A dilapidated duplex is restored, renewed and revived in Richland

By Hollie Deese
Photography by Leslee Mitchell

Phil and Angela Graham have lived an international life, calling everywhere from New York to London home. But when their daughters had both grown and they were considering where to finish their careers, they decided to return to Nashville where Angela had grown up.

The couple gravitated to a 1930s, Depression-era Tudor on Craighead. A tight urban lot — the entire site is less than a third of an acre — the original home at one point had been subdivided into a duplex. Then years of wear and tear ensured that the renovation would be a total gut job.

So they turned to the team at Pfeffer Torode, an East Nashville-based architecture firm with offices in three cities, with some studios that focus on residential architecture and some that focus on commercial architecture. And sometimes it cross-pollinates.

“What we find is if you’re doing a boutique hotel, a lot of that wants to respond to residentially minded details in fit and finish — that sense of home away from home,” says principal Jamie Pfeffer. “And if you’re doing a very contemporary house, the detailing is more akin to a commercial project than traditional Southern residential architecture. So that mix keeps us very sharp, and we can apply best practices in both directions on both kinds of projects.”

For the Graham residence, Pfeffer wanted to recapture the continuity of the original house while making it flow in a more usable way by using every square inch of the site.

“Really, the entire house is my definition of all new,” Pfeffer says. “The goal was to build it back — not to try to do a replica or something fake, but to do something that was reminiscent of the scale and the character of that original house, and that understood its context on the street. At the same time, we wanted to build it with higher construction standards.”

At the Graham residence, art and furniture are showpieces, and that was considered in the design as well, with walls and halls to accommodate their treasures.

“A lot of it was complementing their own things with a few pieces to connect the dots and make it flow. But they have a very awesome art and furniture collection, that was really showcased,” he says.

The kitchen opens to the motor court as well as to the living space, and that living space has a large glass wall that opens to the pool. So it was really about getting the entire space to have a flow between inside and out.

Aging in place was also a consideration for the homeowners, who work with veterans groups, many times hosting at home. So part of the project was making sure that the pool and surrounding landscape were wheelchair accessible and diverted storm water, while still being artistic.

Daigh Rick Landscape Architects used native plantings and pervious materials to make sure every inch of the site from curb to back property line was carefully considered. And Pfeffer took many opportunities to sneak in extra dimensions, like using trim details to downplay a larger door size.

A Nashville native, Pfeffer’s East Nashville-based firm is in its 10th year. He had studied architecture, living and working in other places, but he’d always had the goal of bringing what he experienced back to Nashville.

That understanding of his hometown resulted in a modern home for the Grahams that is respectful of the street, and the neighborhood.

“Whether you grew up in Nashville or are just calling Nashville home, there’s a want to be protective of Nashville. To me, that’s working on projects that respect Nashville but at the same time are still forward-thinking.”

In this case it was creating a house with all the energy efficiencies, technology and sophistication available today, but that can exist 100 years or more in a context that is becoming of the street it’s on.

“I’m trying to walk that fence between those two things — being very sensitive to place in context and historic precedent, but at the same time doing something that was really trying to look to a standard that was beyond that street today.”