Growing up in Nashville, Holly Williams and her older sister, Hilary, didn’t live like country-music royalty. Sure, their father, Hank Williams Jr., was among the biggest honky-tonk superstars in America. And yes, their grandfather—Hank Williams Sr., the original country outlaw—was nearly every living country singer’s favorite classic country singer. “But my father tried to do everything he could to keep our lives as ordinary as possible,” Holly says. “We were just nice folks in a nice, middle-class home near the mall.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some out-of-the-ordinary moments. “Every once in a while, my dad would roll into the neighborhood in a limo to take us to a concert, and the neighbors would get all stirred up,” she recalls with a laugh. “You know, he was playing for 30,000 people every night, so I wasn’t oblivious to his success. But he and my mom, even though they split when I was two, always had a great relationship, and they did a great job of making sure that my father’s fame never had any kind of negative impact on us.”
The Williams sisters, Hank Jr., and their mother, Becky White, just tried to abide by family tradition, leading full yet simple lives like all of their hard-working ancestors, who’d been lumber cutters, factory workers, shopkeepers, and farmers. “My mother’s parents”—Grandpa and Grandma White—“were especially important to me and my way of thinking about living,” Holly says. “My grandfather, he was a simple cotton farmer. But he was a great artist, too. He would paint these rural scenes and incredible pickle sketches. Their home was just a mix of art, things from that time, and antiques and family heirlooms. It was a warm, modern Southern home.”
As a singer-songwriter, Holly has not only drawn on the wit and inventiveness that she inherited from Grandpa Hank for her three albums: 2004’s The Ones We Never Knew, 2009’s Here with Me, and 2013’s The Highway; she’s also infused her songs with the modest knack for living simply and with style that she learned from Grandpa and Grandma White. Those same talents and lessons also figure into her work for H. Audrey, a Nashville women’s boutique that she opened in 2007, as well as the two businesses named for her mother’s parents: White’s Mercantile, a modern-day, multilocation general store that she’s run since 2013, and White’s Room and Board, a small-town-getaway rental company that launched last year.
“My first passion was always songwriting,” Holly insists. “But I love curating my stores, just collecting all of the best things that I find while I’m on the road or wandering around Nashville. And then about a year after I got married [to musician and artist Chris Coleman], that’s when I got serious about flipping houses and renovating old country homes.” In the last three years alone, she’s flipped eight houses. And for White’s Room and Board, she’s renovated three currently bookable properties: a farmhouse in Cornersville, Tennessee; three clustered cabins in the Tennessee hills; and a 126-year-old Victorian cottage in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee.
“The cottage, that’s where I lived when I was trying to get my music career rolling,” Holly explains. “But I rented it back then.” She was in her early 20s. She spent her nights playing the clubs in Nashville. “And I worked at the sandwich shop next door to the cottage during the days.” After Holly scored the record contract that she’d been chasing and moved out of the lovely little place, it became home to a string of businesses, including an insurance office, and it lost some of its small-town charm over the next decade. It was painted the wrong colors. Generic signs marred the facade. “But I kept an eye on it all those years,” she says. “And when it finally went up for sale, I called a couple of my friends [Leiper’s Fork husband-and-wife preservationists Aubrey and Michele Preston], just hollering, ‘We need to buy this house!’”
Holly and the Prestons closed the deal on the cottage in 2016. And, thankfully, most of the changes made to accommodate the insurance office and other business tenants had been strictly superficial. “The bones of the place were still good,” Holly says. “And there was a lot of historic detail that hadn’t been messed with too much.” The original tin roof remained intact. The antique windows needed only some cleanup and maintenance. But, like any house built 126 years ago, there were certain parts of the cottage that required real work, especially the kitchen and bathroom. “We gutted them,” she admits. “It had to be done.”
We all have our stories. All houses have stories, too. And I love to help tell those stories.
Butcher-block counters, a big farmhouse sink, subway-tile backsplash, mint-green Smeg fridge, Bertazzoni gas range, and a whole wall covered in chalkboard paint for shopping lists and in-the-moment recipe notes give the kitchen a playfully modern, utilitarian vibe, while a vintage chandelier, House of Hackney’s London Rose wallpaper, and a narrow gothic window add a dash of eccentric Southern glamour. In the bathroom, she handled the renovations with the same sort of élan: papering the walls in pink and gold, installing a flashy brass console sink, and insisting on the necessity of a soaking tub.
Holly’s fun and freewheeling modern-meets-Southern take on design and decor romps through the cottage’s five other rooms, too. There are two gallery walls in the dining room, inspired by the ones put up many years ago by Grandma White; but instead of art, Holly uses old, mismatched plates and antique mirrors to create her curated displays. Meanwhile, in the mostly white family room, there’s an unexpected accent wall: the ceiling, papered with a cloud print. Elsewhere, she plays more pretty wallpaper and ornate crystal chandeliers off exposed brick walls and rustic farm furniture. And in a side lot next door to the cottage, there’s another surprise: a 140-square-foot outpost of White’s Mercantile, nicknamed White’s Mercantiny, in an old wood-log smokehouse.
If guests happen to find Holly at the cottage, they shouldn’t be afraid to make a request or two. (Say, “The Highway,” off her 2013 album.) She keeps two Gibson guitars hung on the walls of the Writer’s Room for a reason.
“Looking back, I realize that my grandmother pulled that sort of trick in her home—mixing old and new, familiar and odd—without me even noticing it at the time. She would pair family heirlooms with a modern light fixture and a quirky painting,” Holly says. “She and my grandfather taught me so many things, and using the unexpected in a home that’s still warm, chic, and Southern isn’t the least of their lessons.”