"We were here for about fifteen seconds when we asked our realtor, 'Where do we sign?'," said Jessie Pickren, speaking of her and her husband, Tristan Warner’s first visit to the four-acre "junkyard of a lot" on which their charming black cottage now sits. The couple was living in Brooklyn when, after a particularly long wait on the subway platform, they decided to move to Nashville. In their initial search they skipped over the listing, and who could blame them? The sprawling lot was abruptly abandoned after the city’s flood in 2010, and was plagued by overgrown ivy and rampant hornets.
But, after countless subpar showings and one-too-many last-minute flights from New York to Nashville, they reluctantly visited the property. And, after discovering its proximity to the Cumberland River and a surviving storybook cottage — albeit structurally unstable — there was no looking back. Now, after a touch-and-go renovation and clean up, the formerly discarded shack is a petite but highly efficient, light-filled retreat only fifteen minutes from Nashville’s buzzy center.
Pickren made the move first, and spent a month overhauling the unsightly piece of land in preparation for the renovation. “I spent several hours a day doing dump runs, weeding, and just clearing everything out,” she recalled, “I got to do all the nitty-gritty.” Pickren is the designer behind stationery brand, Hew and Company, while Warner of Tristan Warner Studios, is a general contractor and carpenter — which made him uniquely qualified for a project such as this. After finishing up a final job in Brooklyn, Warner joined Pickren, and the two began stripping and reframing their new abode while camping out (yes — in a tent!) by the home’s adjacent riverbed.
The plan was to eventually build a woodshop for Warner at the property’s entrance to dually serve as their main residence, so they kept the existing cottage’s small footprint. They knew they wanted a home that was airy and livable despite its mere 400 square-feet, but could also transition easily to Pickren’s design studio. “I’m a believer in the idea that how you feel in your space affects your creativity,” she explained, “we wanted it to, when needed, feel like my workspace — not our bedroom.”
So Warner conceived of a smart solution that involved trap doors and covert compartments, to house the couple’s wardrobe, office supplies, and typical household wares, along with a queen-sized Murphy bed – all encased within a wall of crisp white cabinetry. The built-in space saver also conceals what Pickren calls a “Harry Potter door," that leads to a shower, full length mirror and linen closet.
Where the structural fixes and sneaky storage solutions were carefully tried and meticulously executed, the home’s effortless aesthetic came about a bit more organically. “We wanted to keep it light and without clutter,” Pickren explained. Because of the a-frame’s size and the owners’ simplistic proclivities, all-white walls and minimal décor were a no-brainer. A few well-loved pieces, like a deep blue tufted Chesterfield from ABC Carpet & Home and vintage accent chairs from both of Pickren’s grandmothers, are placed in a “loosey-goosey” arrangement, hinting at the space’s ability to transition quickly.The bathroom offers a rare moment of color, featuring a bold checkerboard pattern of hunter green and white tiles from The Home Depot, alongside a powder-blue sink from a local salvage yard. A drop ceiling was torn out to expose rough-hewn beams that combine with unfinished concrete floors, adding to the house’s inherently rustic feel.
Light pours in to the home through salvaged windows and vintage French doors (once belonging to Pickren’s grandfather) that often remain open. The couple treats their newfound woodsy environs as an extension of their living room, spending as much time outside as in. “In New York you’re so used to noise, things and people,” said Pickren, “Here, there’s a comforting isolation.” The pair forewent a conventional kitchen in favor of an old-timey wood burning stove – their only source of heat - and an outdoor utility sink where they wash post-meal dishes. Gatherings at the cottage boast a summer camp appeal, as most nights are spent grilling under bistro lights on the porch, pulling up chairs to the riverbed, or playing badminton on their lantern-lined court.
This past fall the pair got married in an ivy-lined empty swimming pool that remained near their picturesque cottage. For Pickren their petite piece of heaven is an exercise in simplicity. “I’ve learned what I need day to day,” she explained, “You can have fewer, nicer things. You don’t need all the other stuff.”