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.
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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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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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