Orvil Buell Sullivan Jr., 73, one of Nashville’s most esteemed interior designers, died June 6, 2021 at Alive Hospice after a long illness.
Following his 1969 completion of studies at Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Fla., Buell joined an architectural design firm in Atlanta. In 1973 he returned to his native Nashville where he joined Bradford Furniture Company as an interior designer. He remained with the firm until its closing in 2015, working his way from designer to assistant buyer before being named senior vice president and head buyer -- positions he held for over half of his 40-plus-year career. He was sought after for not only his interior design ability, but for his architectural eye, specifically when it came to creating furniture designs.
“He probably decorated, or had influence over, some of the finer homes in Nashville,” said Claude Carter, his partner. But his work was not limited to large homes. “He could help a client downsize an 8,000-square-foot-home to an apartment at Richland Place and make it look perfect.”
Internationally known, specifically in the United Kingdom and France, Buell was one of the most discerning and respected buyers in the United States. At least once a year, he traveled to furniture markets in New York City and Highpoint, N.C. -- sometimes twice a year -- and enjoyed telling Claude how many years of his life he had spent at each location.
Buell’s well-earned reputation of being bossy came from his determination to make people the best they could be. “He expected the best and drove people hard,” Claude said, but the results were often magnificent. He served as a mentor to many of today’s most successful Nashville-based designers.
When it came to his extensive personal travel, he especially loved Paris and the simplicity of sitting at a sidewalk café for coffee or cocktails. His adventures included the Middle East, Russia, North and South America, Europe and the Caribbean Islands. Many holidays were celebrated with family and friends in Aruba, his favorite island.
He also enjoyed visiting casinos, his favorite being the Wynn in Las Vegas, where one night he won two jackpots. He cashed in the first prize and then moved on to a video slot machine that had thousands of ways to win. After just a few spins, Buell hit a rather large jackpot. Claude recalled that he could not figure out how Buell had won so much.
“Finally, it dawned on me he was playing a machine with a maximum $300 bet -- and he was betting the max,” Claude said, which was a surprise to Buell, who thought he was making $3 bets. “His money would have been gone in just a few spins had he not hit that jackpot.” The tale became one they shared and laughed about for years.
A noted artist, Buell created a large portfolio of architectural renderings from his time at Ringling School of Art, and it was one of his two final wishes that his collection be kept together. He also was an accomplished painter who enjoyed landscapes and portraits. He shared his talent in a much smaller but very personal way on every holiday by creating an original greeting card for Claude. The practice began on Claude’s 30th birthday and he has saved every one of them.
Buell was born on October 22, 1947 to the late Orvil Buell Sullivan Sr., and Jane Davidson Sullivan, who survives him. He is also survived by his sister Jan Sullivan Bushing of Nashville and brother Paul Sullivan of Dickson. He loved his 11 nieces and nephews, 10 great-nieces and great-nephews (with two more on the way) as if they were his own. Sadly, he will miss the birth of his first great-great niece due in August. He also leaves behind his beloved Havenese dogs, Hugo and Ziggy.
Buell was a member of the West End High School Class of 1966, where he is still remembered for designing amazing Asian-themed decorations for the junior-senior prom.
After meeting at an East Nashville party, Buell and Claude shared life over three decades. They married in New York City’s City Hall on October 18, 2011 and realized full equality in June 2015.
A Celebration of Life will be held from 2-7 p.m., June 26, 2021, at the home overlooking the Cumberland River he and Claude bought in 1995 and have loved ever since. Located at 3716 Cedarwood Drive, Nashville, friends are invited to come together and share stories of his life.
Memorial donations may be made to St Augustine Episcopal Chapel, PO Box 6330-B, Nashville, TN 37235; www.staugustineschapel.org.