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An Eye for Detail

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By Lee Rennick | Photography by Erin Kosko

The minute you step onto the driveway of the home of Dr. Murali and Sharon Kolli you are transported into the French countryside. Their home evokes a feel of the great European country estates of old, which is the very idea the Kollis asked their architectural firm Cole and Cole, from Montgomery, Alabama, to portray when designing their home in 2004.

“I grew up in Mobile, Alabama,” explained Sharon. “The houses there are influenced by French and English architecture. I especially love their homes built in the 1920s. They are more solidly built with thicker walls and higher ceilings.”

You can almost see Coco Chanel in your mind’s eye in one of her chic suits sitting at the Boulle desk in the living room discussing the rising tide of individualism in France with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Années folles were a time of experimentation in the decorative arts bringing about the blending of modernism with elements of the past. The elegance of Versailles was not forgotten, but new ideas were being explored. The Kolli home has that blend of Louis XIV and elements of more modern times. 


While the home evokes a classical elegance, once you step inside there is at once a sophistication and a relaxed charm coming together with an obvious eye for detail. In the foyer, a luxurious warm brown fur throw lays casually over the arm of a time-honored camel back couch upholstered in a flowered fabric with soft shades of salmon, sage and medium beige.

The fabric in the couch picks up elements of design from the earthy terra cotta corbels that frame the entry arch, which was designed to be simple to enhance their intricate detail of acanthus leaves and scroll-work. Above a Victorian table next to the couch is an avant-garde piece of art from an artist from Barcelona named Mario Soria. This blend of antique and modern can be found throughout the home.

We love antiquing,” said Sharon, “and art. I used to go to antique auctions with my grandparents when I was a child. And Murali’s parents also loved to buy antiques. Many items that his parents and my grandparents bought can be found in our home.”

The cabriole couches in the living room came from Dr. Kolli’s parents, as did the light fixture in the dining room and one in the kitchen. The lamp over the kitchen island has its own story, as many of the antiques in the home do. It is a Tiffany light, however when the Kolli’s received it from Murali’s parents, it was in a box in pieces. They had put lights into the sockets that were too strong for the ancient wiring and the lead holding the glass together melted. Sharon took it to a couple who used to have a stained-glass making and restoration business on Murfreesboro’s downtown square and they were able to rebuild it.

Many other vintage items the Kollis have purchased themselves. A number of pieces came from White Oak Auctions in Alabama. M and J Home in Murfreesboro is a favorite, as is The Peddler. But a lot of the most unique pieces were imported from France by Tom Hensel. He found their kitchen table and chairs, as well as the pedestals in the dining room upon which rest classic marble busts.

“I love the [marble bust] near the buffet because she represents all that is spring,” said Sharon.


Art is another love of the Kollis. They have an extensive collection that includes pieces painted by local artists, pieces painted by family members, as well as unique gallery pieces both modern and vintage. The collection contains oil paintings of Sharon’s ancestors, including an 18th century portrait of her multiple-greats grandmother.

In the hallway near the main bedroom suite are two paintings by Murfreesboro artist Sharon Truex. Truex often paints dreamy, ethereal portraits of women with elements from nature. The ones that hang in the Kolli house have special meaning to them, as one of the paintings is a woman with an owl and in the other is a woman with a parrot. “Owl” and “Parrot” are the nicknames that Kolli’s daughters are called by their Indian cousins.

“I bought the owl painting first at 202 Gallery in Franklin,” said Sharon. “When I went back to get the parrot painting, a man was walking out of the gallery with it, having just purchased it. I was crushed. But Sharon had a different painting of a women with a parrot that I was able to purchase.”

They also have paintings of their daughters by Jeff Jamison and art by David Arms. Other art includes Russian icons that they purchased in Israel that came there with Russian Jews after World War II, classic English pastoral landscapes, a female Bedouin’s mask and framed antique Indian puppets.

“When my husband’s mother was growing up in India,” said Sharon, “puppeteers would come to the village where she lived and do shows for the children. 

She described how they put lights behind them giving the giant puppets a jewel-like appearance. They were to her like TV is to today’s kids.”

Sharon also has pieces from when she worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their reproductions department in New York. One very unique piece from Paris is a large foot that sits in the foyer that was used by art students to draw anatomy.

Like an art gallery, every corner offers a rich tapestry of artistic expression, including sculpture, paintings, and she even has a television over her fireplace in the den that hides the fact that it is a television by displaying a statement piece of art on the screen. 


Both Kollis collaborated with the architects and builder Jimmy Molloy. Many parts of the house were created by the builder after Sharon sketched out her ideas, including the fireplaces in the den and the living room. The fireplace in the den was designed to specifically show off the marble lion sculptures that she and Murali had purchased with a stand-out fire place in mind. Malloy worked with potter Michael Kelley to bring her idea to life. A wood carver from Nashville carved the living room fireplace from reclaimed wood from a torn down silo.

As with the art, there are architectural Easter eggs “hidden” throughout the home. The marble countertops in the kitchen are made of pieces that came from Father Ryan School when they remodeled. It comes from the steps, baseboards and other trim pieces saved by Kelley and worked into a one-of a kind countertop by a local marble shop.

The light fixture in the den was from The Breakers original hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. And the glass in the kitchen is medieval glass window fragment found at a Sotheby’s auction. While most of the design work Sharon did herself, she has worked with Jerome Farris and Candyace Havenstrite for specific items. Loving simple curtains, she wanted a particular linen for the curtains in the den and Farris help her acquire what he needed.

Her landscape architect was Duncan Callicott. When they met to go over the designs for her beautiful gardens, they found out that they were in fact related.

“Duncan noticed a large and very, very old family tree hanging on my wall. As he was looking at it, he smiled and pointed to a spot on it and said – ‘I would be about right here.’ Small world, Duncan is a cousin! Later he relayed that an ancestor of ours, Abram Maury, founded Franklin, Tennessee.”


The Kollis will be opening their beautiful gardens and home to those who attend the 30th Annual Secret Garden Party on June 3. The theme of the party this year is “An Evening in the Gardens of Versailles,” and the Kolli home was the first to come to mind when the committee was planning the event.

“This being the 30th anniversary of the Secret Garden Party, we are so excited and grateful to host it at the home of two very special people that have supported Discovery Center since the early days when Sharon Kolli would carry her young daughters in a baby carrier as she volunteered her time as a docent at the original Discovery House on Maple Street,” said Tara MacDougall, President and CEO, Discovery Center. “The Kolli’s home also happens to be one of Murfreesboro’s most beautiful homes, so it will truly be a special night for all our guests that attend the Secret Garden Party."

Gourmet delights, fine wines, an auction full of tantalizing items and activities and the honoring of one of Discovery Center’s first board presidents, Dr. Susan Andrews and Dr. Richard Rickard, will fill the evening styled by Becca George and Jesse Pinson of Modern Vintage Events.

Chartered in 1986 as Children’s Museum Corporation of Rutherford County, the Discovery Center provides hands-on education opportunities for the community. An extensive grassroots campaign orchestrated by young parents led to purchasing a building and creating exhibits and programs. During its first year of operation, over 11,000 visitors came to experience the museum’s exhibits and programs. Now, 35 years after its inception, the Discovery Center serves as a vibrant community and tourism center with over 120,000 children and families exploring the exhibits each year. Funds raised through the Secret Garden Party goes towards running and maintaining the children’s museum.

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