The Design Lover’s Guide to Nashville

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Everywhere we go, we like to surround ourselves with beautiful spaces.

There are the obvious domestic destinations for design lovers—New York, Chicago, San Francisco—but we’re on the hunt to discover the best of what smaller American cities have to offer in the way of design. That’s what the design lover’s series is all about.

When no one was looking, Nashville up and got ultra cool on us. In the last five years, Nashville has shed its sole reputation as tourist trap (it’s still one of those, and it’s oh, so worth it) and put on a pair of Warby Parkers and a camel-colored duster coat. Despite its mounting popularity, Nashville is still a somewhat undiscovered gem when it comes to a city of great design.

Photo by Daniel Meigs

What to do

Nashville Design Week kicks off on November 8. This city-wide series of programs unites the design community and the public in a celebration of and discussion around the future of the design economy in Nashville.

Browse exhibitions and galleries, attend lectures, participate in workshops, mingle at openings, and chat up the artists and designers who contribute to Nashville’s rich design scene at open studio visits. Engage with and learn from printmakers, architects, dancers, urban designers, musicians, and more in this interdisciplinary exchange of cultural and creative capital.

“The Nashville Design community is gaining significant traction, and yet, there are clear silos keeping designers from being able to do their best work,” says Julia Dyer, director of strategy and operations for Nashville Design Week. “Nashville Design Week will bring together the people who are already doing the great work, but who could unlock incredible impact through collaborative conversations and partnerships. We hope that designers will learn from one another while also teaching the value of design in approachable ways to non-designers. Almost every single event during design week is free and open to the public, including the Closing Block Party next to the Roxy Theater in Wilburn Street—a perfect example of an opportunity to bring together all different types of people around Nashville Design.”


Photo courtesy of Thompson Nashville

Where to stay

Thompson Nashville is a luxury boutique hotel in The Gulch, an ultra-hip and artistic neighborhood just off of Nashville’s downtown. The lobby is spacious and welcoming in browns and grays with touches of Art Deco touches and moss-colored velvet. Guest rooms are warm and elegantly adorned in a mix of urban sleek and rustic touches: think urban views and gorgeous wet bars with hardwood floors and barn doors. Grab a beer at Thompson Nashville’s rooftop bar, L.A. Jackson, (they have a killer craft draft list) and drink in those expansive skyline views.

Where to shop

Owned by former New York City performers Josh and Ivy Elrod (Josh a former Blue Man and Ivy a former Rockette), Wilder is a store that celebrates the art of environment. The store is full of modern minimalist delights, many of which are exclusive collaborations with designers and creators. Our favorite? This beautiful grid pendant light.

Where to shop

Emil Erwin creates beautiful, hand-made leather goods in its Nashville studio. Though you can pick up a fine leather belt or a clutch, our favorite is their leather sling chair.

Emil Erwin keeps a shop on Buchanan Street in North Nashville. The store’s hours are “by appointment or by chance. We are usually working in the back.”

Photo by Lisa Diedrich

Where to eat

The is no short list of stellar restaurants in Nashville. You’re pretty much guaranteed to stumble across fabulous little spots just about wherever you go, but none are as brilliant in design as Little Octopus.

Little Octopus is “vegetable-driven” and California-inspired. Chef and owner Sarah Gavigan crafts her menus with careful consideration for sustainability and seasonality, working with local farmers to bring the freshest ingredients to your table. Her flavors are forward and surprising and jam-packed with dazzling little matches like scallion & gooseberry and furikake & mint.

The restaurant space was designed by architects Catherine Johnson and Rebecca Rudolph, the imaginative talent at Design, Bitches, whose work is artful, experimental, and off-beat. Little Octopus is white, coral, and blonde. Pink marble, creamy glass, and a punctured ceiling (Yes, that’s right!) fill this space with light and life.

Where to drink

Just like the food scene, Nashville has no shortage of yummy little spots to booze up. Our recommendation is French brasserie Le Sel. Le Sel is romantic and a little bit sexy, clad in blush and jewel-colored velvet and bold black and white stripes, dotted with pop art and three-dimensional threadwork.

The cocktail menu is full of classics like pisco sour and gin & tonic, each with a subtle twist—gin & tonic is made with pink gin, margaritas are strawberry, and a Pimm’s Cup becomes a Bojo’s Cup.

Our end goal is to start a conversation in the community through art and about art—to give a platform to different artistic voices and to provide a space where that conversation can occur.”

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What to see

Nashville is rife with excellent small galleries that exhibit works by local and international artists. Our top choice is Tinney Contemporary. 

Tinney Contemporary specializes in collectible contemporary work by established artists. The team at Tinney Contemporary have a distinct taste for bold work in photorealism, cubism, and abstraction, and sculpture. Their carefully curated exhibits are high on precision and technique and dripping with wow-factor.

“Our end goal is to start a conversation in the community through art and about art—to give a platform to different artistic voices and to provide a space where that conversation can occur,” says Sarah Wilson, director of Tinney Contemporary. “This means supporting our local artists while helping to grow Nashville’s art community by providing a setting in which viewers can be comfortably learn and engage with the art.”

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