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Joe and Ruth Fielden's Home Reflects its 1930s Provenance: Style Elegance

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Story by Gay Lyons | Photography by Ben Finch

During the several years Joe and Ruth Fielden spent renovating the home they purchased in 2013, they were led by the spirit and appearance of the home itself. “We tried very hard to let it be what it is,” said Ruth. “With every home I’ve lived in, I’ve tried to complement what was there.”

The home’s roots are in downtown Knoxville. “Elements of the home were moved from Main Street in downtown Knoxville [to the current location on Cherokee Boulevard] because the government wanted the land for the post office,” said Ruth.

“The owner, Dr. Nash, moved elements of what we believe was a Victorian house here.” “Most people know this as the old UT President’s house,” she continued. “It was on the market for a while. We didn’t want to see it torn down, and we thought we could do something with it. We knew it was going to be a project. We just didn’t know how far we would take it.”

The Fieldens replaced the tennis court with a swimming pool. They also added a garage to one end of the house and a sunroom at the other end. “With a Georgian house you need the symmetry,” Ruth explained.

The Fieldens were able to use most of the furnishings from their previous home though some have been repurposed, and they have purchased some new pieces. 

“The sunroom furniture was the living room furniture,” said Ruth. “The living room bookcase is now upstairs. The bookcase in the sunroom was in my sitting room.” “I knew what I had on moving day,” she continued, “but I wasn’t sure where some things were going to go. The sunroom was empty, so I told the movers to put things in there.”

Wood dating to the late 1800s is still evident throughout the first floor. While she appreciated its history and beauty, Ruth initially considered updating the look.

“This house is dark,” she said. “I wanted to paint to lighten it up, but Joe really didn’t want to. So I said, ‘If we’re not going to paint, I want lots of polish, lots of reflective polish. The silver and crystal in the butler’s pantry goes back to me wanting to be light and reflective.”

“I wanted this home to feel like it was still in the ‘30s, which is when it was put on this property,” said Ruth. “[Interior designer] Todd [Richesin] understood that. Todd and I collaborated well. I couldn’t have done it without him. I had very definite ideas, and he helped me bring it to fruition.”

The home’s Christmas decor was chosen to complement the 30’s look. “There are a lot of mercury balls on the mantles and on trees,” said Ruth. “Every bow in the reception room is hand tied. Small lights are accented by small batteryoperated taper lights. I told Todd to find candles. He called and said, ‘Ruth, I found candles. Now I need 50 batteries.’”

The home dresses up well for the holidays, but the Fieldens love the home year round. Joe was initially skeptical about the decor planned for the reception room, said Ruth. “He was worried when he heard we were planning to put two purple sofas in there. Two years later it’s his favorite room. It’s where he sits waiting for me to get ready.”

Ruth loves the dining room, which she decorated in soft colors. “I wanted soft, pearly, cream,” she said. “The wallpaper is French, hand painted. Todd had to make exact measurements. They had to make each panel.”

The Fieldens spend a lot of time in the sunroom addition, but Ruth said, “We end up spending more time in the sunroom in the winter than in the summertime. In the summer we spend more time on the veranda. I’m enjoying living here,” she said. “There’s a different view every day.”

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