For Nashville based designer Kathy Anderson, making dream spaces come to life is part of her DNA. Having completed such projects as RCA Studio A, Starstruck Entertainment, the backstage of the Ryman Auditorium and both the backstage and dressing rooms of The Grand Ole Opry House, Anderson has made a name for herself in music city as the go-to gal for celebrity, hospitality, and corporate design projects. We had the chance to catch up with Anderson between projects to chat about how she got into the industry, her most recent honky tonk design, and the second season of her homewares line in collaboration with Eightmood, available this August.
Hailing originally from Kentucky, Anderson’s family moved to Nashville when she was fourteen years old. Design has always come naturally to Anderson; she was raised by a father who near constantly had a renovation project going on. “Growing up, my dad always remodeled houses and we were always living in homes under construction. He was kind of a house flipper before we knew what that was. When it came time to go to college and I was trying to decide what I wanted to do I thought you know, I could be an interior designer. I literally just made the decision and realized through my courses that I actually had a lot of experience seeing places torn apart and put back together.” Anderson’s decision to pursue design took her first to the O’More College of Design in Franklin Tennessee, then to Los Angeles, California, where she finished her degree at UCLA and landed her first job with a boutique residential firm.
“I worked for Fong and Miyagawa Design Associates in Los Angeles after college, and that was really the firm I think I learned the most from. Of course, you always learn the most in your first job, but the two women who owned the firm taught me how to run a business. I still base the way I run my company on what I learned there.” After Anderson whet her appetite with hospitality and residential projects in Los Angeles, she moved back to Nashville; that was when her career began to take off. First working with architects, it didn’t take long for Anderson to fall into the music world. “Early on, when I was in design school, I met a guy named Tony Brown. Tony, at that time, was a piano player with Elvis Presley and we became friends. As he became more successful and I had my design degree, he eventually hired me to design a house for him. It led to another house, then MCA Records and several other projects. I think it’s like anything; you get started and then you meet one person who tells you about someone else. Tony was a great referral because he has great taste in general.”
For Anderson, her work has found its own themes throughout the years, waxing and waning between large corporate and artistic projects and intimate, luxurious homes for some of Nashville’s most well-known residents. “My referrals have always come in a category. It was in the nineties when I did a lot of record labels; that’s when the record companies were growing. I got to grow with that business, which was fun, but I think Tony Brown was probably the first person to push me more into what I call the celebrity world. Anderson spent several years designing a healthy mix of public and private spaces. In 2010, however, the scope of her projects entered an entirely new realm, mixing history with music in the best way imaginable.
“In May of 2010, we had a big flood in Nashville. At that time I got a call saying look, the Opry House has to be rebuilt. It had water up to four feet high backstage. I was called in to come take a look at it, then quickly put together schemes for the dressings rooms and backstage. It was a wonderful project; it fit so well with my love for and experience in the music business. I grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry with my dad, so I really understood the history and the design. It was just a perfect project and the Opry led to so many other wonderful projects. Now I do a lot of work with Ryman Hospitality Properties, which owns the Ryman, Grand Ole Opry House, the buildings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, as well as a few others. Rebuilding the Opry led to designing all of their presidential suites, and then designing Ole Red with them, Blake Shelton, and his team. We have three Ole Red’s now; one in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, one in Nashville, and now we’re working on one in Gatlinburg.”
When asked about the design process and differences between creating a residential space or a commercial one, Anderson lit up and her passion for her projects shined through. “I really enjoy doing both types of projects because they’re so different. Commercial spaces are more corporate. It’s got more of a committee feel, not a personal one. For instance, if you’ve got a piece of art on the wall, it’s not representing a person. You look at that piece of art and you think does it meet the needs of the project and get the idea across? On the residential side, every decision is personal and reflects the people that live in that space. It can also be a very emotional process because a lot of times they’ve never done something where they’ve had the opportunity to make so many decisions together. A lot of times the couples I work with don’t realize how different their tastes are until they start trying to make these decisions! My job is part design, part marriage counseling. It’s emotional.”
When it came to designing her latest project, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, the process was long and deeply involved, but just as much fun as the residential spaces she’s had the privilege of creating. With the most recent location in Nashville completed and opened early last month, Anderson expanded on what it was like designing the space with Shelton, his team, and Ryman Hospitality. “The decisions for what’s going into a project like Ole Red are made about two years prior to the project being completed. Ole Red looks exactly like what I had in my head for that space because I have to see it in my head long before it’s finished. Everything for a space like that has to be specified and ready to order, priced and ready to go. So I had the vision in my head for a long time, but coming up with the concept was a group effort. We knew we wanted to open a restaurant and we knew it was going to be Blake Shelton themed. We knew we wanted it to be a honky tonk, but just a little different. When we sat down with the Ryman Hospitality team, Blake and his manager, Narvel Blackstock, to brainstorm we knew we wanted it to reflect that Blake was from Oklahoma and that he was fun and a bit irreverent. All of those details have to go into thinking about the design of the space.” It is the crucial step from ideas to reality that Anderson herself is responsible for. “We [my firm] create storyboards that show everything we’re thinking of doing in the space. We do the imagery for everyone to look at in collaboration with the entire team- both Ryman Hospitality and Blake’s team. We are the ones that visually make it all happen. For instance, if we recommend a neon sign that says “kiss my country ass” then my team is responsible for having it made and installed. We’re the ones that make it all happen. We’re ideas, but we’re also the part of the team that gets to bring those ideas to life.”
On top of designing for the best and brightest in Nashville, Anderson has launched her own line in collaboration with Eightmood, a Swedish based homewares company. Anderson’s current season, appropriately named Country Mood, features pillows, small accessories, containers, blankets, and kitchenware in soothing, muted tones and crisp, geometric patterns. A perfect dichotomy between delicate and bold, items from Anderson’s line will give any household the relaxed, luxury pop that is so prevalent in the spaces she designs. For Anderson, creating her own homewares line was the next logical step. “I’ve had my business for thirty years now, and when you have a business for that long you get to work with a lot of different products. I’m always looking for different things, and having my own line is the next good step in expanding. I was ready to expand and have some fun; travel and experience a different side of this industry versus the day-to-day hourly design services aspect.”
Anderson is keenly aware, as she celebrates the second season of her homewares line and the Ole Red project with Ryman Hospitality that this is precisely where she was supposed to end up in her career when she made the decision all those years ago to study interior design. “I feel like my career has almost made a full circle with my life. Listening to music was always a big part of my life. My dad and I would lie on the floor and listen to music- part of it when I was growing up was complaints, of course. Listening to the Grand Ole Opry, as a teenager, wasn’t necessarily the coolest thing to do at the time. As you get older, you realize what memories it holds and how sentimental it was. I love that we did that together when I was a kid, and then I got to design that space. You have these experiences in your life and you learn things and you don’t know how they’re all going to come together, but at some point they do.”
Kathy Anderson has certainly run the gamut with projects, from intimate homes that reflect individual personalities to accessible and fun spaces for the masses to enjoy. She is responsible for some of the most well-known and well-loved spaces in Nashville, and we at Lula 1892 admire the work she puts in to each project as she takes care to preserve the history of these grand spaces while adding her own splash of style and creativity. To see more of Anderson’s designs, shop her homewares line, or contact her for design projects, please visit her website.