Julie Couch considers herself a Nashville newbie. “I’ve only lived here a little over 8 years!” she says, as though it merits an apology. Native or not, we consider the interior designer, who grew up in West Tennessee and spent time in Knoxville and Atlanta before settling in Music City, a prime source of info on how to shop, dine, and otherwise take in her adopted town’s charm.
Part of what Couch loves about the city is its multifaceted personality: “Nashville is definitely on the more casual side, but there’s also this formal Southern element–the dinners with 18 place settings,” says the designer and decoratordozen.com blogger, whose Neutral and Nuance collection launched October 23 on Joss & Main. “It also has a strong creative community, one that’s not just limited to the music industry,” she notes. Her favorite spots, naturally, embrace Nashville’s signature mix of refinement and lowbrow charm. Here are some of her top local picks for browsing, noshing, and more.
Around 12 South
Not far from Julie Couch’s studio on the edge of Berry Hill, where she offers design services as well as a showroom full of furniture and accents she’s encountered at shows and picked up during her travels, you’ll find an appealingly cozy district known locally as 12 South. (The area is adjacent to 12th Avenue South, between Wedgewood Avenue and Gale Lane.) One well-known retailer there is Imogene + Willie, a store people “rave about,” Couch says. “Everything about it is cool. It’s in an old renovated gas station. They do custom jeans in their own denim–they have their own cuts and then they custom fit you.” It fits right in with the style of the Nashville, she says–a little bit country, but with a modern, upscale edge. 2601 12th Ave. South, 615-292-5005, imogeneandwillie.com.
After working up an appetite shopping, Couch likes to take out-of-towners to a new-ish yet “inherently Nashville” spot nearby called Edley’s, she says. “The theme is ‘All things Southern.’ They have barbecue, a patio, and it’s just great.” 2706 12th Ave. South, 615-953-2951, edleysbbq.com.
Downtown, Midtown, and Germantown
Most guidebooks usher Nashville newcomers downtown, specifically to 2nd Ave., which is “where all the old honky-tonks are,” Couch notes. “It’s definitely touristy, but really fun too, and you kind of have to do it. There are so many talented musicians in every corner,” playing country and other genres, she says.
A lovely counterpoint to that scene is the new downtown steakhouse Kayne Prime. “It’s upscale and fabulous, kind of like what you’d find in New York,” Couch explains. “For me, it’s like the new Nashville, which is nice to see after you’ve visited the old.” 1103 McGavock St., 615-259-0050, mstreetnashville.com/kayne-prime.
For local and seasonal cooking with a touch of urbanity, Couch heads up to City House on 4th Avenue. The Italian-influenced menu brims with house-made salumi (cured meats) and pastas, and frequently features ingredients sourced from the region (like Carolina catfish and trout). 1222 4th Ave. North, 615-736-5838, cityhousenashville.com.
Come cocktail hour, a current hot spot is Midtown’s Patterson House, Couch reveals. “They do artisan drinks, and they’ve very original. It takes 10 minutes to make them, but they’re little works of art.” The “sexy library” atmosphere, fun appetizers, and well-dressed crowd complete the upscale Nashville experience. 1711 Division St., 615-636-7724, thepattersonnashville.com.
In Green Hills
“The Green Hills area is our mecca of higher-end shopping,” Couch says, and it’s where you’ll find Mitchell Gold, Tiffany, Stuart Weitzman, and other big-name stores, she says. Poke around, though, and you’ll discover locally owned gems like H. Audrey, a clothing boutique opened by country star Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter, Holly. Racks are filled with labels like Rag & Bone, Helmut Lang, and Yigal Azrouel. 4027 Hillsboro Pike, 615-760-5701, haudrey.com.
Couch also likes stopping in at The Perfect Pair, a shoe and accessory shop with an admirable boot selection (and which happens to be owned by singer Ronnie Dunn’s daughter Whitney Dunn). 2209 Bandywood Dr., 617-385-7247, theperfectpairnashville.com.
For gifts, there’s Absolution, a mood-setting storefront full of candles, one-of-a-kind antiques, jewelry, and other cool finds, as well as Obelisk (a source of home and serving pieces) and Bella Linea, which stocks pretty, luxurious bedding. Absolution, 2126 Abbott Martin Rd., Suite 146, 615-515-8442, seekobsolution.com; Obelisk, 4100 Hillsboro Rd., 615-297-3541, bradfordsinteriors.com; Bella Linea, 2133 Bandywood Dr., 615-352-4041, bellalinea.com.
Finally, when it’s time to wind down for evening drinks and entertainment? The Bluebird Cafe is a must, Couch says. “It’s serious,” the designer says of the music venue, which hosts intimate shows with emerging artists. “You don’t chatter over the music… It’s definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done in Nashville.”4104 Hillsboro Pike, 615-383-1461, bluebirdcafe.com.