In addition to being home to some of the most fascinating music history, Nashville is also the birthplace of the largest log home in the world and one of the most unforgettable homes you’ll see – Fontanel, the former home of Country Music Hall of Fame member and Grammy Award winning country singer Barbara Mandrell.
When we stepped onto the bus to head up the wooded path to the lavish estate, we were told something I’ve never heard on a house tour before: Sit on the furniture, feel free to play the instruments and make yourself at home. This is just one element that makes Fontanel such a unique and welcoming experience. The roughly five minute bus ride up to the mansion is made that much more interesting by a video introduction from Barbara’s husband Ken Dudney, telling visitors about the home’s construction and how it was truly a labor of love. And the immaculacy of the home is not lost on visitors when first pulling up to the 33,000 square foot home.
Starting in the living room, we made ourselves comfortable on the cozy couches as our tour guide Otis relayed one exciting fact after another. On one wall hangs instruments from artists like Luke Bryan, Buck Owens and “American Idol’s” Chris Daughtry, just to name a few. A large glass bookcase showcases Mandrell’s numerous awards, including her multiple Grammys, CMA Entertainer of the Year and People’s Choice Awards. While acting as the living space for the country legend and her family, I was surprised to learn that Fontanel has also filled countless other purposes throughout the years, including serving as the rehab center in the 2010 film “Country Strong” starring Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow, both of who’s signatures are on the room’s spiral staircase, along with Bob Hope and Oprah Winfrey’s. Fontanel was also the homestead for John’s Rich’s reality show “Gone Country,” which ran for three seasons on CMT and featured the likes of Booby Brown, Maureen McCormick of “The Brady Bunch,” Chris Kirkpatrick of *NSYNC and other music stars.
One of the highlights of the tour is a stop in what’s been dubbed the “soda fountain room,” which boasts a variety of old-fashioned décor ranging from a vibrant jukebox and Dolly Parton pinball machine to a vintage cash register. Above the bar are neon signs that display cleverly titled drinks named after members of the Mandrell-Dudney family. But the real highlight of the room was when Otis whipped out his guitar and played a beautiful rendition of Craig Campbell’s “Outskirts of Heaven,” adding a truly immersive experience to the tour. But Otis isn’t the only talented singer on staff, as he revealed to us that many of Fontanel’s employees are musicians, adding another dynamic to the Fontanel experience.
We then made our way down the hall to what used to be the children’s rooms, but now serve as guest rooms for Fontanel’s current owners Marc Oswald and Dale Morris. Daughter Jaime, now the human resources manager at Fontanel, wanted to take guests back in time to when she was growing up in the house, so she humbly donated many of her precious belongings that really bring the room to life, including her Miss Tennessee gown from 1993, family photos and other gems.
Speaking of music history, many of Nashville’s best have made their mark throughout the home. Gold records from Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson adorn the walls. Episodes of Rich’s “Gone Country” play on a continuous loop in the soda foundation room, while handwritten lyrics of Martina McBride’s “In my Daughter’s Eyes” and “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean decorate the walls outside the guest bedrooms. There’s even an old shooting range just off the kitchen that now exhibits old photos of John Rich and Kenny Alphin, accolades from Oswald and Morris, photos of Gretchen Wilson and so much more, making the home a musical treasure.
Whether relaxing in the kitchen that Oprah once cooked in or checking out the indoor pool that, legend has it, John Stamos taught Jaime and her friends how to do back flips into, Fontanel is a one-of-a-kind experience you can only get in Nashville. It’s the type of place that opens your eyes to the world of country music – and makes you feel right at home in the process.