Morning light poured in from the large front windows. The faint scent of sweet tobacco and vanilla lingered in the air. I scanned my surroundings, admiring the interesting pops of art strategically placed along the exposed brick. Every frame served as a worthy backdrop to the symphony of colors and textures strewn gorgeously across the wooden floor. I leaned into my seat, encompassed by stacks of catalogues, fabric samples and in-progress sketches, while overlooking the main showroom of Anderson Design Studio in downtown Nashville, Tenn.
Nothing about that space—the strategizing hub for countless celebrity homes, luxury hotels and legendary landmarks—felt the least bit intimidating. Every corner beckoned for me to crawl into it. I wanted to sink into the piles of pillows stacked across the chairs and sofas, drape the throws around my flesh and scan my bare feet across the sheepskin rugs. It felt like being immersed in the sanctuary of my most whimsical dreams. Or staring into a Hollywood movie still.
The studio’s owner and founder, designer Kathy Anderson, sipped her coffee slowly and smiled demurely in between thoughtful reflections of late nights spent adding finishing touches backstage of the Ryman Auditorium, or choosing drapes for Reba McEntire’s bedroom, or experimenting with accessories for Kid Rock’s living room. Having conceptualized many of the environments that are permanently imprinted in the minds of country music fans (she designed various sets for ABC’s “Nashville,” as well as some of the Opryland Hotel’s most iconic suites and a plethora of Music City’s most legendary bars and restaurants), she acts like it’s no big deal.
“I feel like I’m just a problem-solver,” she says. “I’m creating environments for people to live, work, enjoy a glass of wine or a meal, or whatever it may be. It doesn’t matter if it’s a honky tonk on lower Broadway or a multimillion dollar residence, it’s all very personal to me.”
Anderson boasts eight international interior design awards, and her handiwork has been showcased in the glossy pages of People, Cambria Style and Nashville Lifestyles. But, now? She wants to solve your problems, too. The designing boss has gone international — collaborating with Scandinavian brand Eightmood for a dreamy home decor line that is as diverse, opulent, sparkling and versatile as her resume.
A graduate of UCLA, 2018 marks 30 years of devotion to interior design, and the 20th year since opening the doors of Anderson Design Studio. Her first job post-graduation was with a Chinese and Japanese designing firm in Los Angeles, where she worked in architecture. A few years later, she returned to Nashville, her hometown, and landed her first big celebrity job: designing Grammy award-winner Steve Winwood’s house.
Before long, she was being summoned by Ashley Judd, Alan Jackson and a slew of other industry contenders to either design their private living quarters, or their bars, restaurants and studios. Within that trajectory, Anderson says she has experienced “a lot of meaningful moments.” But there was one that was not only fulfilling to her creatively, but turned the spotlight to her soul.
It was May 2010 and all of Nashville was struggling to recover from the historic two-day flood. Countless businesses and homes all across the city and its outlying areas had been devastated. The nucleus of Music City’s heritage, The Grand Ole Opry, was immersed in nearly four feet of water. Headlines and news reports warned country music fans and Nashville locals that their beloved landmark was most likely beyond repair. “They called me and asked if I’d redesign it. I don’t usually like to work in an emergency situation, but there was so much at stake—a lot of individual careers, but also the culture and history of Nashville.”
Growing up as a country music fan and listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio with her dad, while also having become the wife of a songwriter, she could not rest until the floors were new, fresh art hung on the walls and the pulse of country music history had returned to every room. “Giving new life to the Grand Ole Opry was one of the most personally satisfying things I’ve ever done,” says Anderson.
There were 17 different rooms to satisfy, all with a distinct theme. Her favorite? “I loved the Women in Country room. I filled it with these big, glamorous old photographs of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, complete with 60’s-style mint green mattes and browns. I loved every minute of it,” she says.
Anderson only had three months to get the job done. She worked tirelessly—day and night—because she knew that not only a city, but an entire industry and its massive fanbase were counting on her.
The Grand Ole Opry project opened up the opportunity for her to extend her skills to the Opryland Hotel. For this, she had the pleasure of collaborating with renowned clothing designer Manuel Cuevas.
Another story that continues to tug at her is a tale of a most unlikely happy ending. A middle-aged couple, her long-time clients, were getting a divorce. The wife, exiled from the marriage she desperately tried to fix, purchased a house of her own. Although she loved the location of the property, its design and layout didn’t quite feel true to her. In despair, she phoned Anderson. “Even though it was a sad time, I could see that [the experience] gave her an opportunity to say ‘What do I like? What do I want?’ She had been married for so long that she had sort of forgotten,” says Anderson.
This design project became not only a masterpiece of creativity and functionality, but marked her client’s season of independence. Anderson witnessed the woman come alive through the process of choosing bedding, cabinets and color schemes that fit her personality and preferences. She went from heart-broken in the throes of a divorce to sort of awakening and declaring her individuality; the home renovation allowed her to rediscover how powerful she could be on the other side of having been somebody’s wife.
“It empowered her so much that I now can’t even imagine her with him. It transformed her,” says Anderson. “I feel like there just aren’t enough psychology courses in interior design. Truly, it can be incredibly therapeutic.”
Anderson agrees that she likely has no concept of the ripple effects her handiwork has put out into the world. Helping people create spaces that improve organization, incite creativity, levitate their mood and dispel their depression, eradicate chaos and bring about order, while adding ambiance and personality, have likely inspired an infinite number of fresh ideas that have taken flight—from books to businesses to chart-topping songs.
“It’s wild to think about. I love to revisit with my clients years [after the job is done] and see how it has organized their life or inspired their life. Where you spend your time absolutely affects your mood and outlook, and it shapes you.”
She also understands that, wherever you are—whether out on the town for cocktails or lounging on your living room sofa, flipping through Netflix on a rainy Sunday afternoon—a feeling of comfort is essential, but this doesn’t mean you ever have to compromise self-expression and style. You can and should be supported and uplifted—in every facet—by your environment.
“My style is definitely more contemporary, but I always like for everything to be warm, friendly and pleasing to the senses. I want it to be about people enjoying each other and the environment they are in. That’s why I do what I do,” says Anderson.
Her collaboration with Eightmood is her first line of retail products, which Anderson says came about somewhat serendipitously. “I think you have to put out into the universe what you want. I became really focused on making it known that I would love to have my own line of home accessories,” she says. “I started looking at a few different vendors, but not aggressively. Rick and Melissa, my managers, went to a furniture market and randomly met someone from Eightmood. It was a moment where they were looking for me and I was looking for them.”
Eightmood released the Kathy Anderson collection, which currently houses about 30 pieces total—each carefully selected by Anderson and all reflective of the synergy between Scandinavian and American Southern cultures and style—in the fall of 2017. The brand will be releasing yet another collection by Anderson in the fall of 2018.
“What I love about my collaboration with them is that the pieces are so versatile. I can see them fitting one of my clients who is building a multimillion dollar house, but also someone moving into their first apartment,” says Anderson. “The quality is amazing, but it’s not just for wealthy people. It’s still affordable.”
The Kathy Anderson collection, which is available online as well as in select Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Bed, Bath & Beyond stores, balances the line between opulent and ornamental, practical and polished. It’s like comfort with a dousing of swank. There are feather-filled pillows made of crushed velvet and shiny gold fabrics. Soft carpets and sleek vases. A range of earth tones, metallics and jewel tones, some of the pieces appear to be a marriage of art deco, modern contemporary, and Southern warmth. There are also ceramics, reed diffusers, serving ware, trays and end tables. Many of the items seem to convey a confidence or romance in their own right. “I always design with the success of my clients in mind,” says Anderson.
And, though her craftsmanship now extends beyond her personal clientele, adding character, personality and soul to homes she will never step a foot into, it appears she has not strayed from her convictions. Even some of the pillows and napkins contain motivating words and phrases printed on them, such as, “Originality,” and “Good things take time.”
Kind of like Anderson’s 30-year career.