A Quirky Boutique Hotel Takes Over a Presbyterian Church in East Nashville
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A Quirky Boutique Hotel Takes Over a Presbyterian Church in East Nashville

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By Alia Akkam
Every stay at this colorful converted church helps Nashville’s homeless community with free housing, showers, and meals.

Separated from downtown by the Cumberland River, artsy East Nashville is one of the city’s most animated neighborhoods, packed with restaurants, bars, and vintage shops. When converting the former Edgefield Cumberland Presbyterian Church into the Russell, a newly opened 23-room hotel, local firm Powell Architecture + Building Studio was eager to layer an impressive architectural heritage with East Nashville’s eccentric personality. 

At the Russell, the original 1904 church facade is gloriously intact.

At the Russell, the original 1904 church facade is gloriously intact.

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Beside one of the building's original stained-glass windows, a handmade "church banner" by Shelby Rodeffer pays homage to Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette.

Beside one of the building's original stained-glass windows, a handmade "church banner" by Shelby Rodeffer pays homage to Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette.

An original stained-glass window, as well as a complementary transom version by New Hat, creates a meditative ambience in the lobby lounge.

An original stained-glass window, as well as a complementary transom version by New Hat, creates a meditative ambience in the lobby lounge.

Past the 1904 Romanesque facade, the Russell—developed by Anchor Investments—fuses old and new. "We couldn’t turn down the opportunity to resurrect one of a dwindling number of historic buildings in Nashville in a way that promotes creative reuse," says Katie Vance, partner and interior design director at Powell. 

Bathroom walls in the Russell's private dining room feature Flavor Paper's reinterpretation of Andy Warhol's The Last Supper.

Bathroom walls in the Russell's private dining room feature Flavor Paper's reinterpretation of Andy Warhol's The Last Supper.

In the lobby, a duo of arresting, 16-foot stained-glass rose windows guide the design narrative. Color schemes throughout the property were inspired by those illuminated in the glass, like the lobby’s arrangement of bright tiles that mirror the floor’s small-scale herringbone wood pattern. 

The door markers at the Russell, crafted by New York lighting studio Rich Brilliant Willing, are reminiscent of Biblical verses.

The door markers at the Russell, crafted by New York lighting studio Rich Brilliant Willing, are reminiscent of Biblical verses.

It’s an airy space with a 40-foot ceiling, floor-to-ceiling gold chenille curtains shrouding "confessional" alcoves, and a wall dressed with "church banners" hand-sewn and painted by Nashville–bred, Chicago-based artist Shelby Rodeffer of Finer Things. One of the stand-out examples, Queens of Country, depicts three of Nashville’s most beloved music legends: Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette. 

A palette of dusty pink hues is reminiscent of the stained-glass windows in the lobby.

A palette of dusty pink hues is reminiscent of the stained-glass windows in the lobby.

"I always try to link my banners to their masonic regalia influences," says Rodeffer. "FLT comes from the Odd Fellows, and it stands for Friendship, Love, and Truth. I thought painting DLT for Dolly, Loretta, and Tammy would both pay tribute to the historic references in my work and the specific place where this banner lives." 

Views of the stained-glass windows below flood the penthouse.

Views of the stained-glass windows below flood the penthouse.

An elegant, wraparound aqua headboard in the penthouse is accentuated by yellow pendant lighting.

An elegant, wraparound aqua headboard in the penthouse is accentuated by yellow pendant lighting.

A building with such a deep past also yielded a big surprise for Powell during construction. "We discovered the tremendous volume and potential of the church attic, which was unexpected," says Vance. "We moved fast, building a new plan that incorporated the space into the design. We ended up adding a third floor, including five additional guest rooms, to the project." A bi-level suite now weaves the church’s imposing bell tower into a meditative sleeping area.

A standard king guest room has a welcoming retro vibe thanks to exposed brick and a headboard fashioned from an old church pew.

A standard king guest room has a welcoming retro vibe thanks to exposed brick and a headboard fashioned from an old church pew.

Largely carved from old auditorium and classroom spaces, the guest rooms, which greet guests with illuminated door markers written in Biblical verse format by New York lighting studio Rich Brilliant Willing, feature exposed brick walls and headboards fashioned from vintage pews. 

Efficient wardrobes in the guest rooms, courtesy of Holler Design, bring together a built-in fridge, safe, coffeemaker, and desk.

Efficient wardrobes in the guest rooms, courtesy of Holler Design, bring together a built-in fridge, safe, coffeemaker, and desk.

They meld with a number of contemporary elements dreamed up by more than a dozen local artists and makers, including the arched wooden bathroom mirrors by Maple Built and Southern Light Electric's powder-coated sconces. Color-blocked walls that call to mind the hues found in the lobby’s windows ensure that rooms further honor the building’s bygone days. 

The eclectic, two-story Tower suite.

The eclectic, two-story Tower suite.

Double-arched mirrors by Maple Tent further reference the hotel's roots as a church.

Double-arched mirrors by Maple Tent further reference the hotel's roots as a church.

The highlight of the Tower suite is sleeping in the natural light-filled space where the church's bells once rang.

The highlight of the Tower suite is sleeping in the natural light-filled space where the church's bells once rang.

Spending the night at the Russell has an advantage more profound than a dose of colorful, conscientious design: through its Room for Rooms program, generous proceeds from nightly rates are donated to non-profit organizations that help tackle homelessness in Nashville.

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