Home Design in Retirement

Kitty Cannon and Jim Waller are right at home in Trezevant.

Photograph by Andrea Zucker

When talking about “later in life” moves, I have often felt that “rightsizing” is usually a more appropriate term than “downsizing.” I don’t know about you but the former phrase does indeed sound more positive. A smaller place with less upkeep just seems right at a certain stage of life, but in no way should it be thought of as a comedown. Just look at the experience of Kitty Cannon and husband, Jim Waller.

I asked my friend, Libby Huff King of Trezevant’s marketing and sales office, to suggest a beautiful home this month we could photograph in the Trezevant Retirement Community, which is centrally located in a leafy part of town off North Highland. Not missing a beat, Libby said immediately, “You need to see Kitty’s.” Happily, the homeowners graciously agreed, and our photographer and I soon found ourselves arriving by golf cart (with King’s Trezevant co-worker Emily Palmer at the controls) at the house of Cannon and Waller.

Leslie Reed, head of the marketing team, has said that Trezevant’s aim is to offer its residents “a celebration of life.” Mixing modern charm with traditional Southern style, the community’s mission is not just to provide a retirement home, but to provide a community where owners can “create, enjoy, and thrive.” Kitty Cannon enthusiastically agrees, and is clearly delighted with her new abode, calling her lovely three-bedroom, three-bath home in the Trezevant complex a “nice version of my former home.”

When her son, Howard, who lives in East Memphis, took her around to look at the place, Cannon especially liked the fact it was gated and centrally located. Best of all, in making the decision to move to Trezevant, “I knew everyone there,” she says. To which husband Waller adds as an aside, “She knows practically everyone everywhere!”

Cannon explains that she had moved two years ago into one of the 36 elegant garden homes at Trezevant, which are in addition to the community’s range of apartments and assisted-living options. Noting she and her late husband had built two previous houses, Cannon said she built her Trezevant home after choosing from four designs, but decided to customize her place according to her tastes. For instance, she did not want to enter her kitchen through the laundry room and as a result created a separate laundry area. The kitchen and the morning room are open plan and flow together, as do the living room and dining room, which makes for casual living and comfortable entertaining.

Cannon also changed around the entry into her master bedroom, which now is accessed from a small hall rather than from the living room. The house features a “wine closet” on the second floor, a small substitute for wine cellars of bygone days in previous homes.

She tells me she brought over “everything” from her old house on Shady Grove Road and merely mixed all the pieces up a bit to create a new look. She loves decorating and had a good time working on the house with her friend, the decorator Rodgers Menzies. It is apparent too that Cannon’s tastes lean towards cheerful, colorful, and classic flower and bird decorative motifs.

No neutrals for Cannon, who has used lots of shades of blue throughout the house, which fits her cheery disposition perfectly. There is blue toile in the bedroom and blue and white porcelain in the entrance hall. She adores flowers, and I admired the armfuls of peonies from the Garden District which were beautifully arranged throughout the house.

She mixes the old with the new and points out some wonderful antiques, such as the eighteenth-century pine living-room mantel bought in New York City and brought from the old house, as well as hundred-year-old drapery rods inherited from a great aunt. The handsome light fixtures throughout are from Graham’s Lighting.

The art on the walls includes pieces by Mary Sims, Walter Anderson, Cora Ogden, and Anca Ionescu, a Hungarian painter. Cannon is a major booster of the arts, deeply appreciating their value to our community; for example, she presently serves on the board of Theatre Memphis. None of this is surprising in view of the fact that she’s the widow of Bob Cannon, a giant name in the Memphis arts community. It is this same name that is prominently displayed on downtown’s Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, an honor given to the family in recognition of their major financial contribution to ArtsMemphis.

Speaking of names, at her husband’s insistence, Cannon has kept her former last name. It so happens that Waller was a longtime family friend and colleague of Bob Cannon’s at Buckeye Technologies, and says quite simply, “That’s how I knew her for all these years.” This seems to me rather a romantic notion and for my part, I say kudos to a thoroughly modern — and incredibly nice — man.

The guest room, featuring a big stuffed brown bear, is son Hall’s home-away-from-home room when he is in town visiting from his residence in New Zealand. Hall is a co-owner with Miles Refo and managing director of the fabulous Otahuna Lodge outside Christchurch. This fabled, nineteenth-century Queen Anne-style Victorian residence is now a luxury “Relais & Chateaux” property, filled with period antiques and offering super-sophisticated and luxurious vacation stays. The views and gardens are gorgeous, and the cellar that exclusively stocks New Zealand wines is deservedly famous.

Naturally, Cannon and Waller love to visit Otahuna Lodge, despite the great distances and travel time involved; in fact when we talked, they were hoping to go to the Far South this fall. They told me as well that, when traveling nearer to home, they like to spend four to five months in Naples, Florida.

In addition to sons Hall and Howard, Cannon has a daughter, Katherine, who, it so happens, is married to Dr. Jeffrey Warren, founder of Primary Care Specialists Inc., a Midtown practice, who kindly makes weekly visits to Trezevant for the convenience of its residents.

As you can imagine it was great fun talking to Cannon and Waller. In addition to their home’s beautiful décor, we covered about everything under the sun including the fact they volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels once a week. As five o’clock neared, Waller stood up and adjourned to the kitchen to thoughtfully prepare what my father used to call “liquid refreshment” aka cocktails. It was a very hospitable note upon which to end our visit, and I couldn’t help thinking what wonderful assets these congenial folks are to the Trezevant community.  

Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts & lifestyle editor of Memphis magazine.

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