Riverside Drive Renaissance
How the Brigances transformed their new home, creating a residential masterpiece in the process.
photography by Larry Kuzniewski
Let’s face it: The phrase “extreme makeover” is something of an understatement when one uses it to describe what Jim and Linda Brigance did to this once-ordinary house on the bluff above Riverside Drive after they purchased it in November 2012. The transformation was no overnight process. Reconstruction took the best part of a year, as the existing property was gutted out, added onto, and even externally re-bricked. But the fruits of their efforts, as you can see, have been spectacular. With their picturesque sunset views out over the Mississippi, the Brigances can be proud of their creation, and will certainly enjoy living in what is now truly one of Memphis’ most elegant homes.
Longtime FedEx employees Jim and Linda Brigance both grew up in Memphis, but their work for the global shipping giant took them to many exotic places. They first met in Brussels, Belgium, and later moved to Asia, spending 12 years in Hong Kong and 16 months in Singapore before deciding, albeit hesitantly, to come back to the States. Colorado Springs was home for three years before they made the move back to Memphis in 2013.
This three-story house on Tennessee Street had been on the market for more than three years before they finally closed on the property, but the Brigances first spotted it in 2010. At the time, Linda was spending two weeks a month in Memphis on business, and she was very drawn to the house, “keeping tabs on it” as Jim says, driving by each time she came to town. Though the move would cut down on work-related travel, Linda says the biggest draw for her was the location and its awe-inspiring river view. They also knew, after the years spent in Asia, that they wanted to live in a downtown setting. “In Hong Kong, we were in an area that was the equivalent of living in downtown Manhattan — right in the middle of tall buildings and walking distance from restaurants and everything else — and we liked that,” Jim says. “We both grew up in East Memphis, and we didn’t want to go back to being out in the suburbs. So this house, downtown, that view: we knew if we came back, this was where we wanted to be.”
But, to put it mildly, this particular house would need a great deal of work if it were ever to be the dream home the Brigances had always desired. The former owners, who had recreated their own dream home in a sense, had brought most of the fixtures, tiles, windows, cabinets, bricks, baseboards, and other woodwork from their previous older home in East Memphis to this one on Tennessee Street, preserving a bit of their personal history and giving a vintage feel to this outwardly modern house overlooking Old Man River.
The Brigances, of course, had other ideas. They had a vision of a transitional-style home with an open floor plan, and quickly enlisted the help of local architect Lavelle Walker and builder Tommy Young, to bring that vision into being. As you can see here in these before, in-progress, and after photos of this remarkable transformation, this was no ordinary remodeling; it was a huge undertaking. Not much of the house’s original structure remains beyond the foundation and occasional parts of the framework.
On the exterior, new bricks were installed, and a second-floor deck was built in lieu of a backyard patio. Inside, walls were torn down, ceilings were raised, the staircase was removed and rebuilt a few feet from its original position, while cranes moved the house’s main load-bearing beams to support the shifted weight of the new design.
Everything from the home’s countertops and cabinets to its tiles and light fixtures embodies the Brigances’ vision of their dream home. They were able to incorporate unique art pieces from their travels in Asia, bringing memories of their former experiences back home here to Memphis. Not that the couple is living in the past. For Jim, they’re installing a Foresight Sports golf simulator in a second-floor entertainment room, and Linda has a vintage tabletop Ms. Pac-Man arcade game in the third-floor gaming room.
The Brigances left no stone unturned when remodeling and furnishing their new home. “It has everything, down to the hair dryer being permanently plugged into the drawer and a wall-mounted pot filler over the stove,” Linda says. “If you’re going to go to this much trouble, think about everything you would want.”
With the help of a number of local service providers — Gurley’s Azalea Garden, The Cabinet Tree, Audio Video Artistry, Magnolia Lighting, Russo-Worley Designs, Tuscan Iron Entries, and others — the renovation of the Brigance home has been a resounding success. Jim, who retired from FedEx in 2009, and Linda, who retires in a few months, now have a very special and highly personalized place to call home. “It’s amazing to have so many people with their own thoughts involved in the process,” Jim says. “You would think it would be disastrous, but at the end of the day, it all came together. We wouldn’t change a thing.”