by Karen Parr-Moody
Oh, to be stylish, energetic, and passionate about collecting art, all while running a successful interior design business. Landy Gardner, a longtime Nashville fixture, is the very picture of that description. He buzzes about the fabric swatches of his Green Hills office wearing all white—the jeans, vest, and shirt—topped off with black fleur-de-lis-on-white cufflinks. But something isn’t quite right. He doesn’t want to talk about his success, his history, his biography. That’s so been done. He wants to talk about art. How art works in a room, in his house, in other homes, how it is an integral part of what he does as a designer.
“If I weren’t an interior designer, my passion would be to have an art gallery,” says this connoisseur of all things top-drawer. “That’s what I would love to do. And that’s why I so love shopping for art. I love travelling and looking at art. Art, to me, is the one thing in the house that causes you over and over again to smile, to feel good, to have an emotional reaction.”
A skosh of history: While Gardner has been living in Nashville since the mid ’70s, he grew up near Chicago, where he spent many hours at the Art Institute of Chicago. He specifically ogled that most famous of Georges Seurat’s works of pointillism, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. “From being taken to art galleries before I even really wanted to go, I developed a love for art,” Gardner says.
Now, when Gardner is infusing top-drawer homes with interior fabulousness, he draws from a well of favorites. These include James Garrett, Brad Robertson, Miles Bennett, Cathy Lancaster, Ed Nash, Sid Smith, Bruce Peebles, Charlotte Terrell, and Mario Vélez. In his own home, Gardner features Corrine Colarusso, Gail Foster, Tom Swanston, and a number of English, Ukrainian, and American painters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Over a mantel he keeps one of his favorite pieces, a painting of abstracted boats by Colin Hayes, one of that famous staff at the Royal College of Art in London that shaped Britain’s pop art movement. He bought it from the Throckmorton family at Coughton Court, the famous English home. “It was something that I just could not get away from,” he said of the Hayes painting. “The color, the mood, it was just thrilling.”
Gardner shops for art in galleries in Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami. One of his favorite places is Toronto, where he has taken two clients for two-day buying sprees. ”Now it’s incredible how great the art scene is here in Nashville,” he says. “To see what’s evolved in the art scene in the last fifteen years . . . I’m seeing pieces that I have seen in Miami or Atlanta. The artists represented there are now showing here in Nashville galleries.”
Gardner says some clients buy their own art, while others find that overwhelming. When helping these decide what’s right, he shows them a piece and waits for their response. “I look for that instant gut reaction,” he says. “I don’t want anyone to be coerced into buying something. That’s not how to buy art. You buy art out of emotion. When I show you the piece, if you go oh my gosh, that’s amazing, that’s what I want.”
Price isn’t important, he says. Even when he and his wife were first married, Gardner knew they couldn’t afford the furniture he wanted. But he still bought art. “We had a living room and we had art on the walls,” he says. “My wife said, ‘We’re the only people I know who have art on the wall but people have to sit on the floor to look at the art.’”
Gardner incorporates the allure of contrasts by putting contemporary art in traditional settings and vice versa. In a Georgian home, he furnished a library with an eighteenth-century pine mantel, above which he put a colorful painting by Dutch artist Ton Schulten, who is known for painting abstract landscapes in bright blocks of color.
“You’ve got something completely unexpected there,” he said of the Schulten piece. “We did that in the whole house. There were a lot of contemporary glass pieces and art in this Georgian house.”
Above another mantel, this one in a pristinely elegant dining room, Gardner hung a bright contemporary painting, also done with blocks of color, by Georgia artist Corrine Colarusso. Then there was a wall in a Tuscan-style house. At the base, Gardner set a traditional English chair, but above it he hung a deep-blue abstract painting by Columbian artist Mario Vélez.
Because Gardner “cannot stand to miss deadlines,” the errant lifestyle of actually being an artist would never suit him. Plus, he claims he’s terrible, despite having taken classes. “Maybe when I get old, really old, and I can’t do anything else, it will come,” he jokes. “Like these people who don’t start painting until they’re 90, maybe that will happen to me. I’m too rigid to be a good artist.” For now he will continue to put art at the top of his shopping list when planning homes, because, he explains, “I think art is one of the most important parts of design.”