Cool Oasis

A home boldly different from its neighbors is tucked away in Central Gardens.

Dr. Chris Cooley’s contemporary home sits nestled on a leafy side street in Central Gardens. Having long admired this unique property from afar, Cooley jumped at the chance to buy it from Howard Adcock and Randy Rhodes in the summer of 2005. Since then, home and owner have clearly been living happily ever after.

The house is one of the newer residences in the neighborhood, having been built in 1982 by well-known Memphis designer Jimmy Beck as his personal residence, on vacant land purchased from Dr. Sam Patterson, who then owned nearby “Beverly Hall,” the subject of our Memphis magazine cover story last May.

Not surprisingly, the post-modern Cooley house is an anomaly in this historic area of early twentieth-century homes. For a professional take on the home’s features, I defer to my friend, architect John Tackett, who has been quoted as saying that “while the stucco cubist-style home has an austere, windowless façade largely hidden from the street by the landscaping, the severity ends immediately on entering the stylish and sophisticated interior.”

The entry leads to a light-filled, high-ceilinged, open great room that is divided into living and dining areas and overlooks a stunning walled courtyard with pool and outdoor pavilion. Walls of glass bring the outside in. The master bedroom is on the ground floor, and upstairs has a guest suite and office. Cooley says the home is only 2,100 square feet although it seems significantly larger. And there’s no question that it is a secluded and private oasis in the midst of the city.

Cooley tells me he had previously lived in houses decorated with mostly English antiques, but he realized this new place required something boldly different — a cleaner, minimalist and more eclectic approach. As a result, with the guidance of Greg Baudoin of Ray and Baudoin Interior Design and Steven Hickman of Jimmy Graham Interior Design, he started over and bought furnishings especially for his new abode, including many wonderful pieces purchased from former Memphis retailer John Simmons, who at the time was moving to Mexico. 

This windowless facade conceals a colorful and comfortable interior.


The stylish dining area occupies part of the great room.

Unique antiques mix well with modern pieces in the house. Baudoin bought hand-picked fragments in France to be transformed into lamps. A planter purchased from Jimmy Graham was married with metal legs by metalsmith Don Estes. Handsome, masculine touches include the use of a lot of iron pieces, a bold, zebra throw rug in the living area, and a leopard-print rug in the master bedroom. Cooley says he himself is “always collecting things.” He recently bought a Jacobean chair with figural carvings from Jimmy Graham. 

The homeowner is a spiritual man and consequently all manner of crosses abound in his house. A grouping of these religious artifacts is found in the entryway, placed next to a lamp made of oyster shells. Cooley notes too that he relies on the Garden District to regularly supply him with fresh flowers, and I couldn’t help noticing the lovely scent of lilac and freesia as we toured the house.

The original concrete floors had been stained and waxed by Jimmy Beck. This was an unusual technique developed for residences in the early 1980s; the approach provides the patina of an ancient Italian villa. Another example of this “what’s old is new again” theme is the galley-style kitchen, with its Chinese-red formica cabinets and black granite countertops. These may be 30 years old but the result is still very functional and striking.

The color palettes used throughout the home are mostly neutrals with some browns. Bright punches of color jump from the walls in artworks by artists such as Sammy Peters, whose painting over the fireplace was purchased from Perry Nicole Gallery. A number of lovely mirrors and mirrored surfaces all serve to bring the outside in. Sculptures are by Helen Phillips and John McIntyre, and the tapestry in the stairwell is by William Robinson; it was given to Jimmy Beck when he first built the house. Cooley explains how the master bedroom was updated last year; he is especially proud of the 12 lithographs on the wall, which were designed, engraved, and printed by Evan Lindquist, a professor of art at Arkansas State. 

The home’s original landscaping was designed by Larry Griffin and later updated with the help of Hector Samada, who moved to Miami, and most recently worked on by James Williams. Cooley says that he loves gardening and can usually be found doing “a lot of trimming.”  The outstanding stick sculpture in the pavilion is by Wayne Edge.

Chinese-red cabinets mesh beautifully with black countertops in the kitchen.


A set of 12 lithographs frames the bed in the newly updated master bedroom.

Cooley is clearly a man with good taste in all facets of his life. He is a well-regarded general and cosmetic dentist known for creating many beautiful smiles all around the Memphis area. In this context, he gave me the background story of how he came to name his beloved little Yorkie — who, by the way, is definitely the lady of the house. It seems he once worked in his practice with a lovely and accomplished pre-dental-school intern named Lale Adams. Enchanted with the name, he decided to appropriate it for his dog. It so happens that Lale (the human, not the canine) is a family friend of mine, so I don’t believe she would mind me recounting the provenance of the pooch’s name.

When the subject of vacations came up, here again Cooley and I had something in common. He told me that when he can get away, he likes to rent a little cottage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summer. The weathered, shingled charm of old Cape Cod architecture is certainly a far cry from his über-modern home, and makes a nice change. And of course the cool Cape breezes offer a welcome respite from the Memphis heat. I told him that my family spends its summers on Cape Cod as well, and that we always make an annual trek to Provincetown to soak up the special ambiance of the place.

So the question becomes, “What’s next for Chris Cooley?”  Will he exchange his current in-town oasis for a place in the country — a log cabin perhaps — or a bona fide Italian villa? I can’t begin to predict the future, but know for sure that we will all stay tuned. 

A stone terrace beckons visitors to a refreshing pool, making the Cooley home a true oasis in Central Gardens

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