An architectural treasure is tucked away off Walnut Grove.
photography by Andrea Zucker
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The home of Rush and Julia O’Keefe rises up in almost dreamlike fashion on a peaceful side street in East Memphis. Surrounded by far newer suburban houses, the couple’s stately white brick Georgian home was built in 1924 for Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Peders Norfleet, by the Memphis architecture firm of Jones and Furbringer. Its handsome black shutters, wrought-iron balcony railings, and horsehead hitching posts add to the old-style allure — not to mention the home’s incredible curb appeal.
Profiled in the classic coffee-table book, History of Homes and Gardens of Tennessee (1936), this particular house was originally the centerpiece of the Norfleet family’s country estate, “Walnut Grove.” Once encompassing several hundred acres, and famed for its beautiful gardens, especially its boxwoods and azaleas, the property was subdivided over time, ultimately lending its name to the east-west artery we know today as Walnut Grove Road. The O’Keefes bought the home 11years ago, and though the extent of the grounds is much reduced, it is a blessing that this amazing treasure still stands.
Pilar Viladas, design editor of The New York Times style magazine, recently observed that “one person’s idea of perfection is another’s idea of too much — or not enough.” To my mind this home is pure perfection, with its great architectural bones and proportions, its millwork and moldings, its arches and fenestration. And if some of the home’s features, including its magnificent entrance hall and monumental winding staircase, look a bit familiar to regular readers, that’s because “Beverly Hall,” the Wheeler home in Central Gardens featured in the May 2012 issue of Memphis, was designed by the very same architects.
These beautiful, irreplaceable architectural details are what make the home so special. The transoms, six fireplaces, pocket doors, original hardwood floors, the perspective of the arches lining up from end to end of the house, and the elevator with its brass scissor doors so reminiscent of the period all add up to a timeless solidity difficult to duplicate in the modern world. At the same time, this spacious, high-ceilinged home feels light and airy as the sun streams in from all sides.