Sometimes a store is more than just a store. Arguably, the very best retail environments transcend being just places to shop and serve as pseudo-classrooms, talent incubators, and places for like-minded people to gather and share ideas.
Wilder, the chic and charmingly quirky year-old contemporary home store in Nashville's Germantown neighborhood, is all of those things, not to mention a direct representation of owners Ivy and Josh Elrod’s personalities - which, in the context of being store owners, is equal parts boldly creative and quietly nurturing.
Like many people starting businesses in Nashville these days, the Elrods moved here from somewhere else, in their case New York City. There both were deeply involved in the art, theater, film and dance scenes, Ivy as a playwright, dancer and actress (not to mention a Rockette!), and Josh as an actor, painter and longtime member of the Blue Man Group.
In fact, it was on tour with Blue Man in 2010 that the couple were first inspired to open a store, when a loose retail narrative appeared on a co-created vision board. Two years later, with the physically grueling performances wrecking havoc on Josh’s back, a young son, Chance, now in the picture, and daughter Rev on the way, the couple needed a more solid foundation to work from. A crash education from a small business accelerator program was followed by a move here, to Josh’s hometown. And Wilder was born.
Today the store is home to Nashville’s liveliest mix of unique home décor, art and scents (including perfume and incense, a longtime preoccupation of Josh’s). It also serves as a space for frequent collaborations and installations, such as “Seen,” the multi-vendor mirror installation last fall, and the Pennyweight clothing pop-up organized last summer by local tastemaker Elise Joseph. And Wilder is the only place in Nashville to find a wide selection of textile designer Andra Eggleston’s pillows, made from Electra Eggleston fabrics covered in her famed photographer father William’s exquisite doodles.
Through April 1, the store is hosting “Love or Nothing,” a collaboration with New York pals, jewelry designer Pamela Love and photographer Skye Parrott. The show features 28 female designers and businesses, including Brother Vellies, Lizzie Fortunato, Marlow Goods, Mara Hoffman and Calico Wallpaper. It’s a striking but feminine mix, dominated by pastels, luxe textures, and lovely patterns, not to mention some oversized fabric webs with pink, purple, blue and yellow streamers, which Josh fondly calls “clown catchers.”
TCR paid a visit to Wilder last week (no arm-twist needed there) to talk to Ivy and Josh about the source of their inspiration, the power of collaboration, and the fact that you can, indeed, go home again.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
IVY: We had always said we should have a business together. First of all, Josh is an obsessive collector -
JOSH: And researcher.
IVY: And researcher. He would have stacks of textiles from when he was, like, really obsessed with Balinese textiles, and I would go to touch them, he'd be like, Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh. And I'd be like, "Man, come on. We need to break you of this. Your excitement is learning about them and then finding them, but you’re not doing anything with them. The sharing part - I feel like I can teach you that." [LAUGHTER]
So that was really the genesis of the store. But because it's us, it's all about vibe, so I was like, “And I'll press sandwiches in the back.” Because I really believe that as non-gender normative as we are, Josh needs someone to help him eat. [LAUGHTER] And while we don't have sandwiches yet, we totally have that vibe of like, “Come and hang out, have some tea.” That home vibe. But our idea wasn't always to have a home store.
After we came back from (the Blue Man) tour, we were working, I had a baby, we got married, I got a feature film… There was a lot of New York living in the midst of that. We were renting and had to keep moving. This influenced what would later become the home vibe (of Wilder). We were displaced and really starting to nest as a family and I realized I was finding a lot of solace in changing space and making it ours and not trying to just pretend that the Carroll Gardens apartment was the Fort Greene apartment, but taking in what was there and making it right for us.
Meanwhile, Josh was getting injured from Blue Man increasingly and it was looking like he was going to have to have spinal surgery. It was getting pretty intense. One day, while he was napping, I signed up for this business incubator called WIBO. As part of the application, you had to explain your business. Because he was asleep and I couldn't ask him (his opinion), I just made up a business. Like, “It's a store… It's a home store… And it's called The Homecoming…” They accepted me, and over the course of that small business class, I pitched the idea as a store that would be in New York because that's what I thought our lives were.
TCR: And the universe said differently.
IVY: Totally. Because then we thought what would be exciting is to do our vision where nothing else exists like it. We thought it would be cool to open a second location (in addition to New York), because we were playing for the long game. I had a few cities in mind for that and Nashville made sense. And then it was like – DONG [MAKES BELL SOUND]. Wait, this is backwards. I realized we needed to start in Nashville and see where it takes us.
What’s been so fun about this too is, yes, we have the business plan but nothing good comes if the thing looks exactly like it does there. Brilliance happens, right? You just figure out what it's going to be in real-time.
JOSH: Expectation cuts off experience. So we were going in this certain way and there was a turn of the wheel that opened our minds to some other possibility. It was in the course of following this thread that we had the a-ha moment that took what we'd already started to build and pushed it to that next phase. Because as soon as she said Nashville, it was like, boom, that's what we're going to do.
IVY: His face exploded first.
JOSH: Yes. [LAUGHTER] I just picked my jaw off the floor.
She had said she would never move here. I had never thought about coming down here to live anytime soon. For years I'd always thought like, yeah, Nashville's great, but…
TCR: As someone who grew up here, it's a place you move away from.
JOSH: Exactly. Or it's a place where once you've fully done everything you wanted to do, you go and semi-retire or whatever. In New York, we'd already been looking at spaces. And you know, a thousand square feet was like -
IVY: Eight grand. And I lo-ov-ove New York, and I will always love New York, but I was running numbers and I didn't love this idea of being enslaved to immediate turnover.
JOSH: We would have to turn so much profit so quickly (to survive). But we wanted to be able to play. We wanted to be able to take risks.
IVY: We wanted an environment that was excited about it and could accommodate it, but where we could still be renegade in a way.
So I was like, "We're moving into your folks' place (in Nashville) and we can figure it out there.” He knew it was right. I had the baby two months after we got here. And then we bought a house and opened a store all in that timeline, which, in retrospect, is madness but it also made sense. Just like, we're here. Let's make our lives here. Let's not be just testing it out.
Fortunately, we're good at nesting and making spaces feel not transient. That all started in the hotel room on tour. We’d be there a day and I would be moving furniture around. I think it took me a while to learn how space impacts my being, and that I'm happy to put in a little extra muscle in if it feels good for the next hour.
JOSH: And I would do that with a candle.
IVY: He does it sensorially. (Nashville artist and jewelry designer) Mary Mooney calls him an incense DJ. But now we do that here all day long. There's a commitment to trying things out here. We keep changing and inviting new people in to just throw the thing on its head a little bit.
TCR: Was that part of your business plan from the start, to have collaborators like Pam and Skye?
IVY: Yes, in the sense of design, but it really became an event thing. Whether you come to the opening or not, each time you come in it's like, oh, wait, what? That became very clear once we started.
And I think it's also just the personality thing; we meet people and it is very organic. We haven’t really pitched any of these (collaborators). Skye was the one who was like, "I want to do something with Pam. Wilder's amazing. How about this?" Elise (Joseph of Pennyweight) came to us.
JOSH: Yeah, and Andra (Eggleston) we bumped into at Sherrick & Paul (the sadly shuttered Nashville art gallery). And a few days later, we talked to her in the parking lot of our son's school, because our sons go to school together, and she was like, "Oh, hey, I'm launching a textile line." And I was like, "Well, you know we have a contemporary design shop.” And she said, "What? We should have a meeting." And she came in and then, like, four hours later we were all embracing as she left. "This is going to be so great!"
TCR: When you opened the store did you know you were going to have events?
IVY: I think that it's in our nature. If you take the store as being a little bit of an extension of who we are, then it’s a no-brainer. When we were on tour, it was like, "Hey, everyone come to our room and hang out." It’s part of being a mom, too. I want it to feel like it's in motion.
TCR: It's constantly evolving.
JOSH: Here’s the thing. We lived in New York for a long time. Any time I had an afternoon or a couple of hours or whatever, I would go hit spots. I would go to the spot where I get a coffee, and then I would go to this record store, then I would go to this bookstore and a clothing store. I was bound to see somebody I knew, see something that I hadn't seen before. It's just part of -
IVY: Getting turned on to something.
JOSH: It exposes something, even if it's not something in the store. Like, I run into somebody, end up having an interesting conversation, and then that leads to something else. I get to check in. It was so important to me to have those afternoons or those moments where I was just in a groove and I didn't know what I was going to get out of going to cool places.
IVY: Part of the always-changing vibe here feels like we're recreating a little bit of that.
JOSH: I'm also sort of a novelty freak.
IVY: He wants to paint the whole store black.
JOSH: I would love for paper to go up across the window and be dark for one day and then the next day -
IVY: It's all gold.
JOSH: Completely different. Like, is it the same store? I'd love to make it very theatrical, you know?
TCR: So, give me your impressions on Nashville, having lived here now for almost two and a half years now. So with you coming home, Josh, and you living here for the first time, Ivy...
IVY: It feels like the Wild West to me. It weirdly feels like Williamsburg (Brooklyn) in the '90s. I lived in Williamsburg in the '90s. It seemed like things were possible then that didn't seem possible by the time we left New York. People were like, "Well, there's a building, and I have this idea and I'm just going to work my ass off (and make it happen)." It takes more than that now is my perception.
JOSH: You don't just get an old storefront and open up a ramen shop.
IVY: It’s much less hospitable now. And here, it seemed like people have ideas and the possibility of executing them is completely within reach.
JOSH: I feel like the creative class is so hooked up in some ways. The currency of knowing someone here is huge, and there is a network of people. In the same way, I love being able to connect people.
IVY: Josh lives for that.
JOSH: It's the best. What's better than that? Because it feels like everyone can thrive together by staying in touch and knowing someone. Whatever it is that you want to call it – community, whatever - there's that in spades here. And there always was. Before, it was like there weren’t enough people to make a tipping point or something. I feel like Nashville's always had those stories like, when Matt McKeever opened Halcyon Books on 12South 15 years ago. It was cool and there was a community there but it wasn’t enough to sustain it. Or Lucy's Record Shop in the '90s was a thing. All of these things over the years have had little moments, but now I feel like there's actually a setting for all of them to sustain. There’s a continuity possibility here that there wasn't before.
IVY: I joke that Josh has an excellent conversion rate. If people come in who were thinking about moving here, I'm like, "Well, unless you're thinking that seriously, I advise not talking to Josh because you will find yourself moving here because that's just a fact.” It's been funny. And I think that's like his goal. Even people he doesn't necessarily like, he ends up convincing.
TCR: That's a huge compliment. But you could speak to it on several different levels too, being a native son and being somebody who's chosen to come back.
JOSH: Yes. Maybe it gives me some kind of like... experience. That's a good word. But then again, when I first got back, there were all these things that I felt like people who had been here a long time were not even up to speed on because there's just been this huge influx of new. And the new kids are the ones that know things that other people don't.
TCR: They’re resetting the culture.
JOSH: Literally, because it’s like, "Oh, I have a house and we have shows here.” “My friend is involved with a startup." And you're like, what startup? And you realize that there're all these things that are happening right in front of you. I feel like we'll be able to look back on these as historical layers.
TCR: Like the rings of growth on a tree.
JOSH: Yes, exactly.
TCR: And Wilder’s ring will be pink.
JOSH: Yes, we do have a lot of pink.
Wilder is located at 1212 4th Avenue North in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville. Contact them at 615-679-0008 or at email@example.com.
Yes, TCR friend Andrea Behrends' work has been featured in Garden & Gun, Imbibe and GQ. And true, she has played a large and important role in documenting Nashville’s burgeoning food scene, while her portrait-driven, storytelling approach has established her as a go-to for songwriters and artisans alike. But the main thing you need to know about her is that she's a righteous chick and a total badass. See more of her work here.