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Coming Home

In July 2017, Michelle Hardin, Senior Vice President and Manager of Medical Private Banking and Client Services at First Tennessee Bank, and Larry Kleinman, Head of Human Resources at Highmark, made two big moves: they got married, and they purchased a 7,800 square foot house in the West Knoxville neighborhood where Michelle grew up and where her parents have lived for 53 years.

Michelle loved the 3,600 square foot house in West Hills she’d lived in for 22 years, but she and Larry were looking for a home to purchase together.

“We needed a home that felt like ‘ours,’” said Michelle. “ We also needed a place for Larry’s kids and family when they come to town.”

Michelle wasn’t immediately drawn to the idea of living in the neighborhood where she grew up.

“I didn’t want to live out here again. I look outside and see my childhood,” said Michelle, pointing to the horses running in the field behind the home. “My parents live down the road. I used to walk through that field to get to my horse. But we walked in this house, and I said,’I’m home.’ I changed some paint colors and some lighting, and apparently I’m more of a clothes horse than [the previous owner] because I had to expand the closet.” Michelle figured out how to make what she already had work in the space.

“This house is more open,” she said. “It’s brighter. The other house was more traditional, darker. People say in this house, you really see the furniture. People think it must be new stuff, but it’s not. Things look completely different in this house. An open floor plan is a challenge to decorate; it has to flow. When you’re used to small rooms, the space is the biggest challenge. How do you make it cozy and homey?”

“I decorated the same as the West Hills house,” she continued. “I kept true to what feels homey to me. I always want a room to look warm, to look like someone lives there and not like a museum. I’m very old school. I like darker; I like wools and a lot of texture in my fabrics.”
“I remember coming in and thinking ‘I’m not sure how I feel about a green kitchen,’” she said, “but I like it. One great thing about the island is the electrical outlets, but one thing I miss: in West Hills, the stove was in the island, and I could face people when I cooked. Now I have my back to you.”

“I love to cook,” she said. “I’m originally from Sevier County, so I cook meat and potatoes. If I had a ‘go to’ dish, it’d probably be meatloaf, mashed potatoes and broccoli casserole. Or Shrimp Diablo. Or the Barefoot Contessa’s beef tenderloin. I love china, and I use it every day. My parents started Sunday night dinner when I was in college, and I love keeping up that tradition for the family."

“I love the fireplace in the kitchen,” said Michelle. “We have coffee in front of it. We sit and have wine in front of the fire in the living room. I’m always in front of a fire. I’m just a little pyromaniac. I keep a fire going all the time.”

There are also fireplaces on the porch and in the large room Michelle and Larry call “The Shark Room” because the previous owners had a shark displayed on the wall. There are no sharks in the room, which was an indoor pool a couple of owners ago, now, but there is a large turkey that Michelle says people either love or hate.

“I still buy stuff. It’s a hobby and a habit,” Michelle said. “ I’m always looking. I never want it to look like I went into a showroom and said,’I’ll take it.’ When we travel I like to pick up something to remind us of the trip. It can be something teeny. It’s things found over time.”

“I want it to look inviting,” she said. “I’m Monica from ‘Friends.’ I want people to enjoy themselves. While I miss the memories of the old house, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I have definitely come home.”

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