Green Design: Keeping the Nashville Charm

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Green Design: Keeping the Nashville Charm

Nashville and the surrounding communities are full of historic areas that are reemerging, being redeveloped, and changing at an incredibly rapid rate. Attracting people to these areas are the charm of their structures, walk-ability, and accessibility. Preserving these existing structures, both residentially and commercially, maintains the character and history of our most popular neighborhoods while demonstrating age-old sustainability.  

In addition to charm and history, what makes a structure worth saving? History buffs might consider an old house to be historic because of who occupied it at one time during its long life. Others might consider an old house to be historic because of a particular architectural style. Decorators and carpenters might consider an old house historic because of its elaborate interior trim work and four panel doors. For some it’s an appreciation of memories that have been made there.

Restoring, using, and improving what exists is the ultimate in recycling and reduces landfill waste, consumption, energy, transportation, manufacturing emissions, and has cost-saving value to the owner.

Wood used in historic homes came from old growth trees (translation: their strength, hardness, and durability are unlike any wood studs or hardwood floors we use today). Maintenance goes a long way in creating something to last. Keep your wood caulked, painted, sealed/waxed, and clean-up spills quickly. These are all key habits to keep long lasting materials in good condition.

When considering reviving a historic structure, review existing materials and spaces. How can they be repaired, modified, and/or reinvented for better use? How can space be better utilized? This is what designers call creative problem solving!

Because energy saving technologies were not well developed, older homes were designed to take advantage of nature’s best characteristics: air flow, natural daylight, and sheltering foliage. Many of our historic neighborhoods are blessed with mature trees acting as natural shades from the sun. Expansive and numerous windows found in historic buildings provide daylight harvesting, resulting in significantly lower lighting needs and energy costs. Large and plentiful windows also created cooling cross-breezes long before HVAC was developed.

So what about the days when we feel the Southern humidity taking its toll? That’s when we rely on the latest in high energy-efficient HVAC systems that can save energy and money. This is an area in which homeowners should plan to spend money and not keep the original HVAC unit.

Today’s best air conditioners use far less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as air conditioners made in the mid-1970’s. Even if an air conditioner is a young 10 years old, the homeowner may save significantly on cooling energy costs by investing in a more efficient model. Products with EPA’s Energy Star Label can save homeowners 10 to 40 percent on annual heating and cooling bills. This also goes for appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and dryers.

When choosing finishes and fixtures for your restoration/remodeling project, consider how your selections will affect indoor air quality, maintenance, and utility costs. Preferred products to select will not off-gas after installation (no-VOCs or formaldehyde), are easy to care for, and are from renewable resources.

altRenewable resource-based materials such as wood, bamboo, palm wood, wheatboard, sunflower seed board, and concrete can be friendly to human health as well as to Mother Earth. Recycled materials such as paper countertops, reclaimed lumber, denim- and soy-based insulation, and glass tiles can add beauty to any space. When considering lighting fixtures, preference should consider energy-saving bulbs such as fluorescents, LEDs, or similar light sources for their ability to conserve energy and reduce heat gain. Solar powered lighting is also eco-friendly.

altSo, when considering a remodeling or renovation project, give thought to the materials you select. Utilize what already exists, create a space-saving plan, and choose materials that require little maintenance. Make smart decisions about flooring, paint, light fixtures, appliances, HVAC systems, and tile. Your choices can contribute to a more sustainable future while maintaining the charm of our historic and treasured older neighborhoods. Have fun, and restore responsibly.—By Hannah Masterson  of Beth Haley Design 

Editor’s Note: Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes. Hannah Masterson is an allied member of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). E-mail your questions to her at or visit

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