Around the Area Design Inspiration: Knoxville, TN

Travel down iconic Gay Street and into nearby Market Square for design ideas you can use in your own urban dwelling, from exposed brick to beautiful chandeliers.

By: Karin Beuerlein

A Moment in Time

The recently revamped Oliver Hotel is a downtown Knoxville hideaway with a long history—it’s been a bakery, an ice cream parlor, and a dance hall —and a hip bar, the Oliver Royale. The bar uses contemporary finishes with an old-fashioned flavor, like this Victorian-throwback basketweave ceramic tile paired with rich wood paneling.

Rustic Touch

The bar at Babalu Tapas and Tacos is chic and rustic—and gets an A+ for smart storage. The look starts with a DIY element: simple unpainted crate shelving backed with chicken wire that shows off whatever cool contents you’d like to display. Stainless steel racks for glassware hang underneath. Go all the way to the ceiling with your poster collection—those shown here are for local bands and events—and you’ve officially got yourself a vibe.

Festival of Lights

Chandeliers aren’t just for grandma’s dining room anymore—and if you have enough space to show off a group of mismatched chandeliers, go nuts and experiment. Local eatery Five Bar has an immense chandelier collection inside its cavernous space. At home, aim for a more rustic or industrial backdrop if your lighting fixtures are ornate and you want a hip look—otherwise you may actually end up with grandma’s dining room or a saloon.

Slender Silhouette

If your city garden is tiny but you’re hankering for some cool shade, a columnar tree—also known as a "fastigiate" tree—may be just the focal point you’re looking for. These 'Slender Silhouette' sweetgums in front of Knoxville’s Andrew Johnson Building fit the bill. They grow quite tall, but usually not more than about five feet wide, making them a great choice for urban garden design. Fun fact: this building was once a hotel, and is famous for being the last place country star Hank Williams stayed before he died.

Glamourous Glass

Is glass mosaic tile in? Is glass mosaic tile out? Who cares, if you have a big empty wall in need of a major style statement. The huge curving interior wall at Nama Sushi Bar is covered in a gleaming espresso-colored tile that lights up the whole room.

Do the Math

Storing wine bottles in a small urban kitchen can be a challenge, so take a tip from Knoxville’s Downtown Wine + Spirits: subdivide a square shelf diagonally to double your bottle-stacking space.

Mixed Media

Chivo Taqueria is a farm-to-table taco and tequila joint with décor that fuses rustic and industrial. The bold pendant lighting shown here was sourced from Mexico by Calloway’s Lamp & Shade in Knoxville , but if you’re trying to recreate a similar look at home and can’t find just the right fixtures, try retailers that specialize in furnishings for Spanish or Southwestern-style homes—or, for a slightly different twist, search for antique church lighting at vintage shops.

Country Meets City

Steal this idea from Chivo Taqueria for your breakfast nook: plain wooden bench seating with a tough-as-nails concrete tabletop.

Made to Order Patina

With its distressed brick walls and gleaming wooden lanes, downtown Knoxville’s Maple Hall bowling alley recaptures a bygone era. To get this time-worn look for your wall at home, you don’t have to wait for years to pass: just apply a whitewash of thinned latex paint to exposed brick until you reach the lightened shade you want.

All Over the Map

Coming up with a great focal point for the master bedroom can be a challenge, but this trick should spark your creativity. The Tennessean, a new upscale hotel in downtown Knoxville, uses a giant close-up of a local vintage map as pop art to show off a supple leather headboard.

Keep it Simple

Krutch Park near Knoxville’s Market Square district is a shady, inviting garden that employs a solid principle of design for small urban spaces: stick to a simple palette. The tiny park uses broad sweeps of just a few plant types for a calming effect: azaleas, hydrangeas, and cherry laurels are prominent.

What's Old is New Again

Knox Mason, a Southern-flavored restaurant tucked into the hip pocket of Gay Street’s 100 block, makes a style statement by mixing contemporary finishes with functional vintage décor. In the front of the house, this old file cabinet found a second life as a hostess stand.

Fancy Flooring

Overhead as you dine at Knox Mason, you’ll find a fresh, colorful take on the current trend of using flooring as a wall accent.

Local Artwork

The Emporium, a studio and gallery space on Gay Street and the home of Knoxville’s Arts & Culture Alliance, fills its industrial interior with works for sale by local artists. It’s a nice reminder to put down the home décor catalogs occasionally and shop for works by real live artists in your community.