Interior designer Nancy Pannell’s newly built home is just half the size of her old one, but executed with no shortage of thoughtfulness, simplicity and charm.

Written by Sarah Hooper | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Just west of downtown Saltillo a bright little house sits next to a field of curious cows, as if it might have magically sprung up from the field itself. With a white tin roof and an ample front porch, Judy Pannell’s house reflects and absorbs the light in a way that gives it a spritely glow.

When Nancy Pannell decided her 3,000-square-foot home in the Deer Park subdivision was a little too much, she set her sites on finding something smaller, something with a little more privacy, a little further out in the county, something … just right. With a vision in mind, the seasoned designer put pen to paper and made it so. Pannell decided to scale down to exactly 1,500 square feet and was determined she could make everything fit comfortably. With a bit of doing and determination, she has.

A well-known interior designer in the Saltillo area, Pannell is an entrepreneur, a business owner and an antique dealer. With that, her transition to a space this size required a certain commitment and several rounds of selective purges from her collections. She passed some things on to family and friends, sold some and, in the end, thoughtfully selected the things she most wanted to keep.

“Most everything I’ve got here means something,” Pannell said.

Pannell and her husband moved to Saltillo in 1976. With young children at home, she took a break from design until 1990 when she opened the Antique Emporium in downtown Saltillo. She has been working steadily ever since. A few years ago, when her husband died, she decided to downsize.

The house took a year to build, due to various setbacks including weather. But Pannell knew just what she wanted.

“I did lots of the work myself,” Pannell said. “Being a widow with a disabled son at home, I needed save money. So, I reused lots of old pieces.”

She contracted the work herself, and builder Woody Turner faithfully executed her vision, including finishes, like her polished cypress countertops and kitchen cabinets.

“They don’t use nail guns,” Pannell said of Turner. “He works with a hammer and nails.”

Pannell, her adult son, Ash, and Mia the cat are now very much at home with two spacious bedrooms and two baths. Their personal spaces are divided by one large great room with a vaulted cypress ceiling. The cypress was processed at a nearby sawmill then washed with equal parts water and paint, sealed and mounted. The effect is cool and calming.

An eye-catching centerpiece that separates the open kitchen from the living area is a large island Pannell design and Woody built from a collection of antique doors. One single large door serves as the long, outward facing side of the island while split doors serve as the ends. The base is painted a darker gray to contrast the surface which, like her countertops, is cypress washed with light gray and polished to a shine. Her back porch, which she plans to screen-in, doubles as a dining room when she entertains.

“It’s a work in progress,” Pannell said.

Personal touches are everywhere. Pannell, a native of Merigold, keeps McCarty pottery and animals throughout the house. Having grown up on a cotton farm, she also uses lots of cotton in her decor. One of her most unique pieces is a floor lamp she made using a porch post from her family home.

With a light gray base on the walls (Worldly Gray from Sherwin Williams), Pannell has created a canvas for her eclectic gallery of paintings, photographs, pottery, baskets and furnishings. Above the kitchen island hang pendant light fixtures made by Peter’s Pottery and hand-delivered by Peter himself some years ago. Peter, a Delta-based artist, is a friend.

Pannell made building a hardened safe room a priority for the tornado-prone area. It easily doubles as dry storage and has already come in handy during inclement weather. Her garage includes extra storage space for furnishings en route to clients, and a space for her own workshop. But for all its practicality, the home is most memorable for whimsical touches. Perhaps, this is most well illustrated by the surprising and delightfully cozy nook she created with her granddaughter in mind.

Tucked away behind a pair of unassuming bifold doors, the “sleeping closet” has a queen-sized bed with plush pillows and beautiful linens. Decorated with cool, abstract paintings and warm, rustic sconces, Pannell has fashioned a creative refuge worthy of Sunday naps.

Pannell’s affinity for both design and antiques began in college, when she worked at the famed Fireside Shop in Cleveland while she and her husband, Dean, were students at Delta State University. Fireside’s owner, Clemmie Griffin Collins, encouraged Pannell to pursue a degree in interior design. So, while her husband was working on his graduate degree at East Tennessee State University, Pannell earned a degree in interior design from the Chicago School of Design through the correspondence program.

So, what is next for Nancy Pannell? She says there is always more work to do around the house, and her client list keeps her busy. An oil painting in her bathroom hints at her interest in trying her hand at another creative endeavor.

“One of these days I’m going to take art lessons,” Pannell said.


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