Nashville creatives breathe new life into former Noel Place Hotel at Noelle

By Hollie Deese
Photography by Sanford Myers

Before there was new Nashville, there was the Noel Place Hotel — an Art Deco lodging house in Printers Alley that originally opened in 1930 and has recently been reimagined as Noelle, a 224-room, 13-story boutique hotel. One of downtown Nashville’s first luxury properties, Noel Place is now owned by Rockbridge and operated by MAKEREADY, who tapped Nashville’s creative community to infuse what makes this city unique into all aspects of Noelle.

Nashville-based architects Feltus Hawkins Design and Nick Dryden of Dryden Architecture and Design (DAAD) worked with creative branding experts Peck & Company, led by Benji Peck, to preserve the building’s past while giving the hotel a sense of Nashville that could never be manufactured by someone outside the city.

Nick Dryden is known for creating spaces where people want to be. And that is exactly how Rockbridge found him — by hanging out in Nashville and enjoying the places he helped create, and learning how he incorporated local creatives and artists into those projects.

“It was really just a result of them seeing these little seeds that we had planted over the years in Nashville, and that’s what led to us leading the design on Noelle,” he says.

Dryden knew just a little bit about the space when he signed on, that it used to be a hotel and that it was built by a local family, the Noels. He also knew it changed from hotel to a bank to business offices. But he really dug into the history after touring the property with the developers — who were already far enough down a path with an out-of-state design company that they had model rooms ready to go.

But Dryden had no problem breaking the news that if they were trying to capture who and what Nashville was, they were all wrong. And so Dryden and crew were tasked with making it right.

“I have to give them a lot of credit because they really took a risk,” Dryden says. “I’ve never seen this actually happen before, where a developer had it within themselves to rethink and question the direction they were heading, and then literally slam the brakes and start over. To me that showed their level of authenticity, their wanting to deliver something special — something that was truly localized to Nashville.”

That is what made Andy Mumma such a natural choice to conceptualize and manage the coffee setup, Drug Store. Creator of Barista Parlor, Mumma had worked with Dryden on the Golden Sound location of Mumma’s growing coffee-shop empire.

“I always do stuff that just pushes me, and I feel like if you build stuff to make money, or just have that in mind as your goal, then you’re not ever going to push things,” Mumma says. “And this felt like a good project for all of us to be a part of. We are all Nashvillians, and I think we work well together.”

Libby Callaway was also recruited by Dryden to bring her impeccable eye to curating the retail store, Keep Shop.

“I call him the Godfather,” she jokes.

At Keep Shop, the concentration is on local designers. There are exclusives you can only find there, like products from Clots Ceramics. Nashville designers, artists and makers contribute one-of-a-kind pieces to the 600-square-foot retail space, which also offers new and vintage clothing, accessories, media, and home goods from local creative partners and national vendors.

“It becomes less about cashing in on Nashville’s coolness, trying to make it a Nashville ‘experience,’ and more about finding and celebrating the culture that’s here,” Callaway says.

Bryce McCloud was brought in early on to oversee Noelle’s art programming, which includes
custom-made interactive pieces designed by McCloud and executed by the team at his studio, Isle of Printing. Guest corridors feature the work of a rotating schedule of local visual artists curated by McCloud. And Little Prints, McCloud’s on-property art space and shop with a working vintage printing press, ties the current creative culture with the neighborhood’s working-class past.

“Art’s always been an important component of the city,” McCloud says. “It’s easy for the music side to overshadow it, but in a way, I don’t think that’s been a bad thing. It’s made the artists that come and work in Nashville kind of spunky.”

McCloud curated a portrait series for the hotel, Nashvillians of Merit, with commissioned portraits of Nashvillians in every room. In the two-story Trade Room a collaborative installation was installed, with many pieces making one amazing local face. The famous Nashvillian there? McCloud’s own mom, a representation of the support behind all creative people.

“She was a high school teacher. She lived a quiet but impactful life to the people around her and her school and in her community,” he says. “But that is Nashville to me. That’s what makes it great. And so while there’s a specificity to me, there are a lot of moms who believe in their kids. That belief led them to take risks and do things, and that’s how we all got to where we’re at.”

Original terrazzo flooring and marble walls have been restored, along with the original elevators, mail drop and water fountain, while enhancing custom pieces were created, like the library table with integral lighting by Holler Design, bar with walnut millwork by Tate Ornamental, brass LED chandeliers by Michael Anastassiades, custom brass tables by KG Custom Creations and wall sconces by Apparatus on original marble columns.

“There is obviously a sense of history there, but it’s very much Nashville now, Nashville 2018,” Dryden says.

Vintage furniture was restored and reupholstered by Willow Branch Upholstery, and the original windows have been brought back to life. And new continues to meet old in the guest suites, with hickory hardwood floors throughout, custom ceiling detail and millwork designed by DAAD and built by Hartert Russell, and custom leather chairs by Emil Erwin. On the 12th floor, there are four similar but unique penthouse apartments with built-in kitchens and vintage accessories.

Peck and Dryden had worked together on a few other projects in the past, and it was important to them to do something very significantly and truly Nashville — what Nashville is and what Nashville’s becoming, not just what Nashville has been stereotyped as in the past.

“That inspiration really kicked us off to approach this project as understanding our own city in a way that I didn’t maybe even approach it before,” Peck says. “Really understanding, really getting down to the whole idea of what the spirit of the city is, and the spirit of the people, and what the people are like. That creative spirit inside of them — that desire and will to do things, even in the midst of adversity. One of the things that is true about Nashville and the people of Nashville is that we have this desire to not be told what we can or can’t do.”

That’s where the hotel’s symbol of the blue heron came from, a surly but beautiful bird native to the area that is a bit awkward and gangly but incredibly majestic when it flies.

“Nashville is a town of wild animals and lovely people,” Peck says. “We have all these people that are collaborative, giving, caring and want to help out everyone else. It really is a city full of great and lovely people, when you get to know them. At the same time, we all kind of have that feisty spirit inside that makes us want to prove ourselves. It’s truly who we are.”

General Manager Shannon Foster has been with other hotels and says she’s never seen one so truly immersed in the community the way Noelle is.

“I’ve worked at hotels where we’ve had an art program with local artists, or where we’d sell local coffee, but nothing to the extent that we’re doing it here,” Foster says. “And what is truly different about this property, in addition to having those local partnerships, is the locals really recognizing that and appreciating that. We see a lot of locals gravitating to Noelle because of how unique the experience is here.”

And now that rooftop bar Rare Bird is open, expect even more local love of the view of the downtown skyline that includes the Cumberland River, Nissan Stadium and the Shelby Street Bridge. The fireplaces flanking the ends of the patio make it perfect for cozy group seating.

“I believe that our industry is about connecting with guests, and having people leave feeling they really experienced a city, that they learned something special about that city vs. coming in and experiencing what a night at a hotel might have to offer,” says MAKEREADY Chief Operating Officer Christine Magrann. “We look to hire people within the city that truly understand what we are doing. That want to provide a really authentic guest service experience, allowing the guests to understand the artisans of this city. I think it is pretty fantastic, and people walk away really learning about the special history about that building or the people that are contributing many years of their life to making this city better.”