602 S. Gay St., Hosts Bobby Brown and Todd Richesin, Downtown Home Tour, June 2023
Part Two of the Downtown Home Tour:
The Downtown Home Tour raises money for the East Tennessee Historical Society and History Center. This fundraiser allows the community to view downtown living but also for the nosey neighbor in us all to get a glimpse of places we may not get to otherwise. With 350 tickets sold, the History Center will benefit greatly from this event! As a point of clarification from yesterday’s article, the VIP reception was fully sponsored by Regas Square events and the generosity of Doug and Melissa White, allowing the History Center to keep the funds raised to benefit the organization.
The work that the staff from the Historical Society, many volunteers, and the homeowners do to prepare for this type of event is intense. As a guest on tour, I saw smooth waters and smiling faces that can only come from the coordination and commitment of those involved. Gay Lyons and her team put on a fantastic event to raise money to preserve our city’s history. Instead of bashing the ‘elite’ or crying ‘vanity,’ perhaps we appreciate the willingness of these families to open their homes to hundreds of strangers for a few hours on a Saturday to raise money for a great cause. Let’s be fair and kind in our assessments and comments.
Our first stop on Saturday was the VIP home, open to those with a VIP gold armband and only from 10-12. Why was it the first stop? Because it was the closest to the East TN History Museum, and I was trying to be strategic about my walking plan to maximize our time and steps. I did appreciate the orange UT shuttle along the route, though we only used it once to go from Regas Sq to Hill Ave. Could we have hoofed it? Sure! But again, maximizing our time was vital, and being given some additional local history from Sam Maynard, Director of the James White Fort, was a treat.
This VIP host home belongs to Bobby Brown and Todd Richesin at 602 S. Gay St. The Burwell Bldg (home of the Tennessee Theater) was completed in 1908, and another portion above the theatre was built in 1928. The building was created in the Second Renaissance Revival architecture style. It features yellow brick on the front and red elsewhere. The beautiful lobby floor and elevator landings are Tennessee marble, and the lobby walls feature Carrara marble. This location formerly housed the Old Blount College in 1794, which became what we know now as the University of Tennessee.
The home is elegantly designed with deep blue and yellow accents. Everywhere we looked was a new feast for the eyes. Beautiful art hangs in the entryway outside the front door. A lion head door knocker on the front door welcomes you in. Sculptures and whimsical statues set a tone for beauty that is accessible and design that is flawless. The home has interesting curves and lines, and the original windows in the space feature antique pebbled “chicken wire” glass. The hosts were gracious and welcoming, discussing their appreciation for the urban lifestyle. This home was a treat to explore and reminded me why I write and don’t do interior design. The color palette and art design were my stand-outs for this home.
Picking up where I left off in yesterday’s coverage, we left the Gallery Lofts and headed to Marble Alley. This location would be considered the most cost-effective of the places toured and had many amenities that draw in both singles and couples to the development. It was formerly surface parking until architect Buzz Goss designed and built Marble Alley. There is a proposed Marble Alley 2 to come.
Host Susan French showed off her lower-level home with a lovely, flower-covered balcony overlooking the downtown dog park. She has a 2BR apartment and enjoys the amenities of the outdoor pool, grilling station, fitness center, pet spa, clubhouse, and game room. They also have dedicated parking. As a widow, Susan sought a way to connect with more people and activities, so she sold her suburban home and moved downtown. She described the move as healing. Her story is not the first of its kind. I have been told by others who sold larger homes and moved downtown that the social aspect was a significant draw to urban living. Her space is cozy and quite charming. Marble Alley also offers studio and one-bedroom apartments. The stand-out feature of Susan’s home for me was the floral-adorned balcony overlooking the dog park.
Next up, we walked to Regas Square to see four additional units. Since I covered the details of Regas Square yesterday, I will stick to the individual homes for today. Hosts were Tere Stouffer and Vickie & Chuck Smith on the 6th floor and Konomi & Tom Wolfe and Tracey & Phil Axtell on the 5th floor.
The two 6th-floor homes had differing layouts allowing us to see the differences that make you feel like you are in a different building going from one to the other. In Tere’s home, you enter the open kitchen and living area with bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets to the right and left. Each closet space has beautiful built-in storage, and I noticed many had narrow rooms for office or maker’s space. The wealth of kitchen cabinet storage was the stand-out in Tere’s home. It made my foodie/cooking-loving heart swoon!
The Smith’s entryway was a short hallway that turned to the left with a long hall with a utility room and a full bath. A guest bedroom doubles as an office. A Murphy cabinet bed serves as a shelf but can be pulled out with plenty of space in the room for guests. Most bathrooms were similar in style and beauty, with double sinks and stand-up showers. Each patio terrace gives a unique view of the city. Even those with units facing the interstate, which we initially thought would be a negative, told us they enjoy the view and the hum of the traffic. One even compared it to watching a fish tank or a fire, both analogies that I can relate to. Some homes chose to add extra storage cabinets to the top of their predesigned kitchen cabinetry for more options to hide those once-a-year items. The neutral walls allow homeowners to add personality through their art of choice and greenery. The stand-out feature here was the use of playful art to liven up the home.
The units on the 5th level were comparable in layout to the Smith’s home. The Axtell’s unit is just under the Smiths, with the same highway view. Though the design was similar, the décor and personality had a different and equally welcoming feel. The dark hardwood flooring and clean lines of their home allowed you to see their vision for their home. You can also see the difference in the kitchen area but the similarity in using the guest bedroom as a multi-purpose space. The stand-out feature of this home was the simplicity of design and inviting terrace patio.
The last unit in the Regas Square building was the home of the Wolfs. Their unit faces the Southern Railway Station. The open floor plan in the main living and dining space was arranged differently than the other units we had seen, and the hardwood was a warm brown. These homeowners are also farm owners and love the ability to head “to town” to enjoy the urban amenities and simplified way of life. You may have noticed, but I’m a sucker for a good view. The stand-out feature here was the patio view of the city and especially the Southern Railway. It’s a historic building and the setting for many city events and concerts they can watch from their terrace. Who wouldn’t love that?
The two units we toured last were in The Overlook on W. Hill Ave. This development was created and finished in late 2020. It was designed with urban planning in mind. It utilized a relatively small plot of land to develop vertical living for this 10-unit condominium building. The central elevator opens right to the resident’s street-side porch. You have panoramic views of the river on the other side of the building.
The first home we viewed here was the home of Kathie and Tom Goldsby. Transplants from Columbus, OH, they love the walking and biking distance to UT, where Tom is on faculty, and the quick access to all things downtown. The stand-out feature here for me was the little signs they made telling guests some things they love about their home. They can watch planes land and take off from Island Home Airport, and they pointed out the view of Neyland Stadium to the right and Mt LeConte to the left in the distance. Thanks to the Canadian wildfires, it was a hazy day, but the views were still stunning, and the temperatures couldn’t have been more perfect. That perfect weather allowed them to have the folding glass doors wide open with access to the porch seating area with views of the city and then a wide-open view of the floor plan with the living space and into the kitchen. Down the hallway, we saw two bedrooms, the main bath and guest bath, and an office space.
The final home we toured was the home of Gay and Bill Lyons, advocates and champions for Knoxville’s growth and development and for preserving and honoring its rich history. Their floor plan was flipped from the Goldsbys, along with a few other differences. When you entered, you had a quaint welcome area, then down the hallway were the bedrooms, bath, and office. The galley kitchen and living/dining area were on the side of the condo facing the river. They chose to screen their patio area, making it even more inviting for humans and less inviting for insects. The stand-out feature in their home had to be the bathroom for me. It was a “wet room,” meaning the shower and tub are in the same space. You don’t have to worry about an enclosed area or getting the floors wet as they drain away from the sink and water closet. These types of bathrooms offer great functionality and accessibility.
One takeaway from the home tour is that it’s not for everyone. And that’s ok! My family of 6 would not function well there with our current lifestyle. You also don’t have to be a millionaire to make it affordable. The only complaint I heard from the tour was the need for a full-service grocery store within walking distance, an ongoing problem. The Red Panda has helped, and other grocery stores are within a few minutes drive. Another perk of urban dwelling is that many residents no longer rely heavily on vehicles. They use their own two feet or the two wheels on a bike to get around, saving gas dollars and improving health and the environment simultaneously.
If you are curious like me, join us on the tour next year! $25 that goes to benefit the Historical Society and gives you a morning of walking and exploring your city could be an adventure to remember!