institute of Technology, or FIT. “Our culture is so much about obsolescence: ‘cheap and cheerful,’ seasonal products, planned turnover. And beyond that, you have the grotesquely wasteful way that things are packaged — why do you get a massive box with one tiny thing in it? I wanted to get away from this ‘snacky’ mentality of home design.”
A childhood near Lake Tahoe meant an ingrained appreciation for the environment, one that was further honed by enforced home time during the COVID-19 lockdown. She saw people gutting their homes and then installing “inexpensive and brutal material” that would sunset in a year or two. Her response? The property at 1110 Pennock Ave., which she purchased with the help of Realtor and friend Brian Vance from a developer who’d let the site become a neighborhood eyesore.
“The first thing I did was get friendly with the neighbors, because they were very unhappy that the people who’d been there a long time had been kicked out,” Conrad says. “And then I started poking holes in my business plan.”
The treasure hunt begins
What that meant, for the most part, was remaining below budget caps. Finding reclaimed wood floors at a reasonable price, for instance. Or molding. Or paint. Or tile. Or furniture. The list can, and did, go on and on. After vigorous searches, the right material would turn up, or a good alternative would appear, so Conrad carried on.
“I bought some flooring that had been discontinued,” she explains. “I located a lot more items that had been returned or remained unsold. Environmentally friendly grout? I found some — in Italy. So shipping was costly, but the lesser of two evils compared to using regular grout. Then there was the women-owned tile company, which had a custom line they’d had to remake. I bought the first batch that was just sitting on their lot.”
And through it all, she questioned vendors about their mindsets around sustainability, employee benefits and more — so it wasn’t just about refitting and flipping on the cheap.
“If you can’t readily find the information about how things are made, it’s a bad sign,” she explains. “I wanted to know how companies did things, how they treat their workers. When I found vendors who could easily answer those questions, we were able to work together.”
The result was a property with about 90% of its furnishings and materials repurposed from other projects. And new purchases, such as a mattress and sheets, are made with sustainable materials as much as possible. Fixtures and fittings, when new, were purchased “open box” from showrooms and usually deeply discounted. And while she’s not currently living in the property, she can’t bear to sell it either.
“It took me two years to finish, three really if you count permitting and all the slowdowns from COVID,” Conrad says. “I had to compete with contractors who were offering workers the chance to make higher pay elsewhere for throwing up a ‘tall and skinny’ house, but I had some people really stick with me. My Realtor, Brian, was in there with my partner James and me cutting plaster out of the fireplace and more. We were watching a lot of how-to videos. It was a real family affair.”
“It was amazing, and so much fun,” she continues. “I love the puzzle of a place. When you fill a home with previously owned things, it has a richness and history you can’t find with new products. If you have an antique dresser that’s 100 years old, it tells a story. It makes the home more special. I can’t wait to do this again.”
Remaking 1110 Pennock
Here are some of the many artisans, vendors, builders and more who helped make the property renovation a reality:
Nelson’s Renovations LLC
Chris Bolton Plumbing & Home Improvement
Oasis Design Studio (plants)
Red Rock Tileworks
Real Wood Floors
The Vance Group
Jacob the Electrician
Neptaly Amaya Painting
Caroline Sharpnack Photography
GasLamp Too Antiques
Blue Door Framing
Sheri DiGiovanna Tailoring (drapes)