There’s a song by Neil Young and Crazy Horse from the classic 1990 album Ragged Glory called “Mansion on the Hill.” The chorus starts like this:
There’s a mansion on the hill
Psychedelic music fills the air…
To get to Nathan Followill and his wife Jessie Baylin’s mansion on the hill—he’s the drummer in the band Kings of Leon, she’s a singer-songwriter—you have to go up what might be the steepest driveway in Nashville. And after you reach the top, the terrain levels to a sublime retreat, one with staggering Instagram-ready views of uninterrupted woods. It’s not a suburban cookie cutter in a gated community. Rather, it’s a stunning modern house, where music is constantly pumping (some psychedelic, some not): all clean lines, wood, glass, and stone.
Followill and Baylin bought the house, built in 1971 by the Nashville architect Robert Anderson, in early 2009. Anderson’s homes have developed something of a cult following among the creative class in Music City. The model and singer Karen Elson lives in an Anderson home, and the A-list architect Bobby McAlpine owned a classic example and lived up the hillside from Anderson himself for five and a half years. In a city rife with traditional houses, Anderson’s modern structures exemplify the ideals of midcentury architecture: They are carefully sited within the landscape and have exteriors of mostly glass that take advantage of views and flood the rooms with natural light. When these houses come on the market, the bidding is fierce, and devotees snatch them up faster than a bottle of Pappy Family Reserve.
Followill and Baylin were living in a cottage in Nashville’s Sylvan Park neighborhood when Baylin went to look at the property, while Followill was on tour. She sent him some cell-phone pictures, but she already knew. “There was a lot of kismet, but then I was like, ‘We don’t have any furniture,’” she remembers.
“I told her to make sure the seller’s couch was thrown in as part of the deal,” Followill says, laughing. That sectional sofa still sits in their living room, which is newly renovated after more than two years of work. When the couple began thinking about how to make the space work for them, their soon-to-be-born daughter, Violet, and a roster of frequent guests, they originally wanted to build up, tacking a fourth floor onto the existing structure, but were told the foundation couldn’t support it. Working with Nashville architect Steve Durden and interior designer Benjamin Vandiver, they decided instead to build out. Together, the group collaborated on the design of a bedroom wing attached by a floating walkway from the kitchen, as well as a guest suite that overlooks the pool, with a room above for Ping-Pong. Baylin is known for her prowess among their friends and the Kings of Leon crew. “She’s a lefty, so she’s always the ringer,” Followill says, grinning.
The Ping-Pong table is just one of the house’s playful elements. On the wall of the glass-encased sitting room (the women’s “wine and whine area,” Baylin says) is another: a giant photograph of a 1980s-era boom box, by Lyle Owerko. And while that spot and the second floor contain breathtaking open spaces, there are little nooks all over the house where the couple can retreat to write or read to Violet, who is now two years old, anytime L’il Red—as her parents have dubbed her—isn’t walking around singing “Let It Go,” from Frozen. The couple’s furniture is a collection of pieces from antique stores in Nashville and New York that range from a $150 gray chaise-and-ottoman set to a seventies lacquered goatskin armoire by Karl Springer that cost, Followill jokes, “about a year of Violet’s college.”
But the pièce de résistance—if you’re a skintight-jeans-wearing rocker dude—is a giant lion’s head located in the room where Followill kicks up his feet after sundown. It was purchased in the wake of a boozy lunch in New York, after furniture shopping and two (or so) bottles of wine. “I was literally crying on the sidewalk,” Baylin says. “I couldn’t believe he was dropping more cash on that.” Followill wants to find a stuffed squirrel and hang it on the same wall in the neighboring bathroom to, as he puts it, “complete the whole 3-D thing.”
Stuffed animals aside, it is the home’s connection to its surroundings that makes it, the giant windows serving as panoramic vantage points for exploding fall colors or the first days of spring. A deep feeling of serenity permeates the house. It doesn’t hurt that Baylin has a “no drums rule” for the place (a rule currently under renegotiation). It’s so peaceful that friends such as the actress Connie Britton have dubbed the place “Spa-llowill.” The couple even had the nickname emblazoned on robes for guests. “I come from a tour and I literally don’t leave here for a week,” Followill says.
“I’m a Jersey girl, so when I see bobcats and deer, I’m blown away,” Baylin says. “We’re at one with nature up here. It’s an experience.”
Or as Neil Young—a favorite of the two—sums it up:
Peace and love live there still
In that mansion on the hill.
*Make sure to check out Jessie Baylin’s new album Dark Place out April 7.