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Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Mansion Tour and Good Eats Too!

 Recently I visited Fontanel Mansion ( ) with a group of ladies from the Extension Homemaker’s association of Todd Co, KY for a tour of the mansion and lunch afterwards at the attractions restaurant.

You are probably asking, “And what is Fontanel Mansion?” I didn’t know either… I was just up for a fun day out with friends. Fontanel Mansion is the former home of Barbara Mandrell located just NW of Nashville in the tiny town of Whites Creek. It is the world’s largest log cabin. 27,000 square feet.

Apparently her husband got into the log cabin home business and they decided they would build their dream home. It was designed by the same man who did the Country Music Hall of Fame building (and you can see similarities in the design). It was started around 1988 (we had 2 guides on our tour and their information rarely matched). It took about a year and a half to complete. Barbara made a trip to North Carolina and in three days bought ALL of the furnishings for the house. That kinda of blew my mind… it would take me months of careful selection to furnish my home from scratch.

The family lived in it only 14 years. They then sold it and ‘downsized’ to a 6000 square foot home in the very nice Belle Meade section of Nashville.

The house was bought by country music managing company partners. They have turned it into a tourist attraction (these tours, a restaurant, gift shop and dinner theater), a concert venue and they rent the house out for music video productions, movies and reality series (apparently there was a ‘country’ version of “Big Brother”).

There is very little of Barbara Mandrell’s tenure in the home. The master bedroom and bath, and two guest rooms are the only ones as they were. There are some pieces of furniture that have either been donated or bought back to go in the house (when Barbara quit the music business and moved out of Fontanel, she burned her bridges by having a huge yard sale on the front lawn of the mansion. Many things were sold, including most of her musical instruments. She has made NO public appearances in the music sector since then and now spends her time gardening. Seriously!)

(I apologize for the photography. The house is many lighted with the huge skylight and windows and it was a bright but hazy day. This resulted in very harsh photographic lighting. I’ve played with them a bit to improve the shots…)

The house is staged with furniture that has been used in and left from the productions filmed in it, plus the few pieces of original furniture brought back.

You enter the house on the second floor or ground level. After you enter the house, there are about 4 different directions you can go. Turning to the far right you enter the Great Room that takes up the end of the house.

This photo shows about 2/3 of the room. The ceiling is 37’ high. Apparently the logs weren’t properly dried and for several years (according to one of the guides) were shrinking at the rate of up to 4” a year. The metal turnbuckle system was installed to keep the roof from falling apart.

The management team who bought the house managed the group “Alabama”, so besides Barbara Mandrell memorabilia there is also a lot of “Alabama” stuff. It’s a combination of those in the built-in bookshelves. The conversation areas on the right and left of the photo were Barbara’s as was the bull bone table in the center of the sofa area. The ‘sofa pit’ (there is matching sofa/chair combo opposite of what you can see) is left over from that country “Big Brother” show. The double helix spiral stair is made from mahogany.

And this is the other 1/3 of the room.  To the left you can see the foyer entrance.

A close up of the fireplace.

The Steinway piano was a leftover from a shoot.  The room is decorated with guitars from various country music stars. 

Now back in the foyer, if you go to the far left you enter the formal dining room.  Only the built-ins, rug and chandelier are original.  That chandy has 8000 crystals.  The flokati rug came from Greece.
I thought this idea in the butler’s pantry was so cute!  To measure the kids’ growth, the ‘yard stick’ marked feet rather than inches.  I just can NOT imagine leaving this behind, can you? 

This is the master bedroom.  We were told it was original furnishings.  The fireplace is marble.

The sitting area.

And the master bathroom.  Barbara’s side.

You can see it’s a large room.  The wall behind the vanity is also mirrored.

The guide called this the ‘family room’.  Apparently this is where the family really hung out.  There is a TV tucked up in the right corner (forever playing “The Barbara Mandrell Show”).

Besides the sitting area, there is also a full size kitchen and a dining table.  (There is another kitchen that serviced the large guest dining room.  TWO full kitchen in the house!)  Don’t you just love the 2 deep fryer baskets?  That’s ‘country’… gotta have fried stuff!
The balcony you can see in the picture two above overlooks this… their indoor swimming pool.  (To the right of the pool is a room that is a 22’ shooting gallery set up for use by two shooters at once.  It now houses yet more memorabilia.)

And if you don’t want to look at the pool, on the other side of the room you can gaze at the 300 gallon salt water fish tank. 

Barbara and her husband called their children “the three little bears” and there are bear items all over.  A huge carved sculpture in the driveway at the front of house is the first you’ll see.  This one (detail of one bear) is carved from one log… both the pole and bear are from one log.
Up on the third floor are the soda fountain/game room and the rest of the bedrooms.  If you were a guest in the home, you could have stayed in one of these two guest rooms…

The “Dream Catcher Room”.

I don’t know what sort of dreams I’d have with a bison skull, complete with sharp horns, hanging over my bed!

Or you could stay in the “Frontier Room”.

There were cow hides on the wall and floor!

So, would you be a cowboy or an Indian for the night?

On down the hallway were the rooms the children had plus a few more bedrooms. Two rooms are now set up for the two partners and their wives. And at the very end of the hallway was this lovely balcony. That was my favorite thing about the home… all the balconies. There were a lot.

I believe one of the guides said there were 9 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms in the house.

The first floor had the pool, shooting gallery, mechanical works and storage. This last photo shows the area of the pool.

After the tour our group had lunch at the Farmhouse Restaurant at the entrance of the attraction. I would call it “upscale Southern” menu. I had an appetizer of Butter Bean Hummus (shared with the group), and for my meal I had the catfish with Creole seasoning and the sides of smoked tomato grits and corn & butter bean succotash. Everything was great except the succotash, which wasn’t the traditional casserole type, but rather the colloquial Southern type that is just boiled mix vegetables…and nothing special at that. If I’d known I would have gotten the skillet greens instead.

I will definitely be making return visits to the restaurant. Very good!


  1. The term 'downsize' is all relative, isn't it? Can't blame her for moving. I prefer cozy to too much space. Glad you had a good day out! Always fun to see how the other half lives.

  2. Wow! I think that my whole neighborhood could live in that house. Very interesting and beautiful.

  3. What a great tour! Did you know that Country Strong, the new Gwyneth Paltrow movie, had parts filmed there?

    You know, I used to pass by the house (which you can't see from the road) every day when I went to pick up my children from school in White's Creek. I remember well when it sat for years on the market - way too expensive for anyone to even think about. And I was awed when I saw it on Gone Country, the reality tv show filmed there. Among others on the show were Mickey Dolenz (the Monkees) and Maureen McCormick (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!)

    I saw Barbara's father, I assumed, sitting on his front porch one day. His cabin was on the property, but facing White's Creek Pike, as was one of the sisters', Earline, I think. And I remember her house had a yard full of Little Tykes play equipment. I have a friend who says her brother carved teddy bears in the logs; not sure if the one you picture is one of his.

    In spite of all that, I have not yet been to the mansion, but you've just inspired me to put that on my list for the spring.

    Thank You!

  4. That is the grandest "log cabin" I've ever seen! My fave pic has got to be that carved bear, isn't he something? Thanks for your visit to my site, and for the reassurance (big sis' is always prone to exaggaration).. smile.


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