Savannah Yarborough’s reputation precedes her. I knew her as a cool, talented character long before we ever met.
As a fan of Billy Reid and frequent visitor to his Green Hills store, I became friendly with the staff there. As such, I’d ask them all sorts of nosy fashion-nerd questions about Billy’s process — how he worked, who he worked with, what his design space looked like. In doing this, I started hearing about a cool new girl from Birmingham who had started working in the studio.
Savannah came to Billy Reid in 2010 as a summer intern at the company’s Florence, Alabama, headquarters. She proved to be such an asset to the design team that they hired her while she was still a student at London’s Central Saint Martins, one of the world’s premier fashion schools (it’s the alma mater of John Galliano, Stella McCartney and the late Alexander McQueen, among others). A lot of transoceanic back-and-forth ensued until her graduation in 2012, at which point she moved to Nashville.
For several years, Savannah lived here and commuted to Alabama every Monday to spend the week working for Billy. In Florence, she stayed at the home of our mutual friend, Sarah Trapp, another Billy Reid colleague.
In early 2013, the company hired me as a media consultant, a job that required many trips to Billy HQ. Whenever I’d stay overnight in Florence, I’d crash with Sarah as well.
And that’s how Savannah and I became Muscle Shoals’ most mismatched roommates — which I say only because we’re physical opposites: she’s a wee slip of a thing (Sarah’s sweet term of endearment for her is Tiny Human) while I’m a few inches taller than the average bird.
Size didn’t keep us from sleeping just fine side by side in the twin beds in Sarah’s guest room. Nor did it keep us from becoming good friends — bound by our mutual love of rock and roll, Ann Demeulemeester, and general absurdity. I love me some Sav.
These days, Savannah continues to do a little consulting for Billy. But mainly she’s driving her own ship — Atelier Savas, a design studio that offers bespoke luxury leather jackets for a private clientele that includes rock stars and tech moguls with many everyday folks with a taste for fine hides, furs and skins in between. (Last year, Bloomberg made a video that does an incredible job of detailing her process; watch it here.)
Savannah is a great example of the type of exemplary talent Nashville’s fashion community is harboring circa 2016. She’s driven and passionate about her craft and thoughtful about growing her business. She’s involved with and supportive of Nashville’s local fashion community, including the Nashville Fashion Alliance. We’re lucky that she chose to drop anchor here instead of in New York or LA, where many of her clients live.
Atelier Savas is located in a building called the Big Red Lofts, just off 8th Avenue in downtown Nashville. The storefront opens onto the narrow alleyway that separates Cannery Row — a 120-plus year-old brick building that’s now the home of rock venues Mercy Lounge and The High Watt and small businesses like Parlour & Juke — from the Lofts, where Sav also has an apartment. Her location is prime, if not exceptionally well travelled: the east side of the building faces a busy section of 8th that’s marked by a stone overpass (more on it below) that services the train tracks that hug the building to the south.
This is not the first place Savannah’s lived in Nashville. Before her move downtown, she settled into a house on the eastside. After deciding that the single-family home life was not her jam, she started looking for alternatives.
She shares the rest of this story below in the second installation of My Space, TCR’s occasional series devoted to stylish Nashvillians talking about their interiors.
Having only recently moved into her third floor studio, Savannah’s currently having a ball decorating the place piecemeal, cherry-picking brilliant furniture and accessories from local secondhand vendors. And as you’ll see, it’s working: Sav’s eclectic MCM-meets-Deco-meets-DIY aesthetic jibes perfectly with the apartment’s open floor plan, wall of metal-framed windows, and quirky bones.
The photography that accompanies the story is by frequent TCR contributor Caroline Allison, who perfectly captures the whimsical cool of Savannah’s new home. Lina also happens to be a close friend of Sav’s, which made their photo session even more special.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
TCR: This place is supposed to be hard to get into. How’d you score your apartment?
SAVANNAH: When I moved to Nashville four years ago, I didn’t know anyone. I was basically only here on the weekends, so I’d just drive around. And I saw a sign on the alleyway that said Big Red Storage. I drove in not knowing where it went and realized that this was actually living spaces. There’s a sign at the very end of the alley that says Big Red Lofts. I figured out who owned the property, got in touch with them, and they were like, yeah, we’ll put you on our waiting list. And I never heard anything back, of course.
And then years later, when I was looking for a space to open the business, my 500th phone call was to the guys at Cannery because they had a 6,000-square-foot space to rent. I asked if they would section off part of it for me. And when I signed a lease on the space they were like, Okay, now that you’re a tenant of our property, if an apartment becomes available, we’ll tell you. And I was like, cool —let me know if something comes open in the next six months. A week later they called me with two apartments. I moved in three weeks after that.
TCR: Who was living here before you?
SAVANNAH: The guy who manages the property, who was also the maintenance dude.
TCR: So at the very least you know it’s well maintained. What’s the history of the building?
SAVANNAH: They don’t know when this building was built. It was an old factory of some sort. Next door was a canning facility, but I don’t know what this building is, or was. They know it was pre-1890, but that’s kind of it.
The guys who own the whole property — their dad used it as storage. He had an electrical store in the Cannery Row building, and the rest of it was full of stuff.
In the early ’90s, bands used it for rehearsal spaces. They were spending so much time here that some of them ended up building kitchens and bathrooms. So each apartment is a totally different setup. Ninety-five percent of it is very haphazard and like, bizarre, with scary-looking lofts and all sorts of things that people have just done over time. As long as it has paint on it already, you can paint it. And you can pretty much do anything else, too.
TCR: Your bedroom has a little bit of a curve in the wall.
SAVANNAH: This was a photography studio, which is the reason for that and the weird plywood floors.
I know a lot of the stories about the building. Like, there are three guys that live here: one has been here for 20 years, another’s been here for 15 and another for 12.
TCR: Some buildings collect people. This seems like one of those places.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, we call it the womb, ‘cause we’re in this weird corner right by the train and in an alley, where no one knows that we exist. It’s the safest place ever, even though it’s right across from Nashville Rescue Mission. We hear a lot of stuff going on outside the windows.
TCR: You overlook a pretty major thoroughfare; 8th Avenue is hopping. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen out your window?
SAVANNAH: Once a week a truck hits the bridge at the end of the block. I know the sound. It’s similar to when a train starts, but it’s more distinctive.
The worst sound, though — the most annoying — is the bar bikes, the Pedal Taverns, where all the people are drinking and riding along. They come down this way and it’s one long “woo!” And you hear it every time they go by.
TCR: You know what that “woo!” sound is, don't you? It’s the sound a bachelorette party makes.
SAVANNAH: Sometimes they wave. They can see me.
TCR: Well, that’s nice.
SAVANNAH: Maybe. If I have a top on. [LAUGHS]
TCR: You’re right upstairs from work.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, which is awesome and probably a little bit unhealthy.
TCR: How do you balance your work/life situation?
SAVANNAH: Work does not come up here. Even my leather jackets that I wear all stay down there. I think I have one up here. I use this place to escape completely from that. I don’t do anything up here. I just hang out and fiddle around with the house.
TCR: I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but this is a terrific space for a party.
SAVANNAH: This building used to be a mad party place. The walls were all graffiti in the hallways. They just painted over them like five years ago.
A lot of the people who live here are musicians ‑ touring guys for, like, Keith Urban and other country singers.
TCR: What about the couple who have Mr. Spock, the cat?
SAVANNAH: I think he tours with Dierks Bentley and she’s a Reiki master and a homeschool teacher. And they have Mr. Spock, the hairless cat. They put him in a baby stroller and put him outside on the front porch to get sunshine, because without hair, he gets cold. He feels like a shark: smooth going one way and gross going the other.
TCR: Ugh. Changing the subject. You said a lot of your furniture came from the Downtown Antique Mall, which is across the street.
SAVANNAH: I have been in there 200 times, easily. And I always find something. Like the Uzbekistanian men’s wedding robe that’s hanging on the wall. It has beautiful gold embroidery. I found it right before I was doing a shoot with Heidi (Ross, photographer and TCR contributor among many other things). So I wore it around and she took photos of me wearing it. It’s just beautiful.
TCR: If I lived across the street from an antique mall, I’d be there every day, too.
SAVANNAH: I don’t know how they do it. I’m there every three days, and every time I come there’s new things that I have to buy.
TCR: Let’s start the tour!
SAVANNAH: So, the little stripy table is in an area that I would call the formal living room. It’s a little bit more formal than everything else. The chairs my aunt bought for me at a yard sale somewhere. She calls it “gallivanting.” She just drives around from sale to sale.
TCR: I like the idea of gallivanting.
SAVANNAH: It’s a great word. Spudderacking is another word.
TCR: Is that an Alabama thing?
SAVANNAH: That’s a her thing. I would probably give her credit for making up that word. She has a hashtag on Instagram, #spudderackingwithTT. She just takes pictures of whatever she sees. (Editor’s note: It’s definitely a thing.)
TCR: Where did you find that gigantic macramé plant hanger?
SAVANNAH: The flea market. It was a pile of hemp on a table, and obviously it’s too long for me to even hold up. I couldn't really see what it was, but the guy said it was 25 bucks. And I was, like, I want that. I got it home and hung it up and it was amazing. I think that middle section is meant to hold plants, but I haven’t yet found a pot that sits in it properly.
And then we step over into my music room. [LAUGHS] I’m not sure what to call the different areas of the room… I guess they’re vignettes. That Mick Jagger poster is an original print from, I want to say 1974. And then the velvet neon Stones poster came from my brother a few years ago. I think it’s from the early ’90s.
TCR: And then posters from some of your favorite shows…
SAVANNAH: Yeah, some of my favorite records and shows. Seasick Steve is this amazing old American dude that lives in Norway and has for like 30 years. He’s super cool. Really blues-y. I found him when I was in London. He played at the Royal Albert Hall and there was one seat available, in the second row. That’s when I saw him first. And then right after I moved to Nashville I heard he was playing at Third Man. I went to see him, and it was a totally different dynamic. He plays really obscure instruments that he’s made out of cans and strings and stuff.
TCR: On to the central area of the room. Who did you say made this couch?
SAVANNAH: Adrian Pearsall. He does mid-century, very modern looking pieces. But this is from his earliest years, when he used really obscure textiles. I also like it ‘cause it’s got the built-in table.
Everything I’ve seen from this guy is just amazing. They have a really rad chair of his across the street that I want.
TCR: And you got the sofa on Craigslist, right?
SAVANNAH: Yeah. This is gonna make me sound so cheap, but I hate going into stores like West Elm. I can never buy anything when I’m in those places. It’s never right, you know? It all needs something else… It needs life.
TCR: I hear you. Secondhand pieces have already lived at least one life, which makes them more special in a lot of ways.
SAVANNAH: The floor lamp behind the sofa was formerly a water filtration pipe that was just sawed off. I have the other piece of it down in the studio, being used as a hanging lamp.
TCR: Now we’re getting to my favorite area of the room.
SAVANNAH: Okay, so for Christmas my mom was gonna buy me a bed, and I was gonna get it built. I was thinking of a really streamlined platform bed. And then she came to visit the week after Christmas and we went into a consignment store up the street and there it was. It wasn’t even put together, so all I saw was just these bamboo stands. And I’m like, what’s that? So I laid it out and — oh my god, it’s a bed. I had to have it. Some friends with a truck helped me bring it home.
Sometimes bamboo can look a little ugh, so I painted it gold. It was deco before, but now that it’s gold it’s super-deco. I wake up every morning and I’m like, oh my god, I live in Oz. I’m in Emerald City.
TCR: Oz! That’s exactly what it makes me think of.
SAVANNAH: It’s like I go to another planet when I'm in my bed. It’s actually the first bed I’ve ever owned.
When I moved to Nashville four years ago, I had two suitcases. I’d been in London for five years. I literally carried everything on the plane with me. There’s not very much that I still have from then, because it was all random stuff. After that, I was moving spaces every year and I never really felt settled. So now I feel like I’m like really building a collection.
I love the bed. It’s my favorite.
TCR: It’s really a fabulous centerpiece. And then in front of it, you’ve got another vignette around the orange chair.
SAVANNAH: The hanging lamp I call the pineapple lamp. I found it up in Kentucky at an antique store on the side of the road. I just decided to go for an adventure one day and drove. The orange chair — he’s from the antique store, too.
And then I have my plants. I’ve never had plants before, and they’ve really taken over my life. Like, they are my children. It’s really bizarre. And I keep getting more and more.
I don’t know. They make everything better. I was at someone’s house the other day and she has this really beautiful little palmy thing. She said she’d had it for 26 years. I was like, oh my gosh, my dream! I hope I can keep something alive that long.
I have a couple of prickly guys. There’s this really sweet woman at the flea market and she grows really obscure plants. She grew that little palm, and then that big tall skinny cactus. She’s rad.
And this lady in the window [a very endowed plaster bust facing outside]: she watches over all the truck drivers, protecting them. Her boobs are kind of distracting. So I don’t know if she really helps the truck drivers or not…
TCR: Obviously not if you’re getting one truck a week trashing its hood under that bridge. Do they get stuck under there or what?
SAVANNAH: No, they’re going too fast. It’s like opening a container of yogurt: it peels the whole top off the truck. And then there’s metal everywhere. It’s so weird.
And, I mean, it ruins their day — but it’s so much fun to watch.
Our friend Caroline Allison is as talented as she is kind – and damn if she isn’t one of the most nicest folks we know. Lina’s photography has been shown extensively in the U.S. and abroad; this fall, an exhibit of her new work will open at Zeitgeist, the Nashville gallery where she has representation. A contributing photographer for Garden & Gun, Lina also shoots for Lonny, Southern Living and, ahem, The Callaway Report. She has two adorable kids - one of whom took this photo. (Good job, Emmett!)