Johnny Haffner is a beloved Nashville caterer who also hosts meals at his home, ticketed events that are open to the public, on most Friday nights in warmer weather. It was at one of these gatherings last summer that I first walked into his home and couldn’t help myself … I walked around, sticking my head in different rooms being the curious houseguest. I was that person on this night (but no medicine cabinets were opened!). Pulling Johnny aside, I told him how I could just feel the love pouring out from his home and asked if we could share it on StyleBlueprint. It’s just so welcoming. He agreed with a big smile and told me all about the five renovations, his art, his furniture (he loves Merridian Home Furnishings) and the way he approaches his design … and the fact that his wife, Julie, happily lets him do pretty much whatever he wants when it comes to the decor.
The house was originally built in 1943 and the Haffners bought it nearly 50 years later, in 1991 for $150,000, in the heart of Green Hills. The street is special, as most of the homes have had the same owners for the past 25+ years, so the neighbors all share a special bond. While the Haffners have looked off and on for a different home, there was never one that compelled them to leave their neighbors or this house.
When they first moved in, the upstairs was not finished, but it had a bedroom and bath, and they immediately expanded into the attic space to make two bedrooms so that their (at the time) 6-month-old daughter would have a bedroom next to them. They also opened up the staircase.
The next project included adding a sunroom onto the house. When they added it, it was completely glass, walls and ceiling. However, a hailstorm caused so much damage to the glass that the estimate to fix it was more than the original cost of building the sunroom! So the glass ceiling was changed to a metal roof and it continues to be a room where guests gravitate and one that the family loves.
Downstairs, there were two bedrooms and a small kitchen, in addition to the living areas. To expand the kitchen, they incorporated one of the bedrooms into the kitchen footprint and now they enjoy a large kitchen with an island that seats eight. Johnny is known for giving “Man with a Pan” suppers away at charitable auctions, and it is around this island that the happy winners eat dinner and watch Johnny cook. The kitchen is also large enough to enjoy an additional seating area with leather booth-type seating.
The covered back porch seats 34 people, and it’s there that the Friday night dinners take place. The large tables are placed end to end, and Johnny and a friend actually made them. He found some old chestnut planks (off of Craigslist!) and had them sanded down at a mill outside of Ashland City. He then placed the planks on table legs fashioned after a sawhorse so that there is never that awkward part of the table where your knees hit the table legs. Perfect for entertaining.
The Haffner house is, in a word, eclectic. Johnny effusively says, “Every single room has a piece of furniture from Merridian. I love that place!” He says that the reclaimed pieces made into new furniture are just his style. “I like the feel of the Indonesian, recycled furniture. Old shutters made into the front of a cabinet … that type of thing.”
“When I see something that I feel close to, I have to have it! I may go back three or four times and look at it, but I fall in love.” He gives the example of the recent purchase of a 4-foot-tall birdcage from Fabu, another store where he finds many of his treasures. “I’m making it into a henhouse … for all the roosters and such I’ve collected through the years. I’m going to add glass shelving … I had to go find the perfect oval table to set it on. (laughing) Everything I’m going to buy for that birdcage is going to cost more than it did!”
About half the art in his house was painted by his mother-in-law, Mamie Herrington, and he has found resources for art through the years to create the look he desires. Many of the paintings are commissioned pieces from photographs that the family has taken through the years. However, there is one piece of art that gets more comments than all the others, and it was a gift from Teenie Buchtel, the late John Jay Hooker’s sister, that she left to Johnny in her will. She had an events company, named Simply Perfect Party, and Johnny always loved how this painting reminded him of her. Now it hangs proudly in his kitchen with an inscription above it, “Madonna of the Perpetual Party.”
When asked for advice on how to go about decorating your own house, Johnny says, “Don’t think you can finish in one day, or even one season … enjoy it, move things around until they find their true home.” He prefers small furniture to large pieces, as they are easier to move around and work with through the years. He does advise finding or hiring someone with a good sense of color to get you started. If you want a blue ceiling, have her/him help you pick it out. The same goes for cabinets and walls. And he says you should copy what you like. His example is seeing this 20-foot+ stone wall with a fireplace that was so big you could walk into the fireplace. He took a photo and then found a guy laying stone for some outside stairs and asked him if he could recreate it on a smaller scale for his house. And now, Johnny and his wife enjoy this scaled-down version in their own home. “I steal ideas and make them work! I take the final look and change it to make it work in my house.”
Special thanks to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for today’s lovely photos!
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