Nashville Part II: Fontanel Mansion
Ashland City, TN - Events of Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Those who follow our blog know by now we like to visit mansions. That must be due to our desire to see how the upper crust lives. Most of the time, the mansions are old and have some historical significance; but not this time. Fontanel Mansion is the 27,000 square foot log home built in 1988 by Barbara Mandrell and her husband, Ken Dudney.
Fontanel is the largest log home in the world. It took 42 truck loads of logs and 5 truck loads of 2 X 6 tongue and groove lumber for the ceilings to complete the home. The logs were cut and assembled in Montana, then they were marked, disassembled and shipped to Nashville. The three-story house, which sits on 136 acres, has 13 bedrooms, 5 fireplaces, an indoor pool and an indoor shooting range.
After their three kids had grown up, Barbara and Ken decided to sell the home and downsize. The home was purchased in 2002 by two music executives who manage such recording artists as Alabama, Big and Rich, and Gretchen Wilson. They purchased the house to use as a location for parties and special events.
In 2010, the house was opened to the public for tours. The current owners hired Barbara Mandrell's daughter as Director of Hospitality to oversee the public tours. Since their daughter is managing the tours, Barbara and Ken also returned many pieces of original furniture, decorative items and personal effects to be displayed at the house.
Tickets for tours are available in the Silo Gift Shop, which was part of the small farm that was originally on the property.
The Mandrel/Dudney family lived in the 100-year old farm house while the log home was being built.
Vans take visitors from the farm house almost a mile through the woods to the mansion. Across the driveway from the front door are three carved bears. The three bears represent Barbara and Ken's three children, and it is a theme that is also repeated inside the house.
This is the first time we have toured a mansion that allows unlimited photography inside (even with flash), but where we couldn't get a good picture of the outside. Usually, it's the other way around. The windows of the vans have advertising graphics partially covering them, so you can't get a good photo of the house from inside the van as it travels up the driveway. The vans stop by the main entrance to the house, which is on the middle floor. Unfortunately, the entrance is located where you can't get a very good perspective of the outside.
In the foyer, our tour guide Steve gave us an introduction to the house and told us a little about the construction.
From the foyer, we went into the great room, which has 35-foot ceilings. The double-helix spiral staircase at the far end has no external support. The bookcases behind the stairs contained family photos, mementos and some of Barbara Mandrel's show business awards.
At the opposite end of the great room was a large fireplace. It is hard to see the painting over the mantel, but it depicts three bears.
The walls of the great room are lined with guitars signed by famous singers. Steve, who is an aspiring singer/song writer, used one of the guitars and sang a song he wrote himself. The song is being considered by the country group Lady Antebellum for an upcoming album. Steve is very good singer, and we liked his song, too.
From the great room, we crossed back over the foyer and went into the dining room.
From the dining room, we climbed the stairs to the third floor where the kids' bedrooms and the guest rooms were located. Also on the third floor was the soda fountain/game room. Behind the counter, there are custom-made neon signs with the name "Fountain Fontanel" and with various soda-fountain treats named after family members.
In the media room, which was also on the third floor, Margery couldn't resist trying on Kenny Chesney's jacket. The partners who own Fontanel today helped discover Kenny Chesney.
We returned to the second floor where we stopped to see the master bedroom. The bedroom has a vaulted ceiling, a canopied bed (with mirrors on the underside of the canopy), a wall of windows opposite the bed and an Italian marble fireplace along the wall adjacent to the bed.
In the kitchen, there is another carving of three bears. The bears and the pole are one piece of wood. The bears were not carved separately.
The pool is on the bottom floor. The surface of the pool is covered with clear plexiglas, which is sometimes used as a dance floor. Lights in the pool below create a dramatic effect at night. Even though it is no longer used for swimming, the pool is kept filled with water to be used by the sprinkler system in the event of fire.
Before the house was opened to the public, work was done to make it ADA compliant. There are ramps at various locations to make it easier for disabled visitors to get around. In the photo above, there is an elevator at the far end of the pool.
Also on the ground floor is the two-lane, 50-foot, indoor shooting range. Today, the bullet-scarred walls are lined with photos, and there is a quad that was used by Gretchen Wilson for a music video that was filmed on the property.
We exited the tour by a door off the pool, and we had to walk a short distance up the driveway to where the vans were parked. Paul hustled part way down the driveway in an attempt to catch a photo of the whole house, but the photo hardly does justice to the size of the place. The large, curved roof section in the photo below is the glass roof over the pool area.
We really enjoyed our tour of Fontanel. It is beyond a doubt our favorite house tour of all time. We have never been on a home tour where we have not only been permitted to take all the photos we wanted, but where we could also sit on the furniture and pick up and handle almost anything that was on display. We felt more like guests of the family than paying customers. Our guide was excellent and provided lots of interesting stories about the family and about some of the stars that are represented by the owners.
After our tour, we made a couple of other stops. Look for our next post to see where that was.