Essence of Elegance
Lavished with light and charm, this jewel glows with gracious living.
photography by Andrea Zucker
This stunning property is located in a leafy neighborhood off the Poplar corridor in East Memphis which, despite a preponderance of large, luxurious homes, retains a countrified air. In fact, not too many years ago, this pocket of green was indeed semi-rural. Over time, however, the smallish homes in this rustic neighborhood — there were even a few chicken coops — have given way to somewhat grander abodes.
When the owners graciously agreed to being featured in this month’s Memphis, we jumped at the opportunity to showcase their home. Interestingly, the couple’s first thought had been to build a new house in the area.
They had a change of heart, however, once they laid eyes on this residence. By all accounts, its renovation was by far the right decision!
Built in 1999 and located on a private, peaceful cove, this traditional-style house — “a little French on the outside,” the owners like to say — opens up dramatically with lofty ceilings, an upstairs balcony and large, light-filled rooms. The floor plan is functional and flowing, and perfect for the family’s frequent entertaining. Our photographer returned three more times to capture, as she expresses it, “the essence of the house,” which feels different as the light changes throughout the day.
The homeowners have high praise for the talents of John Blose, their contractor, and for Sam Henderson, their interior designer, a co-owner with Mike Lawing of Vignettes Furniture, Accessories and Interior Design in Chickasaw Oaks. Initially, all the carpets were removed throughout the house and replaced with hardwood or tile. Both designer and client are drawn to beautiful fabrics, rich draperies, and luxe wallcoverings, and these have been used in abundance from companies including Brunschwig &Fils, Schumacher, Zoffany, and Beacon Hill. The lady of the house likes a sophisticated mix of antiques and new pieces set against a paint palette of jewel-like blues, golds, reds and mochas, which she describes as “off tones.” We were told that Chris Wiggins did most of the lovely faux finishes, which add so much to the glowing, golden feel of the overall décor.
The entrance hall encompasses what was once a tiny study that was closed off to create a romantic niche — a charming vignette if you will — fitted with a small chandelier and custom upholstery. We are told the living room’s silk velour drapes were “quite literally a towering achievement” as the ceiling is 20-feet high. Over the mantel is a triptych by well-known local artist Patti Smith.
The dining room features black cane chinoiserie chairs and a round table. The top is faux-finished to resemble marble, with a design copied from a Venetian floor medallion. The homeowner insists she “wanted something I could Windex.” I’m not sure I believe that, but we will take her at her word; if nothing else this comment is a reflection of her modest, informal nature. The chests are in the Louis Philippe style.
The house has a dream kitchen with three ovens, two dishwashers and handsome cabinetry. Apparently, when caterers come to work parties, “they are thrilled.” For her part, we hear the lady of the house is an incredible cook and thoroughly enjoys her spacious, well-appointed kitchen. In the breakfast area is a painting by artist Deborah Worley that hangs over an antique chest. The keeping/television room off the kitchen features handsome, custom-curved sofas provided from Vignettes.
The beautiful master bedroom is downstairs and is French in style with a draped bed, mirrored chests, and crystal chandelier. At the same time, the fireplace and plump upholstery add coziness and comfort. The marble master bath is equally elegant with a round, draped bathtub, delicate wallpaper, a luxuriously tufted stool, and yet another gorgeous chandelier.
Upstairs, past grand columns and a wrought-iron railing, a baby grand Steinway piano makes a statement on the balcony; it took four men from Amro to get it up the staircase. Larry Cunningham, a well-known pianist at Folk’s Folly, comes on occasion to play. At the top of the stairs is a seating area whose focal point is a dramatic Spanish altarpiece that the family bought on their travels.
The owners have two daughters, one now living in New York City, and the other still at home. The elder sibling’s suite of rooms is so welcoming and pretty her parents “feared she would never leave and go to college.” But off she went, of course; she’s now happily working for an investment firm in the Big Apple. Her younger sister “just loves celebrities,” and, according to her parents, “has met quite a few,” so it’s no surprise that her brightly colored bedroom is decorated with lots of related memorabilia.
Last but certainly not least, the tremendous backyard is a sight to behold. Where once “there had been only grass,” this splendid area now encompasses elaborate plantings (the Endless Summer hydrangeas are magnificent), a swimming pool by Memphis Pool set inside a border of quartz and Brazilian slate, and a columned loggia and cabana with outdoor kitchen and handsome furnishings. Sam Henderson was responsible for the design, and he and John Blose worked in tandem to execute the plan. Charlie Golden of Golden Landscapes was the talented landscaper who helped bring it all together.
We especially appreciated the fact that both homeowners joined us on our lovely tour of the house. They are a popular couple about town — sophisticated, cosmopolitan people who enjoy dining and fine wines and, feel as comfortable in New York City’s Café Carlyle as they are in Memphis’ legendary barbecue establishments. But at heart they are clearly homebodies who, despite the apparent perfection of their house, are adamant and downright pleased that it has its share of “battle scars.” Most of all, they are happy that it is “a comfortable and worry-free home,” which family and friends can enjoy. And surely they all do!
Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts & lifestyle editor of Memphis magazine.