Where the heart is: Rana Mukherji and Curtis Allen
Rana Mukerji and Curtis Allen’s home, featured on the cover this month's print issue, is an example of the dramatic, modern architecture that is increasing in popularity in Middle Tennessee. With its metal and glass features, the hillside structure is particularly impressive when reflecting the bright light of the sun.
The building is actually comprised of two dwellings. “We built both, and before we built here, it was basically just a bare, sloping hill,” Mukherji, a doctor at the VA Hospital, explained. “We’ve lived here for about 5.5 years. My mother built that side and I built this side. They are pretty much identical.”
The design reflects the aesthetic values Mukherji sought in a home: “Primarily, I wanted good natural light, and a relatively open feeling. So we have the two story living room, and we have windows on two sides of the home. I also wanted good, tall views, so rather than making it a sprawling house, we built it more upright.”
From the outside, with its strong vertical lines, the house draws the eye toward the sky. It’s designed to do the same inside. “The higher you go the clearer the views you have over the city or the sunset. It’s a total of four floors, but the fourth one is really a very small perch and a roof-top deck off of it.”
With its open design, the main floor is basically a large, public space. “We do occasionally hold events here,” Mukherji said. “We’ve held three art shows thus far, showcasing five Tennessee artists. One show was photography, another was paintings, and the other was a mixture of both. We have a show coming up that features three local painters. The house has also been used as the backdrop for a photo session for a country music artists. We’ve also held some fundraisers and charity events. Beyond that it’s just been small social gatherings.”
Social functionality was definitely a design goal in laying out the house’s public spaces. “I’m a pretty social person and a pretty public person,” Mukherji said, “so the ability to entertain was very important. You know how they say everyone flocks to the kitchen? To that end I made the kitchen a kind of three-tiered area, so that when people gather here they wouldn’t really be crowding the rest of the party out. And since it’s all an open space, if it gets too crowded around the islands people can move into the adjacent areas without feeling like they aren’t a part of what’s going on.”
In fact, he added with a laugh, “A friend has asked whether he can use the kitchen for a cooking demonstration, to invite a few people over to watch him prepare food.
The last decade has seen amazing advances for the LGBT community, though much remains to be done to secure the rights of the most vulnerable. And while the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is no cure-all, it has done a great deal to cement the process of normalization that particularly gay and lesbians have enjoyed. In short, it is becoming much easier for LGBT people to make themselves at home in the wider culture, even in Middle Tennessee.
Part of that process is actually making homes for ourselves in the region—joining with the larger community in which we live and settling in amongst our neighbors. This isn’t just to keep up with the straight Jones’ and to show that we are as normal as everyone else. Aside from community centers and bars, LGBT homes are centers of communal existence, places of refuge for our friend groups to gather and our children to congregate.
So much community organizing and political action began in the kitchens and dining rooms of LGBT homes in middle Tennessee. Pride events were organized, funds were raised for CARES and other organizations, and life-long friendships were cemented in these harbors. As we move forward into the twenty-first century, the necessity of the home space for these functions may be diminishing, but the LGBT home still serves many purposes.