“If I could be and live outside, all day, every day, I would,” Colleen Locke says. Of course, she’s an interior designer, so she’s also fond of home life, hot water, and fine furniture. Her compromise: a midcentury Hendersonville, Tennessee, lake house that’s surrounded by towering birch trees, with bright, white, sun-soaked rooms; a high-ceilinged, screened-in porch that’s about as close as she could get to a backyard with a roof; and a long wooden stairway leading down to her very own boat on the water. “Yes, everybody always says, ‘Bring the outdoors in,’ but there’s so much truth to that,” she insists. “Natural light and the sense of being outside just makes you feel better.”
That’s why, whether it’s the dead of summer or the chillier fall months, Colleen and her husband, Kevin, can most often be found in the out-of-doors. Or, at least, the almost out-of-doors. “I will sit on that deck in 95-degree weather; I don’t care how hot it is,” she laughs. “And there’s nothing better than sitting out there when the weather turns cool, watching football, and watching the leaves change.”
“It’s a modest house. But I think we’ve maximized every single inch of it.”
The Lockes spend about half the year in Hendersonville. (The other half, they live in Nashville, where Colleen is currently working on the top-to-bottom renovation of a 148-year-old building that will serve as the home of her upcoming venue and event space, Alabaster Collective.) But when she and Kevin aren’t there, the lake house doesn’t sit empty; it becomes a welcome retreat for family, friends, and acquaintances looking to enjoy the bright, breezy comforts of life by the water. “We ended up copying the keys and sending sets to people who we thought could use a vacation,” Colleen says. “It’s something we were inspired to do by the folks who lived here before us.”
We’ve tried to make this lake house a place where people feel welcomed, where family and friends can freely come and go.
Built in the late 1960s, the lake house was owned for decades by a pastor and his wife. “They had lived in this house for over 30 years, raised their kids, and they were very attached to it,” Colleen explains. “They were retiring, and it was very hard for them to sell the house, so they wanted to meet us before the sale was finalized.”
The Lockes met the old owners, and they quickly bonded. “As pastors, I don’t think they made a whole lot of money. They didn’t live large, but they felt like it was such a gift that they’d been able to live in this house that sat on the lake, with a boat in the backyard,” Colleen says. “They were humble people, and they wanted to pass the torch to us. They wrote us the sweetest, longest letter. It was a tender exchange, and it made us want to serve as good stewards for this house.”
The Lockes, like the pastor and his wife, are Christians, and they decided that they wanted the lake house to be more than just their own summer home. “We have a lot of friends in ministry who are full-time missionaries,” Colleen explains. “Every time that we spend time at the lake house, we feel like we’re on vacation, and we wanted our friends and family to have that opportunity, too. We told them, ‘You can come anytime you want. You don’t even need to ask.’”
Another thing the Lockes did out of respect for the previous owners and a particular feeling of responsibility to this house: they limited the renovations to just a few cosmetic updates. Most of the exterior was painted black, as a bold counterpoint to the home’s leafy surroundings. The interior was painted bright white, to bring in the natural light that Colleen can’t live without. And finally, she had a pair of powdery blue doors hung at the front of the house, “as a soft and significant contrast with both the white and the black,” she says. “It’s about finding that balance between soft and hard.”
In their 27 years together, Colleen and Kevin have purchased, renovated, and sold eight houses as they’ve moved for life and work, raising three kids and pursuing their careers. Their first was a tiny, 150-year-old cottage in Hudson, Ohio, that they had to strip down to the studs. “And the lake house,” she points out, “is decorated with a collection of pieces that have made it through the sales of all of our different houses.” There is her quirky assemblage of candlesticks, an impressive array of ornate armchairs, and an elegantly roughed-up antique dresser in the dining room. (“It was such a great find. I paid $150 for that piece,” Colleen recalls. “I was like, ‘This is going to be a lifer!’ The patina on it is worth $50 alone.”)
There’s also her assortment of richly hued vintage rugs throughout the house, a few flashy golden candelabra sconces fixed to the walls, and an enormous oxidized-copper-colored mirror that backs the living room’s minibar. (“That mirror is a very old find,” she says. “It’s actually painted wood.”) And then there is her more modern stuff, such as the curious convex-mirror objet that hangs above the fireplace, a few dozen favorite works of abstract art, and a clutch of midcentury furniture to match the age and era of the lake house itself.
“I have an instinct for balancing mixes of different styles,” Colleen says of her high-contrast approach to the home’s decor. “Again, for me, it’s about always finding the balance between hard and soft. Modern design always has much harder, cleaner lines, while older styles have softer, more voluptuous qualities. I will never have a house that’s purely modern, and I will never have a house that’s purely antique.
“I believe in buying what you love, midcentury or last century, and making it work. That’s what I do. It’s instinctual. And that’s why if I were to go back to any of my homes, I feel like I could live in them today.”