On August 8, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Keith Lundin ruled in favor of Richard Demonbreun in his suit against Ann Coleman regarding issues discussed in the story below. To read a copy of the ruling, click here.
Tiffany Devine and Kevin Perry rumbled into Nashville in a rented minivan stuffed with all the trappings of a wedding. Her ivory gown was tucked somewhere in between the champagne-colored bridesmaid dresses, the four-button tuxedo jackets and any number of things strewn across the seats and floorboard. From the unity candle to the custom-made candy favors for the guests, it was all there.
At 35, Tiffany didn't have some grand expectation for what her wedding should be. What she wanted was simple: an understated, outdoor wedding with an English garden ambiance. Though she now lives in Los Angeles, Tiffany met her would-be husband as a teenager at Henry County High School in New Castle, Ky., and the couple wanted a wedding close to home.
With its original, rich mahogany columns, oak flooring and chandelier-laden ceilings, the 1906 Timothy Demonbreun House was an easy sell for the destination wedding. And owner Richard Demonbreun's promise of a front-lawn wedding at the Woodland-in-Waverly mansion turned bed and breakfast—with the dogwoods and azaleas abloom—was all the sales pitch Tiffany needed.
The couple rolled up to the home at 746 Benton Ave. on the evening of April 11—a mere two days before their wedding. They skirted in through the beveled-glass door on the tails of two bed and breakfast guests returning from dinner, with Tiffany toting her lace-lined gown and Kevin wrestling with the tuxes.
But Demonbreun wasn't around for check-in. Somewhere amid carrying all those armloads of wedding gear, a middle-aged woman with bright blond hair, lightly teased, and a sweet Southern smile greeted Tiffany and Kevin. “I remember thinking, 'Who the hell is this person?!? I’ve never seen her before!' ” Tiffany writes in an email to the Scene. “I thought she looked a little taken aback by all the stuff we were dragging in. But then, I was worried about getting everything wrinkled—I didn’t know I should be worried about whether the event would even take place....”
The mystery blonde showed the couple to one of the home's five bedrooms. The small suite Demonbreun promised was under construction, so the woman led them to the well-appointed bridal suite. Tiffany had a hard time wrapping her head around the crystal chandelier, clawfoot tub and hanging all those dresses. She hadn't even thought to ask why Demonbreun, the man who had booked her wedding, taken her catering and cake order—and thousands of dollars in payment for the use of his home and services—was nowhere to be found.
The explanation was unsettling. The blonde helped the couple get settled and introduced herself as Ann Coleman, the new owner of the Demonbreun House. She said she had moved into the 10,000-square-foot mansion only a week before. And the previous owner? Gone. Along with the couple's deposit and all the painstakingly detailed plans they had made. Tiffany had spoken with Demonbreun on the phone earlier that day, but he never mentioned that he sold the home—or that he wouldn't be around for their wedding.
Coleman just looked at them and said, “What did he promise you?” After months of planning, phone calls, emails and even a trip across the country just to touch base with Demonbreun about all those details, Tiffany's list was expansive. Wedding for 50, with Tiffany and Kevin perched between the classic, white columns on the front porch. Roast beef carving station. An open bar. A cake plucked from Demonbreun's online gallery, which features a bevy of confections with impeccably smooth fondant complexions. Amplified music outside. Rooms for the couple and a handful of family members at the mansion. And on and on.
In the two days that followed, Coleman picked up the pieces: the rehearsal dinner, wedding, reception and staffing for all of the festivities—everything on her own dime. Except the cake. When Tiffany returned from the nail salon the day of the wedding, Kevin pulled her aside and told her that Demonbreun's cake never materialized. “I just accepted the fact that I wasn't going to get the picture on the website,” she says. “We didn't freak out. There was no point. The best we could do was figure it out and move forward.”
In the end, the couple married at the newly named Ainsworth Inn. And though it all worked out in the end, Tiffany says the stress nearly soured the festivities. Both Coleman and Tiffany say that Demonbreun didn't make arrangements for his successor to carry out the wedding plans.
Yet Coleman says she couldn't turn the couple away, or any couples who would show up dazed on her doorstep thereafter. “If they already paid the money to someone else, the brides can't pay for their weddings again—you can't expect them to,” she says. “I just said, 'It's a new day, and something special is going to happen here.' I was trying to do the right thing.” In the months to follow, Coleman says she did the “right thing” again and again, contract after contract. But not all of the brides would fare as well as Tiffany.
Tiffany says she should've seen it coming. Some quick Internet research on Demonbreun and his historic home venue would've raised a few proverbial red flags. Web reviews of the Demonbreun House are less than stellar. A guest who had traveled from Maryland for a 2006 wedding writes that Demonbreun was rude and that his staff was “declaring how they could not wait until the wedding was over so that they could go home.” (link)
On the same travel review website, a Cleveland guest complains that Demonbreun forgot to cook breakfast for his inn guests. When Demonbreun did show up, he told guests that he was stressed out and that he missed breakfast because it was his day to drive the kids following his divorce, according to the post. Demonbreun did show up for breakfast the next morning—in his bathrobe. “We were very polite but just weren't comfortable being treated like that so we agreed with him to leave a day early...,” the guest writes. Demonbreun promised a refund, which, as of the date of the guest's post, two-and-a-half months later, still had not arrived. The complaint ends with this warning: “P.S.—the house is very handsome but who wants to pay $200 a night to be treated like you're a bothersome intruder on his life” (link).
Over the years, Demonbreun has had bigger problems than a bad web wrap. A historic home renovator, bed and breakfast operator, party planner—and, oh yes, a lawyer and direct descendant of Timothy Demonbreun, one of the Nashville's first settlers—Demonbreun has also been a lightning rod of controversy in the Woodland-in-Waverly neighborhood.
To be fair, Demonbreun bought the bedraggled old home in 1995 (at the bargain-basement price of $195,000) and waded through all the rust, rot and severe dilapidation and made extensive repairs to the mansion. The tax assessor's office now appraises the home at $950,000. The upgrade has undoubtedly upped the property values of his neighbors, but many have never wanted any of the homes along their breezy, tree-lined streets to be used for commercial ventures. And when the Board of Zoning Appeals granted Demonbreun a special permit to host events in 2000, the neighbors got restless. They feared an increase in traffic, parking troubles and loud events with exploding guest numbers.
In many ways, those fears were realized. As reported here (“A War in Woodland,” June 27, 2002), Demonbreun's neighbors stormed a zoning board meeting in 2001 to complain that he violated several of the eight conditions outlined in his 2000 permit. In the original permit, the board stipulated that, among other things, Demonbreun could host no more than two functions per week, had to provide valet parking and had to limit guest numbers to 150. After the neighbors testified that Demonbreun wasn't exactly following the rules, allegations that he denied, the board revoked Demonbreun's permit.
But Demonbreun defied the board and continued hosting weddings and other events in the name of his dedication to honoring outstanding contracts. Even after the board gave Demonbreun a second chance and granted his application for another permit (with a host of additional conditions) in 2002, things didn't get much better. Neighbors still complained that the historic home events disrupted the neighborhood and that Demonbreun continued to violate the conditions. Some of those complaints led the zoning board to slap Demonbreun with citations. And by 2006, the list of conditions that Demonbreun had to follow just to operate his event venue had ballooned from eight to 17.
Still, Demonbreun didn't do much to make nice. He wrote a series of vitriol-laced letters to one neighborhood naysayer, William Cochran, who lived directly across the street from the Demonbreun House. Cochran wanted his neighbor's event business restricted. For that, Demonbreun wrote the man some not-so-neighborly letters in which he called Cochran an “asshole” and a “pompous bastard” who “grew up with a silver spoon stuck up [his] ass.”
Back then, Demonbreun told the Scene that personal circumstances and financial difficulties drove him to make some comments he regretted. But that didn't stop him from butting heads with Cochran again in April 2005, when he sued Cochran for mowing his lawn one Saturday afternoon—while Demonbreun was hosting an outdoor wedding. Cochran maintains that he intended to finish his yard work before the ceremony. Demonbreun sought $50,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, but Cochran says his neighbor dropped the suit in early 2006. He says the suit was a “frivolous kind of thing” designed to intimidate him.
Even though Demonbreun no longer lives in the mansion or operates the business that once bore the name of his famous forefather, he still has managed to leave a holy mess of confusion and would-be bridezillas in his wake. Just ask Deby, who asked that the Scene not use her real name in this story.
Her story starts out much like Tiffany's. She saw the home, fell in love with its traditional elegance and paid Demonbreun a deposit of more than $2,700 to reserve the venue for her May 2007 wedding. After she cut the check, Deby says she had little communication with Demonbreun. She tried to nail down the arrangements via a series of emails in which she interchanged declarations of bridal glee with a tempered assault of the normal questions: salad or crudités? Almond flavor for the cake? Which napkins for the buffet?
She says Demonbreun rarely replied. And when he did, he didn't answer her questions specifically—until early April, which coincides with the time Coleman says she moved into the home. At that point, Deby says Demonbreun began to answer her emails very quickly. He also began tagging a note to the bottom of many of the emails: please send your credit card information. “We didn't think it was odd that he was wanting payments because all of our other vendors needed payment 30 days before the event,” she says. “We had already paid every other vendor. We just wanted to make sure we paid him on time.”
On May 3, Deby sent her mother's credit card number to Demonbreun to cover the remaining charges. At that point, Deby says he accepted her payment of more than $5,000, even though he no longer lived in the Demonbreun House. Two days after Deby made that payment, her mother received a phone call. It was Coleman. She said Demonbreun had informed her that Deby was planning an upcoming event at the house and she wanted to talk details. The bridal party was floored. The very next day, her wedding only two weeks away, Deby met with Coleman to re-plan the wedding. But for Deby, it wasn’t quite as easy to emerge from wedding ground zero.
She says Demonbreun didn't make arrangements for her cake or the open bar. Less than a week before her wedding, Deby and her fiancé scrambled to find a local bakery willing to take a last-minute cake order and to get to a liquor store, where she persuaded employees to help her compile the list of the alcohol she would need and to call distributors that very night to ensure that the alcohol would be delivered by Thursday.
But Deby's fancy footwork wasn't quite enough to make the wedding Demonbreun promised a reality. While Coleman was able to do all of the cooking and catering herself, provide a full serving staff, a bartender and a valet, Coleman refused to do what Demonbreun would: defy the conditions the Board of Zoning Appeals had applied to events at the home. Plus, she had no designs on pissing off the neighbors.
On May 17, Coleman had appeared before the board to secure her very own special events permit to operate her business, Ainsworth Hospitality, at the now-infamous 746 Benton Ave. The board approved her application but stipulated, among other things, that she could not hold events of any kind on the front lawn (or outside of the home at all, including the porches), could not play any amplified music and that the guest count couldn't exceed 125.
One board member said Coleman's kindness in honoring brides' contracts was a “very good gesture,” and the board ruled that the new restrictions would be effective immediately. But in light of the brides literally showing on Coleman's doorstep, the board decided to allow her to continue to honor Demonbreun's commitments, so long as the events did not violate any of the 2006 conditions the board had placed on Demonbreun.
That meant no amplified music outside. As for the three-piece jazz trio the couple had hired? They'd have to squeeze inside with the rest of the couple's 110 guests. The music part shouldn't have been news to the couple because the zoning board had established the no-amplified-music-outside condition long before Deby even thought of getting married at the Demonbreun House. But Deby says Demonbreun didn’t tell his clients that. Even though Coleman could've allowed the couple to be married outside, she knew it was a sore spot for the neighbors. And as she puts it, she’s trying to do right by her neighbors.
Deby now says that if Demonbreun would've been honest with her, she would have been happy to work with him and Coleman to figure it all out. “But it was like the whole time, he was being sneaky, he was hiding things,” she says. “You're in a very vulnerable position as a bride. I didn't want to do something that was going to jeopardize my wedding.... And to take advantage of someone in that vulnerable of a position, it's just not right.”
Though Deby's mother has contacted Demonbreun to try to recoup the money, Deby says Demonbreun's response was simple: no refund was due. In an email to the Scene, Deby writes about an email that Demonbreun sent to her mother, in which he wrote “we substantially complied with our contractual obligation to you.” Deby writes that she's “not sure who 'we' is, but Ann is the one who provided services to me, not Richard. We were then told [by Demonbreun] that we should have our attorney contact him if we wanted to take further action.”
Deby isn't the only one confused about Demonbreun's business relationship with Coleman. It seems that the pair can't get it straight either. As she sits on a couch in one of the mansion's many sitting rooms, in front of a towering mahogany and Italian cream marble fireplace, Coleman talks about Demonbreun's misgivings with a bless-his-heart Southern demeanor. She says she bought the home on April 5 and, almost immediately, unannounced brides and guests began appearing at her door. “Sometimes things just fall through the cracks,” she says. “I'm sure that he probably deleted those [brides'] files from his BlackBerry. I had just planned that for about six months, we would probably have a little transition phase where we didn't maybe communicate as well.”
For Coleman, that transition has come at a steep cost. She won't say how many Demonbreun brides she's bailed out or how much it's cost, but she will say that Demonbreun hasn't reimbursed her. And she says he didn't give her a discount on the home to make these weddings happen, though she says he did provide her with some scant, incomplete records of his yet-to-be-filled bridal contracts. She hopes to write off the expenses as staff training.
It's hard to believe that Coleman would spend thousands of dollars out of the goodness of her heart to accommodate brides who drop by at all hours expecting a wedding. But maybe that's what friends are for. After all, Coleman says she still considers Demonbreun a close friend.
Maybe that's why she tries to explain away Demonbreun's shortcomings. She says she believes, at some point, that Demonbreun will “pay that money” (though she doesn't specify to whom). She says she thinks Demonbreun dropped the ball because he had some problems of some sort and the business became more than he could handle. “The turmoil that happened in this neighborhood was emotionally difficult for Richard,” she says. “I think there are personal issues in his life right now that might make it hard....”
But if Coleman and Demonbreun are, indeed, so close, it seems she would've known what she was in for when she bought the place. Or that she would've at least made a friendly inquiry to Demonbreun about the brides to whom he'd promised her home. Coleman plays it off like it never occurred to her to ask.
She does divulge that she “would have much preferred” for Demonbreun to make arrangements for the brides to pay Ainsworth Hospitality for the weddings. When questioned about whether he reimbursed Coleman for her expenses, Demonbreun says “there’s no Ms. Coleman’s expense” because she “hasn't paid anything out of her pocket that I'm not responsible for...that is not being paid for through both of us.” In fact, he says he and Coleman are “still very much partners.”
When first asked about his business relationship with Coleman in a recent phone conversation with the Scene, Demonbreun says “there are no issues between Ann and I.” But minutes later, upon hearing that Coleman has alleged that she's footed the bill for his weddings, Demonbreun's description of the relationship doesn't sound quite as harmonious. “Ms. Coleman owes me a substantial amount for purchasing the home. So this is not a situation where Ms. Coleman is not being given money for what she's paid for. Believe me, she's way upside down on this deal,” he says and pauses for a laugh. “A small, little catering job is a small drop in the bucket compared to what that house is worth and the investment that's there and that she still has to pay for.” Then, he switches gears, calls Coleman a “dear friend” and says they will remain partners until she can close on her loan.
In fact, it’s unknown just exactly what the relationship or business arrangement there is or was between the two. There is no record of any loan. True to this he said-she said confusion, Coleman says she's the one who has loaned money to Demonbreun. Either way, the only record of any transaction between the two is a quitclaim deed prepared by Demonbreun and filed May 17, 2007 with the Davidson County Register of Deeds. According to the document, Demonbreun transferred the home to Coleman for the bargain price of $10,000. Coleman says she paid much more for the home, but won't specify how much. And Demonbreun says the Scene simply has “no business finding out [his] business relationship with Ms. Coleman.”
But Demonbreun did say that if this reporter didn't “get it straight,” the Scene could be on “the wrong end of a lawsuit.” He also says that, in the near-decade he ran the Demonbreun House, he had hundreds of happy customers. “And if your paper makes the mistake of publishing something that insinuates or suggests something and casts me in a false light, it will be serious trouble for you and your paper,” Demonbreun says. “And I don’t say that to threaten you, I say that to just let you know that I certainly am aware of what the law provides me and I will not be cast in a false light. As an attorney, I have a reputation to protect.”
It's Demonbreun's reputation that has brides such as Deby a little worried. She's heard talk that Demonbreun stalked an ex-wife, which is why she asked that the Scene not use her real name. A Murfreesboro woman has, in fact, filed a harassment complaint against Demonbreun, or as she refers to him in a September 2006 affidavit, her “soon to be exhusband [sic].”
According to an announcement on the Woodland-in-Waverly Neighborhood Association's website, Demonbreun married a woman named Stacey Tompson in June 2006. Roughly three months later, Tompson accused Demonbreun of repeatedly harassing her after police told him not to have contact with her. According to a September 2006 affidavit, Demonbreun went to Tompson's Murfreesboro apartment two days in a row and asked management for a key to her apartment. She also reports that he came to her door, posing as a maintenance man, and repeatedly sent her emails, some asking to resume their relationship and others requesting a divorce. According to the affidavit, Tompson was “in fear of what Mr. Demonbreun might do to her.”
Late last year, after a Rutherford County court issued a protective order against Demonbreun, a Murfreesboro police officer and Tompson filed affidavits alleging that Demonbreun violated that order on two occasions, the first of which occurred the very day he appeared in court on the order of protection. Demonbreun violated the order before he even left the courthouse, according to one affidavit, which alleges that he tried to talk to Tompson as a deputy escorted him out of the courtroom.
Sherry and Bret Salomon, who signed a December 2006 contract with Demonbreun for a June 2 wedding, plan to turn the tables and sue Demonbreun in hopes of recouping the thousands of dollars that their wedding woes cost their families. Sherry says she paid Demonbreun a $3,600 deposit for an outdoor wedding complete with 150 guests, an indoor-outdoor reception and an eight-piece band performing on the lawn.
It wasn't until the couple got a call from their tent rental company that they got the news—Demonbreun sold the house. True to form, Coleman promised to fulfill the contract. But the Board of Zoning Appeals' ruling made that impossible. According to the new rules and Demonbreun's pesky 2006 conditions, there couldn't be a band plugged in outside. And, again, Coleman's not down with the front-lawn weddings. Even if there was a way the couple's guests could squeeze into the Woodland-in-Waverly home (Coleman says things get uncomfortable when the indoor guest count pushes 60), their guest count was expanding well beyond 150—a direct violation of the conditions.
While the couple appreciates Coleman's optimism, they say it cost them precious time. “We had to literally, completely recreate the wedding from the bottom up—in two weeks,” Sherry says. “We had to take days off of work.... We spent three days solid doing nothing but calling venues and driving all over the state of Tennessee.”
The couple was able to find a last-minute opening at the Hermitage, but Sherry says pulling off another wedding cost her family nearly twice as much as what she planned to pay at the Demonbreun House. After an abbreviated honeymoon to Atlanta (Sherry says they couldn't afford much more after the additional wedding costs), the couple is now thumbing through receipts and trying to figure out exactly how much extra cost they incurred. “We're not looking to win the lottery,” she says. “I'm just frustrated and upset that my parents had to spend that much more money than they intended to. I'm looking to help my folks out.”
Demonbreun says “never would he ever mistreat a bride or fail to refund money where appropriate” and that he will be “glad to review [each bride's] situation and refund any monies that should be appropriately refunded to them.” Demonbreun does not, however, feel that he is to blame. He says the Board of Zoning Appeals is at fault for ruling to prevent Coleman from hosting weddings on the lawn and for not bending the rules to honor the contracts of brides who had already paid for their weddings. Still, he says he couldn't have anticipated the ruling, which he describes as “an act of God, through the government, and not something we had any control over.” In the end, he says all of the brides received everything they paid for, except the ability to have front-lawn weddings.
And “as a Christian, as an attorney,” Demonbreun says he's going “to do the right thing in every situation.” He assures that he's very concerned about the brides. “I have a heart,” he says. “I work hard for a living. I know the value of a dollar and how much this meant to each one of these people and these families, and it’s very unfortunate what happened occurred.... But they won’t be permitted to get a free wedding reception out of it and free catering. That wouldn’t be fair, would it? And they won’t be allowed to say things that are not true and cast me in a false light. That’s slander and that’s libel and that’s ugly.”
Deby's got a different take. “I don't know if he was scared or if he spent the money,” she says, “but I think he just didn't want to confront a bunch of upset brides.”
WOW! Funny Betsy, but feeding the trolls straight lines? Who really wondered IF that TROLL…
AWP, I'm surprised you talked about length in millimeters. Don't true Americans use inches?
talking about inter
stinal fortitude....Was Councilman Stites there...
Can we take a poll...Would you buy a used car from Mr. Ward??....See those results…
I didn't know states had human attributes.