Local Effort: Noelle nods to history in Nashville

For Noelle, a Tribute Portfolio hotel and adaptive-reuse property located in Nashville, TN, authenticity was key for reimagining the space. This meant keeping all things local, while weaving in some history.

Local started with the people, according to Nashville native Nick Dryden, principal, DAAD (Dryden Architecture And Design LLC) the architect and designer of the hotel, or as he refers to them, “Nashvillians.”

“From the beginning, the owner [Rockbridge] selected a design team that was based in Nashville so that the design could truly reflect the Nashville that we know,” he said. “Nashvillians are those of us who live, work and create here in Nashville. The design team is entirely made up of Nashvillians, and our moves—including using a local textile artist’s fabric for the rooftop bar, a local leather artisan’s bar stools, and commissioning artwork that focuses on the portraiture of Nashvillians—are reflections of our city because we are here all day, every day.”

The 224-room property was one of the city’s first Art Deco spaces—the former Noel Place—and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It converted back to a hotel in 2017, and is now part of Boutique Row, a tribute to the city’s maker community.

“When we started, it was not Boutique Row. There were several hotels in the early design and restoration phase, so we knew Noelle would have company very quickly, but we trusted that each property would have a unique take on Nashville, and that has proven to be true,” Dryden said.

The team worked with local craftsmen and artists early on, who all shared a passion for the community and homegrown designers. These local materials include furnishings, artwork, light fixtures, restaurant tables, millwork and retail displays. 

“We also designed the ceiling treatment in the guestrooms as an abstraction of the city plan, so that is definitely a wink that you’d miss if you didn’t know it was there,” he added.

Originally constructed in 1930, the space was sacred, and as with many adaptive-reuse projects, blending the new and old was paramount but also challenging for the team.

“When we start with an existing building, our first role is as historian and explorer. That effort often leads to interesting stories that connect the building to the community and offers the design team an opportunity to continue that relationship,” Dryden said.

The 1930s in Nashville was prime—a booming downtown with retail and hotel openings—and now, Nashville is seeing a resurgence after a slowdown in the 1980s and 1990s.

“We wanted to make sure we created spaces that would support that renewed interest,” while using history as a reference point, he said.

This renewed interest is marked by increased occupation and investments in the downtown area, making the city more attractive to hotel developers, Dryden explained, especially in older properties like Noelle, that big brands may be less apt to occupy.

According to Dryden, travelers’ interest in design is also on the rise, paving the way for Boutique Row and more. 

“You never know what you will find inside a wall, so we are constantly shifting the design to accommodate discoveries,” he said.

Dryden worked with his team and the contractor early on to identify areas to preserve. “Our goal was to augment the existing so that it is still the focal point,” he said. “Most people I know love a good story, so the stories that can be told by old buildings are ones that guests appreciate. At Noelle, the mezzanine with that brass rail was included in the hotel as a ‘courting parlor’ so that guests could meet with their visitors without being seen by everyone in the main lobby. By keeping the mezzanine open during the renovation, we were able to maintain that relationship and hopefully spark someone’s curiosity.”

Because the property had undergone several renovations throughout the years, these original features were hard to come by, Dryden said, but Noelle’s Trade Room bar had retained much of its original form, which is where the team focused its efforts.

“Most cities in the U.S. have an incredible stock of existing buildings, and as architects and designers, we are always looking for the most sustainable means to achieve our clients’ goals. That often results in finding an existing structure that can be repurposed rather than starting from scratch,” Dryden said.

For the Trade Room, these included the space’s terrazzo floors, wood windows, plaster ceilings, marble columns, brass railings and travertine walls, which were all cleaned and repaired, but not all of the hotel could be restored to its original grandeur.

The existing brass handrail along the mezzanine overlooking the Trade Room had a patina to the metal and Art Deco motif, but was not strong enough for a modern hotel, Dryden explained, so the team added additional brass legs to the handrail that anchored it to the floor.

“Custom construction is getting more and more expensive, leading owners away from highly detailed, ornate or decorative design elements,” Dryden said. “Buildings built during a more elaborate era often have custom architectural and decorative details, like the marble stairs and terrazzo floors at Noelle, that are difficult to replicate in new-construction, so finding a building with character like this is valuable.”

A hotel originally opened by the Noel family decades ago, the property still holds its history, appealing to a new generation of Nashvillians and visitors.

“The rich historic characteristics were originally meant to make people feel welcome, and we are committed to that today, not only in design but programming and service to engage with the community in a genuine manner,” he said. HB

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