Bright Idea

Feinbaum family relishes light, open spaces in new Sequoyah Hills home

“Our new house is our forever home. It will take a nuclear bomb to get me out of here,” says Sequoyah Hills homeowner Melissa Feinbaum. 

Melissa and Ron Feinbaum bought a 1945 white “catalog house” on a hill in Sequoyah Hills in 2017. Catalog houses were mail-order homes sold mostly during the early 20th century and were essentially do-it-yourself homebuilding kits. Soon the couple began to reimagine a brand-new white house taking its place.

“We wanted an open concept and a house with lots of big windows and natural light,” said Melissa from the great room of the couple’s newly built home.

“The original house had a good life, and there were some interesting building materials such as redwood shakes, shipped from California and painted white,” she said. “I wanted to honor it when we had the house torn down.” The couple donated some of the original interior fittings to Knox Heritage and kept the garden shed that was on the property. 

Melissa had remembered seeing the house on the hill on Kenesaw Avenue years before and loved the spot. “It was a wonderful area, and of course we love Sequoyah Hills. We love its diversity, the community and being near downtown Knoxville. This neighborhood is just so special,” she said. 

Melissa’s father Marvin Miller, former owner of Schriver’s men’s and women’s store on Gay Street, grew up on the Sequoyah Hills boulevard. She remembers picnics there while visiting her grandfather, Samuel Miller, who bought Schriver’s in the 1950s. Her father Marvin would take over the family business and operate the iconic store until 1993 when the family closed it.

“We grew up in the store. I can remember the fun of running up and down the 1912 antique store elevator,” says the Knoxville native. The memories of Schriver’s bring a lot of joy, and she loves hearing about customers’ experiences.

Ron Feinbaum, a native Virginian, is a consultant with BoldSquare, a Knoxville-based global communications firm. He came to Knoxville in 2000 from Cincinnati, accepting an opportunity with Scripps Interactive and continuing his career at HGTV for more than 20 years. 

Melissa owns her own business—Miller Feinbaum Recruiting. Their daughter Rachael, 12, is a student at Webb School of Knoxville where she is a member of the tennis team and enjoys riding horses. 

The Feinbaum household also includes two dogs, Comet and Gidget, and two horses they board at a farm in Maryville.

The family lived in the original house for a short time. The house had a darker interior, and they knew they wanted a house full of natural light and an open concept design with special gathering spaces for family and friends. 

“Living in the original white house was really a complete change for us, having lived before in Jefferson Park on Lake Loudoun in a 6,500-square-foot house.”

The new design concept meant tearing down the original house, looking through many rough drafts of drawings with architect and designer Jonathan Miller, and figuring out what would work. “Once the original house was removed, we started from scratch,” says the Feinbaum’s builder, Rob Purvis.

By 2018, the couple broke ground on what would be their third home together as a family and their “forever house.”

“With the site being sloped and narrow, we were really pleased with how well the house and the outdoor spaces were oriented and landscaped, still giving the family a level of privacy,” he said. Purvis says his greatest satisfaction with the project is how well the house flows, and how well the interior layout relates to the outside spaces and amenities of the home.  

Purvis remembers enjoying a very good working relationship with the Feinbaums and Jonathan Miller’s design team. “Their excitement for the new home and everyone’s ability to communicate with each other allowed for a really nice finished product.”  

So why does this new house already feel like home? 

“It’s the peace that we feel when we are here. And it’s the livability of our home that comes from the ability to design your own home and work with an architect like Jonathan Miller and with a builder like Rob Purvis,” says Melissa. “Jonathan asked all the right questions to create and build a house that we call our home. We created and recreated until Jonathan got exactly what we wanted. It just feels like home, and I do believe that is what should happen when you create something so personal.” 

Miller helped Melissa and Ron envision their living spaces with large windows and high ceilings with beams in their spacious kitchen and great room.

One can stand in the middle of the first floor of the 4,750-square-foot-home and experience a nearly 365-degree outdoor view. “There’s not a space in this home that isn’t flooded with light,” says Melissa.

The new two-story, white-framed home is designed to fill with guests or enjoy a cozy evening in what Melissa calls the “Keeping Room”—a cheery space with lots of natural light, of course. It’s a favorite with the family for reading, eating in and movie nights. 

On the second floor is a large guest suite and a high-functioning, multipurpose space for home workouts, games and home theatre.

From the couple’s special Jewish marriage contract—a “Ketubah”—to an original Italian painting from their travels, the home’s walls are lined with many styles of art. All meaningful, says Melissa. 

The intimate backyard space includes a pool, ping pong table and a covered patio with a wood-burning fireplace that the family began enjoying soon after moving into the house last Halloween. It’s a great spot to wrap up in layers on cool nights.

Ron, Melissa and Rachael each has a favorite spot in the house. Ron loves the outdoor patio, and Melissa chooses a sunny, peaceful spot in their master suite. “I’m seeing all kinds of birds outside our bedroom window I’ve never seen before, like red-bellied and redheaded woodpeckers. It’s kind of a thrill.”

And Rachael? “My room is my favorite place in the whole house,” she says. 

And while everyone has a favorite spot, the kitchen is the heart of this home. The kitchen is designed so that everybody can move easily around appliances and countertops while preparing a “yummy meal and pouring a nice glass of wine.”  

This is a family that cooks. Even Rachel has come to love cooking and prepares a meal for “Mom and Dad on occasion.” She also creates treats for her friends. She and her neighbor Camille leave personally prepared treats on each other’s doorsteps. 

“It’s a precious way for these friends to create deliciousness during this nutty COVID insanity,” says Melissa. 

Friedman’s Appliances has been the Feinbaum’s choice vendor for three different updates. They always have the latest appliances and provide terrific service when necessary. Exact Tile and Standard Kitchen were also terrific choices for the couple. 

“I can’t say enough positive things about working with all these vendors.”  

From their long front porch that sits high on a hill, Ron and Melissa enjoy the view and think about what kind of furniture will eventually work there for the family–- perhaps starting with a swing. “Right now, we find ourselves out here a lot, just sitting on the porch steps looking out over the neighborhood,” she says. “It’s also where we’re cutting hair during the coronavirus,” she adds, laughing.

COVID-19 has changed everything since moving in. 

Melissa has a special message for people struggling with the challenges of living during a pandemic. “Having found out in 2015 that I have multiple sclerosis, I say to anyone who has it—find that place of healing right now during this time.”

Melissa serves as member of the Mid South Board of Trustees of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and says that one week after her diagnosis, “I knew I had to put one foot in front of me and go forward.” She’s still doing that today, leading an active life. Along with great medicine and a loving family, her horses are especially healing for her. 

Quarantine during the coronavirus has affected this family’s expectations in their new forever home. Though they’ve been unable to entertain the way they’d like, they’re finding enjoyment and inspiration from the outdoors, including their pool and ever-changing perennial plantings. 

“We’ve not had a big housewarming yet, and we’re looking forward to it,” she says, smiling.

Their desire for peaceful places throughout the house matters even more right now when people are spending more time at home.

The Feinbaums are doing it with style and comfort and love for the nature that surrounds them.    

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