At the turn of the 20th century, East Nashville was considered a ‘country retreat.’ “Lately, the neighborhood has been booming with new builds, and the unfortunate go-to is to tear down some of these older, smaller, quirkier homes and replace them with aggressive new construction that tower over the rest of the block,” designer Chelsea M. Conrad says. “I was lucky enough to scoop this house from a developer who—for whatever reason—just sat on the property for years without tearing it down. My mission was to update it while honoring its Folk Victorian roots.”
Chelsea, who is the founder of CircDeco, set out to source every furniture item (and most materials and finishes) in an eco-conscious way: second-hand, antique, or locally and sustainably made. “The original idea came to me after I left a job at a large e-commerce furniture site,” she shares. “Witnessing the intense amount of waste the interior design industry creates was alarming.” She also had a lot of furniture available to me through family—her grandmother was an antique dealer. “I wanted to make that work; I love a puzzle,” she admits. “As designers, we have so much available on the secondary market through sites like Etsy, Chairish, 1stDibs, EBTH, and Facebook marketplace.”
Additionally, she turned to sites like Amazon, Lowes, and Pottery Barn, who offer significant “open box” discounts on pieces that have been returned. “I always start with second-hand sites when working on a new project,” she says. “Knowing I could furnish the entire house with previously loved products made me want to see if I could do the whole renovation that way. It was definitely a more difficult task but an incredible learning experience.
Chelsea admits the task was well, not easy. “Finding enough second-hand and sustainable building materials to outfit the whole house was challenging. Where we had to buy new, we tried to purchase locally and worked with sites like Terrapass and Project Wren to carbon offset these purchases,” she says. “Also, I started this process at the height of COVID. Getting permits approved and contractors on the job took a lot of work. I offered my firstborn—kidding—but it came down to the character of the contractors. They were making upwards of $36 an hour on quick new builds elsewhere (something I could not compete with), and the ones who stayed with me came after hours and on weekends to complete this project. We lost a few along the way, but I am forever grateful to the ones who stuck it out. My fiancé and I also had to DIY some of it. We have a fascinating YouTube history.”
It took over two years, but the process—and all of its roadblocks—were well worth it in the end. Chelsea shares more in the slideshow.