How We Are Rebuilding After The Tornado: Spring 2020 ORC Week One

rebuilding after the Nashville tornado 2020

This blog post has been two months in the making and yet I’m still sitting here, at the very last minute, lost for words to write. Ordinarily, I can so easily describe the goings on in my everyday life. I have no problem coming up with things to say. But this time, I’m stuck. My therapist says I’m in shock and I know she’s right. I don’t think that’s the entire reason I can’t find the words this time.

This time, I think I’m also really pensive. I’m scared to come off as too whiny or shallow or dismissive of other’s pain or not dismissive enough of my own family’s grief. I’m afraid to be honest about our house in print. I’m afraid that, if I tell the whole story, it will be perceived in the wrong tone and you – my friends and readers – will judge me. That’s a little of the grief and chaos in my brain talking but it’s also my truth.

But it’s been long enough and if I’m ever going to show you how to overcome a natural disaster, I have to start with the process we’ve endured. So here it is –

Nashville Tornado 2020 impact


In the early morning hours of March 3, while most of the city slept, a previously described “benign” storm turned into a deadly tornado over the skies of North Nashville. From there, and without ever leaving the ground, the tornado ripped through Nashville’s Germantown and East Nashville neighborhoods before moving into Donelson, Lebanon, and Mt. Juliet before finally lifting off the ground. That supercell storm caused an additional tornado to touch down in Cookeville, causing even more damage and deaths. In total, a single tornado is thought to have been on the ground for over half an hour.

We ache for all our neighbors. From North Nashville to Cookeville, our entire Middle Tennessee family was impacted and we are sending all our love to everyone who had to live through this disaster and to the families of those who weren’t as fortunate.

For additional information about the storm’s path of destruction, you can read this article from The Tennessean Newspaper which includes an aerial view of the homes and buildings directly in the eye of the storm.

Twenty four people lost their lives in that night’s storms. Thousands of people lost their entire homes. There are so many powerful stories about loss and survival and emerging from the wreckage the tornado left behind. This one is my family’s story. It’s only our perspective and the story of how we are putting the pieces back together.

To help our city rebuild, you can make a donation to The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee or you can donate directly to my friends and neighbors who lost everything via their GoFundMe page.

click image to help homeowners, the Spicer/Suggs family, rebuild after losing everything in the Nashville tornado
click image to help homeowners, the Spicer/Suggs family, rebuild after losing everything in the Nashville tornado



While the tornado ripped through East Nashville, tormenting my neighbors and tearing apart homes all around us, my family slept peacefully in a hotel, 700 miles away. It’s not uncommon for me to wake in the middle of the night and that early morning was no exception. I awoke around 2:00am ET and laid awake in bed for a couple hours before finally giving up on sleep and deciding to go for an early run. As I pulled my phone off the charger to find a soundtrack for my run, I saw I’d missed dozens of text messages and calls while my phone was on Do Not Disturb.


Some of the messages were like “Thank god you’re in Florida” and “Are you okay?” while the real scary one was from my next door neighbor who didn’t mince words. “We just got hit by a tornado” is the type of sentence you have to read and then re-read fifty times before you realize exactly what you’re actually seeing. (I’d also like to take this opportunity to formally declare my absolute adoration for Ken, my next door neighbor and co-squirrel parent, who is forever looking out for “the girls next door” and takes very good care of us).

I saw the messages and immediately began looking up news stories. Sure. A tornado, right? But also, how bad of a tornado? These are the actual thoughts your brain will trick you into having when you’re in shock. Before I even woke my wife, I walked downstairs to the lobby and called my friends and family back home to check in on them. Everyone was safe.

As the sun came up, I heard from neighbors that the damage to our house was probably substantial enough to justify coming home (because, yes, there was a point during that morning when we actually thought we should just stay so my wife could complete the management meetings she had scheduled for the week). So I woke Christine and choked out “I think a tornado hit our neighborhood” as my body shook and my mind raced. We packed the car and made it home by 11:00 that night.

siding ripped off by tornado

We are fortunate. Based on the maps of the tornado’s path of destruction, it appears our home didn’t take a direct hit from the eye of the storm. Rather, our house stands one street over from the center of the tornado. It seems that the damage to our home was caused by the surrounding winds knocking down trees, rattling our house, and ripping the siding off the exterior walls.

Two trees fell directly onto our home, causing the eaves of the roof to fall and breakage on the roof trusses. They fell directly over our mudroom-turned-craft room and our unfinished attic. Windows were broken and the roof structure was destroyed under the trees.

Here are the exterior and interior photos of that damage.

Additionally, the chimney from our master bedroom fireplace fell directly into our roof. This caused a six foot wide hole in our roof and, because the rain continued after the tornado, our master bedroom to flood. The bricks from the chimney also broke several roof trusses.

Here are some photos of that chimney damage.

Because our master bedroom flooded, we knew almost immediately upon arriving home that we’d lost all our master bedroom furniture and our room would need to be gutted. Here, you can see the water damage to our bedroom ceiling and floors:

water damage to ceiling
wood floor damage from flood

You may recall that we had an original, historic fireplace in our bedroom when we bought the house last July.

russel mbr 2.jpg

Unfortunately, that original subway tile was destroyed when the chimney collapsed inside the walls. We were, however, able to salvage the original mantel and have plans to reuse it elsewhere in the house.


Again, we are fortunate. We have insurance and, since we just bought our house, we have sufficient coverage to replace almost everything we’ve lost. That’s so incredibly fortunate because, while it originally seemed that we hadn’t lost much, the repairs have snowballed.

Repairing the roof became a full roof rebuild because the original roof wasn’t built to current standards. Then, since we realized we had to replace more than just shingles, we decided to add a dormer (we’re paying for that out of pocket, not using insurance funds) to increase the size of our home and give us a much-needed second bathroom.

repairing a house after a tornado

Since the roof had to be entirely rebuilt, we had to remove the plaster from the entire finished upstairs space in order to place new rafters. That meant our daughter’s bedroom and our small upstairs landing had to be completely gutted. The exposed walls revealed out-of-date electrical wiring, resulting in a complete rewiring of our home.

upstairs renovation

And remember how I said we had to replace our hardwood floors in our downstairs bedroom? Well, when you replace flooring that runs throughout the whole level, you need to refinish the existing floors at the same time. Unfortunately, we discovered our existing hardwood flooring was too thin to sand again.

In addition, the storm caused structural movement in the basement (foundation) that had to be corrected by lifting the entire house to repair with new foundation pillars. The result? Our downstairs plaster and drywall were destroyed with cracks. So now, our living room, kitchen, and dining room have also been gutted.

living room

The tornado also caused our downstairs bathroom floor tile to crack, requiring replacement. Removing that flooring revealed a lack of support beams in the bathroom. Our tub could have collapsed the floors at any moment. The result? I feel like you already know what’s coming next. That’s right, our bathroom is now fully gutted. We did save the original cast iron tub though!

gutted bathroom

As of today, our home has a new roofline with a two-foot ridge raise and a dormer addition on the back. Our new roof is charcoal, instead of brown, and will match the neutral black paint colors we’re planning to use on the exterior. We’ve begun replacing the broken wood siding that was original to the home and discovered under the aluminum siding.

We’re going to restore the original wood siding, rather than replacing it. Partially, this is for financial reasons but it’s also because we’ve lost nearly everything that’s historic in our historic home. I’m too emotional to replace good wood at this point. So we’re going to sand it and repaint it.

Here’s how the exterior looks today:

historic home rebuild after tornado

But this isn’t the ENTIRE HOUSE REBUILD CHALLENGE. It’s the One Room Challenge™!! Eventually, I’ll walk you through the process of rebuilding each space but for this series, I want to focus on making just one room livable and luxurious.

So let’s talk about the one space you’re going to see evolve over the next eight weeks: our new master bedroom!

Here’s our original master bedroom, once again, that was destroyed by the tornado –

master bedroom historic home

While I was looking for images to send to the insurance adjuster, I realized our master bedroom had never really been photographed before. We didn’t make many changes to this room when we moved in. We just kind of plopped down our existing furniture and focused on other spaces. So that’s the best BEFORE photo I have for you.

That’s actually okay because … drumroll … we’re not moving back in there. Since we have the option of moving our bedroom into the newly-built dormer area upstairs, we’re taking advantage of the new adjacent bathroom and proximity to our daughter’s room. That’s right. When we move back into our house, we’re moving on up!

Here’s the view looking into our new master bedroom:

master bedroom studs

We are literally building this space from scratch. Making something out of nothing. Lemons to lemonade. Six foot hole in the roof to new master suite, if you will.

The room is a tad smaller than our already-small, pre-tornado master bedroom but we’re excited to make the transition because we know it will make our lives easier to have our family all on one floor. We’ll also be gaining a real closet! Here’s how that’s currently looking:

master bedroom rebuild after tornado

This week, the house is getting a new HVAC system for the upstairs (our old one was crushed under the trees that fell on the house). Rough-in plumbing has been installed in the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room and electrical wiring is being completed by the weekend.

That means we’ll have one week to get Codes Inspector’s approval and then we can install new foam insulation and drywall!

I’m working on a design for this space and I’ll show you my plans next week. For now, here’s one last peek at the room, including a historic window we saved from the original home that’s been placed in this brand new room:

using historic windows in new construction

I’m featuring this project as a guest participant in the Spring 2020 One Room Challenge™, a biannual event in which interior designers take some time off their workload to focus on their own homes for a change. Participants are encouraged to spend six weeks (this time around, it’s eight weeks) finishing a room in their houses and cheering on their peers as they do it.

To see the other participants’ projects, click here.


I seriously can’t wait to show you what I have up my sleeve for this new space. It’s going to be the most introspective room I’ve ever completed and I promise you’re going to want to watch along.



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