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Vibe On

Vibe On

Ronnie and Janine Dunn’s Transformed Georgian Home

To kick off the April release of their new CD Steers and Stripes, the country music duo Brooks & Dunn are hitting the road with the “Neon Circus and Wild West Show” tour—a “totally rollicking cowboy circus with fire-eaters, knife throwers, rope tricks, and cannonballs of confetti,” singer/songwriter Ronnie Dunn says with obvious glee. That kind of honky-tonking is just what one would expect—and look forward to—from the duo known both for its entertainment extravaganzas and for its country sound, which has led to Entertainer of the Year awards from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.

What you don’t expect from Ronnie Dunn, unless you know him, is the design of his house. Working in concert with Nashville architect Scott Wilson, Dunn and his wife, Janine, undertook the total transformation of a 1940s Georgian-style brick house into a gray-stone-and-white clapboard structure with traditional, Gary Cooper good looks. With the exception of a few well-placed guitars, there’s not a drop of country in the place.

“It’s not stamped with an image,” says Nashville interior designer Grei Hinsen, who entered the job even as vans were arriving with pieces ordered under a previous, Oklahoma-based designer. But it wasn’t their out-of-town taste that did in the last firm. In fact, says Hinsen, “the house they made was beautiful. The problem was that they forgot about the people they were making it for. The bottom line is not to make a pretty room or a pretty house, but a space that can actually better the sense of well-being of the people who live there. The house just didn’t reflect Ronnie and Janine.”

So while there is no mistaking the country in Ronnie Dunn, with his spiked hairdo, NASCAR sweats, and tight, black leather jacket, his house testifies that he is a lot more than the image he projects. Not only does he hold a BA in philosophy and theology, he is also a passionate collector of Soviet-era art.

But that doesn’t mean he is easy to figure for a designer. Both husband and wife confess that if Hinsen hadn’t entered into the conversation and become the Great Arbitrator, they probably would have sold the place.

Having worked for others in the music business, Hinsen seemed to know instinctively what the Dunns were after. His success is obvious as soon as one enters the receiving hall, which doubles as a gallery for art. Here, glazed light-blue walls allow the Dunns’ bold and colorful Russian Impressionist works to stand out to their best advantage. At the same time, a 1920s-style set piece—including a pair of extraordinary Art Deco-styled aluminum sconces, a rare German Biedermeier aproned table, Austrian Biedermeier side chairs, and a scalloped Venetian mirror—reinstates a kind of ’20s glamour that is altogether appropriate to the house.

To the left of the foyer, almost spanning the whole of the dining room’s far wall, is the moody oil on canvas “Mozart and Salieri,” by Geli Korchev, known in some circles as one of the leading lights of contemporary Russian painting. With a Louis XIII-styled walnut dining table, set with huge, antique cut-glass apothecary bottles and massive ebony chairs suited in cream linen embroidered with monograms, Hinsen has created a room in which Russian czarinas could have been entertained.

In fact, almost every room in the 12,000-square-foot house has palatial dimensions matched with dramatic strokes of interior architecture. The great room, 55 feet in length, is outfitted with a wall-length floor-to-ceiling window and a fireplace whose stone facade rises up to the rafters. Big enough to embrace objects from the world over, the room mixes icons of the Wild West, including taxidermic animal heads, leather-upholstered sofas and chairs, and a fabulous soapstone bar with Soviet-era paintings, an Asian chest and planters, and carved Portuguese chairs with embroidered seats.

Because of the grand dimensions of the rooms, Hinsen custom-designed a range of oversized pieces to fit their place and station. Yet gold-leafed stenciling delicately embellishes the high rafters in the bedroom, just as swirls of the gold leaf decorate a French back-painted, or eglomise, mirror. For Janine, who is known to read four books a week, Hinsen dressed a roomy reading area in front of the bedroom fireplace, and then carried the library theme into the master bath. Library ladders hold toiletries and towels, a full set of Hamilton’s drawings of the Greek myths line the walls, and wood-grained cabinets, painted by Ron Ames— who restored the decorative painting inside the state capitol—emulate the reading room at some handsome, members-only library.

“Women are always the ones criticized for being impractical when it comes to decorating their house,” says Janine Dunn. “But in our marriage, Ronnie is the impractical one. When it came to a wish list for the kitchen, I wanted things like large food cabinets and a microwave. Ronnie just wanted it to be an absolute knockout.”

“[Interior design] is an art form,” says Ronnie Dunn. “It’s just like music, just like the clothes you choose to wear. All of it expresses who you are. They are all about the vibe.” Vibe on, Ronnie Dunn.

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