Boxwood Cottage Designed to Linger Longer

Story by Lee Rennick | Photos by Erin Kosko

If you are one of the more than 30,000 followers of FIG Design (@figdesigncompany) on Instagram, you have already had a glimpse behind the doors of the home, dubbed Boxwood Cottage, of Ashley and Mark Hardison, but what you might not know is that they originally planned to only live in it for a couple of years while they had a different home built. Instead of moving out, they are still there 12 years and many renovations later. 

“My grandmother lives in the area and she still walks this street every day,” explained Ashley. “She called us to tell us that it was for sale…The second time we went through the house, we made an offer. Then I drew up how I wanted every room to look.”

It All Started with the Kitchen 

After living in the home for a few months, Mark and Ashley decided to re-do the kitchen. They figured it would be good for resale value. It still had the original 1970s ranch kitchen, which was not functional for the way people live today. They loved the house so much after the kitchen was finished, they never left. 

Eventually they ended up bringing out the sketches that Ashley made when they first moved in and slowly began remodeling the home to their specifications. The remodeling occurred in about five stages, with the pool area just recently completed. 

“Design, decorating and construction,” wrote Ashley on her Instagram page. “These three things run in my veins. I was raised by a dad who is a general contractor and a mom who loved to make our house cozy and welcoming. My childhood was filled with job site visits, house blueprints on the kitchen table and weekends visiting antique shops, flea markets and an occasional auction.” 

After completing the kitchen, they decided to turn the garage and a closet into a family room, laundry room, half bath and a hallway. Not too much later, they took everything else down to the studs and lived in one room with their two young daughters. Rooms were opened up and the ceiling was vaulted. The old den was turned into the eat-in kitchen. A master suite was built, rooms were moved around to make the space feel more open and inviting. The old dining room was turned into an office.

Mark, Ashley and their two young daughters moved into one room for the next one and a half years while the renovations were being completed. They washed stuff in the bathtub and ate food made in a toaster oven and on a two-burner hot plate. 

“I saw it as an adventure,” said Ashley. “Was it ideal? Absolutely not! But we made it a game for the girls. They were troopers.”

Patience Is A Virtue When Remodeling

“Remodeling takes time,” said Ashley. “Lots of good lessons are learned along the way... I’m grateful for the day in and day out knowledge I gained growing up while listening to my dad talk with his clients about their home projects. This helped me to understand what all goes into the building process…I go past the paint colors, fabrics and furnishings and look at details such as trim, molding, scale and proportion of rooms.” 

A few years after the big renovation was completed, they took on their next big project -- a 1,500-square foot glass-enclosed porch built off the back of the home, which looks over the tree-covered, boxwood filled grounds. It feels like a tree house. 

Originally planning to have the porch screened in, half way through construction they decided to enclose it in glass instead and add many ceiling fans to give it a vintage feel. They wanted to be able to use it all year around. Two sets of patio doors and screen doors can be opened up to the outside in the spring and fall. 

The porch is filled with all kinds of plants. Ashley loves them and she even has a place where she rehabs plants that have been given to her or she finds.

“For me, a room is not complete without a living green thing to greet you,” said Ashley. “It brings joy to my soul to walk into a room and see a fern perched on a table or a vase of flowers on a beautiful antique…[I]t can take time and patience to care for a house plant, but in the keeping and supervision of it I have learned lots of life lessons. Simple lessons such as… paying attention to them and celebrating the small victories. Do you see a brown spot, or a wilted leaf? Give them some extra love by moving them to get more sunshine or removing the wilted leaf and be intentional to see if they need more water or less. It’s the same for … people in my life I care for. Am I making sure that ‘I see them’ and offer a listening ear or … time to keep our relationship thriving.” 

Plants offer life, color and beauty for which Ashley is forever grateful. She says to start small. Go buy a little rabbit foot fern or button fern and find a place where it can easily be tended to. 
“[D]on’t get frustrated if it doesn’t do well,” she advises. “Just try again. Cut the tops off where all you see is the soil and keep watering it and make sure it has some sunshine, then wait. You will be surprised by what you learn and what you see [if] you are patient.”

Inviting Back Yard Filled with Boxwoods

To say that Ashley loves boxwoods would be understating it. When they first moved into the home, there were some beautiful trees, but not a single boxwood. Now there are more than 250. They are the inspiration for the naming of their home.

“I’m not sure when I first fell in love with … boxwoods,” said Ashley, “but I can tell you I have fallen hard for them. My favorite variety is an American (Buxus Sempervirens). I love their deep green waxy leaves and the small tiny blooms that appear early spring, I love the peculiar fragrance that they have, and I think they look great as a wreath at Christma. Over the years I added other boxwood varieties such as Green Velvet and Green Mountains. The Green Velvets are fast growing and good to grow close together for a ‘pillowy’ effect or as a low hedge as they do not get very tall. The Green Mountains grow taller and are great for anchoring a corner, growing together for a hedge or using in a container.”

Boxwoods frame the back yard, which was completed in two stages over the past few years. At one time, there was even a zip line that ran through it for her daughters to play on, but they are older now. Instead of a tree house and zip line, the back yard now offers a fire pit where family and friends can hang out and a brand-new pool with several out buildings set up to make entertaining easy. 

Building was a Father Daughter Affair

Ashely did not use an architect or an interior designer for any of the work done on her home. She drew everything to scale on paper and handed it to her father, then they would have several weekly meetings on site to go over scale and proportion. Her father, David Pullius, currently works for Mullins-Watson Builders, LLC. 

“Working with true artisans who believe in quality and integrity makes all the difference,” said Ashley. 

She also drew out all of the landscaping and hardscaping and then turned it over to Brent Florida Landscaping to build out her designs. Bowman welding made the iron fence surrounding the pool, which Ashley had painted green to allow it to fade in with the landscaping. 

Designed to Be Comfortable and Inviting

“I want everyone who comes into my home to have a place to sit and read a book, listen to music, chat, take a nap or have a conversation,” added Ashley.

She loves to antique hunt, exploring favorite shops in Chattanooga, Atlanta and Nashville. While she calls her style American Traditional, and she steers clear of fad trends, she buys what she likes. She likes to blend antiques, vintage and modern furnishings of different styles and periods. Bamboo furniture from the mid-twentieth century might be blended with an English table from the 1800s with a lot of patina. 

“The dining table on the patio is from Bradford’s in Nashville,” said Ashley. “It is 19th century English. You can tell that people lived life on that table. I love pieces that have a story and show that they have been used in the past.”

Creating a sense of warmth is important to her, and she does it by using a relaxing color pallet of creams, browns, greens and pops of blue, as well as mixing textures and patterns. When you walk into a one of her rooms it is what you see, feel and even smell that draws you in. She loves to get all of the senses going with her design. 

Quirky things like a small window to the right of the French doors going out to the back yard are important to Ashley. She feels that too many times the quirky things in old houses are lost when remodeled to fit modern times. She likes to keep these items that give a home its uniqueness. 

Building a collection of furnishings and décor over time is important to Ashley’s design concept. One example of this in her home can be seen in a gallery wall in the living room. It began with one painting, which is placed in the middle of the gallery and then other pieces of art were added over time. Some pieces were gifts, some pieces came from family members and other pieces were purchased by Ashley and Mark on trips. It is meaningful because it tells a story of their life. 

Family is the Most Important Thing

Pieces from family are important to Ashley, like the Blue Pheasant platters that belonged to her great grandmother, displayed in a china hutch in the dining area.

“Family is important to us,” said Ashley. “We both grew up in Murfreesboro. My family goes back generations. My great great great grandfather, Simeon Bush Christy, started Rutherford Hospital (now Saint Thomas Rutherford). And, my father recruited Mark’s father to the hospital. His father, an oral surgeon, began the anesthesiology department at the hospital.” 

While she didn’t know Mark growing up, her grandfather knew Mark’s family. She met Mark when her grandfather took her to get her wisdom teeth taken out.

Family is so important and she values their support so much, that Ashley actually named her business after her family. The “F” is from her husband’s middle name, Fenton and the “I” and “G” her two daughter’s names, Isabelle and Georgia, respectively. 

“To become productive, a fig tree takes time to culture and nurture,” says Ashley’s Instagram. “This is true in the design process. It doesn’t happen overnight.” 

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