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Big Kenny's Fun House!
Wit and Whimsy Rule at the Singer's Nashville Retreat
The Family Room
For some Nashville stars, the sightseeing tour buses that rumble past their homes are simply pesky by-products of fame. For Big Kenny, they're an opportunity to spread a little love. "If I've got time, I'll grab a top hat and run outside and bow to them!" says the Big & Rich singer, also known as Kenny Alphin. The way he figures it, "I've just got a lot more friends than a regular guy."
That open-door policy is in full force at the six-bedroom home (plus two-bedroom guesthouse) that Big Kenny shares with wife Christiev and their 4-year-old son Lincoln. His personal credo, "Love Everybody," is inlaid at the very center of the house ("like a big house tattoo"), and be they friend, family or visiting artist, "someone is staying here pretty much all the time," he says of the 2½-acre spread where they've lived since 2007.
The home's in-town location, in Nashville's Green Hills neighborhood, was a conscious choice. "Our location is the greenest measure we took," he says. "We walk a lot of places and never get caught in traffic."
Just inside the threshold of Chateau de Amore, as they call the Tudor-influenced abode, an English-style pub (with a genuine antique British bar) welcomes guests to raise a glass. The idea for the pub was sparked by the lyrics of a David Frizzell song: "I'm gonna hire a wino to decorate our home / So you'll feel more at ease here and you won't need to roam." Jokes Big Kenny, "It makes my friends feel comfortable, and it keeps me home." On tap for the littlest member of the household? "Lincoln and I go and eat ice cream there," says Christiev, 47, a wardrobe stylist who decorated all the rooms herself.
The house was her first interior-design project and "the biggest styling job I've ever done," she says. She designed the iron light fixtures, filled the rooms with warm woods ("I'm a carpenter, and I like things that give you the sense someone put a hand to it," Big Kenny says) and antique-store treasures, and draped the walls in rich fabrics. "I wouldn't put anything on the walls unless I would wear it!" she laughs.
A highlight of the home is Lincoln's pirate-themed bedroom, inspired by a musical Big Kenny, 46, wrote for his son called The Pirates of Cookietown. The ceiling features a mural of angels floating in an evening sky (studded with Swarovski crystal "stars"). Says Christiev: "I wanted him to know that angels were watching over him, even if we're not here." His one-of-a-kind pirate-ship bed (complete with below-deck captain's quarters), created by a set designer, is the setting for nightly playtime with Dad. "He likes to slam the pillow around or nail me with one of his swords," Big Kenny says. "We'll wrestle around, and it's just fun."
The family's vegetable garden, meanwhile, is the site of more placid father-son bonding. "When I grew up [in Culpeper, Va.], I worked with my dad on the farm. I wanted my kid to be with me and learn this beautiful world. I want him to be a Renaissance man," says Big Kenny, who's often found roaming the flora with his pair of clippers. "This is like a university for a 4-year-old." The plot is irrigated by rainwater collected in cisterns he had installed-one of many eco-friendly additions to the property, which he hopes one day to take off the city power grid by installing solar panels. The family grows native fruits, like service berries, along with lettuce, black-eyed peas, squash and tomatoes, and Lincoln, says Christiev, "likes to run out to the garden and get a snack."
Garden-fresh veggies are regularly on the menu in the Alphin kitchen, where both Christiev and Big Kenny show off their skills. "She makes the most amazing soft eggs you've ever had"-cream cheese and slow folding are the secrets, she says-"and I can make a breakfast burrito with fresh sauce that will blow your mind."
Culinary prowess aside, the singer's true passion is behind the main house: Last Dollar Studio, a three-story recording studio (which he refers to reverently as "my church") named for the Tim McGraw tune he penned that helped save him from bankruptcy. "When I'm home and not on the road, I want to be around my kid, not out in some other studio," he says. "Here I can continue my life without having to compromise." While the first two floors bustle with musicians (Big Kenny recorded his solo album The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farmboy and produces other music there), the third level is pure Big Kenny. A narrow stairway leads to a bell tower (sans bell) just large enough to stand up and turn around in, where a Bible lies near a folding chair. "I come up here sometimes and read my Bible," Big Kenny says of the tiny cubicle. "This is my place of solitude."
It's also a place to reflect on the extremes his life has seen. "In 2002 I was sitting in a hotel room, not knowing how to pay my bills. And now here we are," he says. "I've stopped trying to make sense of it. Some people's lives go down the middle of the road, and some people's go between mustard and mayonnaise."
He's also figured out ways to spread his good fortune, like in Akon, Sudan, where he traveled in 2007 and 2009 with donations of medical and educational supplies. "A great Kennyism is, 'A pile of money is like a big pile of manure,' " says Christiev. " 'If it stays there, it smells like crap, but spread it around, it becomes fertilizer.' " Says Big Kenny: "I'm just living with everything I've got and trying to make things better whenever I can."
Signs of Their Times
"We're collectors of great memories," says Christiev. The neon Pub of Love sign came from the now-defunct venue where Big & Rich first performed with the Muzik Mafia. The direction post points to special locales like Akon, the village in Sudan where the couple helped fund a school.
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