BY NATE STOREY
A Brooklynite takes his urban bed and breakfast concept to the Music City.
It’s 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Lyon Porter is waxing poetic about his obsession with Southwestern Victorian Deco in the living room of the Urban Cowboy, his five-room B&B that landed the former minor-league hockey player in practically in every glossy publication that covers travel and design when it opened in 2014. Beneath a rolling garage door that opens to the backyard is a guy named Jetski, a rep for fashion brand Zanerobe, taking pulls of whiskey. Actress Emily Ratajkowksi, who hates it when you call her the girl from the Blurred Lines music video, is drinking red wine in the communal kitchen with a friend (she’s in town shooting her next film).
Porter pays no mind. He’s more interested in talking about the new Urban Cowboy. “I’m just really fascinated by Southwestern design and Art Deco right now. They are both ornate, they are both angular, and they have nothing to do with each other.”
In the two years since the Cowboy opened, it’s become a clubhouse for passing-through Instagram stars, celebrities, musicians, artists, the fashion crowd, and most importantly, neighborhood denizens. “One of the special things about the original property is that it’s so small, so everyone gets to know one another,” he says, before reiterating what has become his catchphrase. “People arrive as strangers and leave as friends.”
For his second act, Porter packed up a 1989 Jeep Wagoneer and vintage Airstream and headed for the Music City. The location in up-and-coming East Nashville, where small-batch breweries stand next to craft hot dog stands, is synergetic with the eclectic Adirondacks-style outpost in Brooklyn. However, the design couldn’t be more diametrical. The converted 1890s Victorian mansion Porter chose for Cowboy 2.0 takes on the aesthetic of an old western.
“It reminds me of the house where I grew up in Ohio,” he says about the layout of the second-floor rooms. The heart pine floors, copper candlesticks by local maker hand Dandy Productions, and beds tucked in century-old dormers are manifestations of Porter’s childhood nostalgia. His version of en-suite tubs came with the help of boutique construction shop Ochoa Brothers—the clawfoots, which rest on tiled pedestals that create a floating effect, were placed under skylights so guests can gaze at the stars (in the octagonal turret room, an 1800 copper and wood coffin tub sits next to a teepee).
Porter assembles a team of eccentric craftsmen to help bring his vision to life. For instance, he collaborated Patrick Hayes of 1767 Designs, a local woodworker who specializes in reclaimed materials sourced at demolition sites, to create hammered copper and burnt wood wall. The psychedelic main foyer looks like a Navajo Indian took peyote and interpreted a deep dream, with a dazzling pine wall that resembles a massive woven blanket. Not to be outdone is the hidden door it camouflages. “I wanted the first experience upon entry to punch you in the face to reinforce that you’ve never been anywhere like this before,” he says. For accent, he tasked Brooklyn’s Clint Van Gemert of Bklynteriors to design a variety of hand-pasted wallpaper in a range of radical styles, from a distressed turquoise evil eyes motif to a bull skull print that could double as the Texas Longhorns logo. “Clint doesn’t just do wallpaper; he’s an artist who uses wallpaper as his medium,” Porter says.
The ground-floor parlors act as a hotel’s social dens. Under 12-foot ceilings, the vintage furniture pieces are the bounty from a yearlong hunt by Porter and innkeeper (slash girlfriend) Jersey Banks to antique shops around the country: New York, Ohio, and Tennessee, among others. Art tile fireplaces, original stained-glass windows, and American chestnut pocket doors are just a few of the found treasures incorporated into the spaces. You might even see a banjo or two. “I designed it like your favorite leather jacket, it looks better the more you live in it, beat up,” he says. In other words, make yourself comfortable. Porter adds, “Jump on the couch, lie on the chaise; it’s not a museum, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll bed and breakfast. Music is Nashville’s creative core. I hope people will pick up a guitar or bang on the drums.”
The backyard is a respite for the road-weary. A ramshackle structure that was once a Dairy Queen is now a cocktail lounge. Consider the Airstream, parked next to tow 100-year-old holly trees, a nook to sip drinks. Then there’s the cabin suite, which was built by the previous owner to host his gay lovers while his wife was asleep in the main house. Ironic, since Porter says the property will now function as a sanctuary for the uninhibited. “The spirit of the Cowboy is freedom, a place for locals and travelers to truly be themselves, have a few drinks, play some music, with no pretext or pretension. The ultimate hang.”