The Real McCoy
A prominent dealer of fine French antiques moves to Memphis.
photography by Andrea Zucker
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Mary Helen McCoy’s distinguished reputation preceded her recent move to Memphis. I had heard through the grapevine that a prominent dealer of fine French antiques and her husband had moved to town late last year, having bought a charming and rather well-known old home off Central near Chickasaw Gardens.
It seemed everyone had met them at a series of parties in their honor, except, alas, me. Hoping to rectify the situation, I recently phoned Mary Helen and introduced myself. She in turn invited me to tour her little jewel box of a house and later graciously agreed to let us photograph it for this magazine.
Mary Helen explained how she had gone to France in early 1990 on a first-time buying trip and fell in love with French antiques, which led to her establishing a furniture gallery soon thereafter in Birmingham’s Mountain Brook village. She and her husband, Ron, later moved to Charleston, South Carolina, for five years, where they established a gallery on prestigious King Street. After the post-2008 economic downturn, however, they moved back to Birmingham, Mary Helen’s hometown, in the hope of finding a historic property where they could showcase their antique collection. When they couldn’t find exactly what they wanted, they began looking at Mississippi plantation houses, wishing to stay in the South.
That’s when Mary Helen came up with a perfect solution — Memphis. She knew the city because she had lived here at one point in the past and was further encouraged when so many of her colleagues in the rarefied international world of antiques wholeheartedly agreed that Memphis was a good choice for her business. Things really fell into place when the McCoys found their ideal house, one of distinguished provenance, complete with the requisite 12-foot ceilings. Done and done, as the saying goes!
Built in 1860, the McCoys’ new “old” home was originally a frame cottage on what was then the expansive Buntyn Estate. Over the decades, successive owners had lovingly preserved and renovated it, by, among other things, bricking over the exterior and adding a number of distinctive architectural features.
The home has three bedrooms downstairs and one upstairs, with three baths. The McCoys have been careful not to change the footprint of the house and only completely renovated the kitchen and bathrooms. However, they made a number of urgent upgrades to the ductwork, the plumbing, and electrical systems, as well as to the structure itself. The process took six months, and they were able finally to move in last November. As is always the case, though, much more remains to be done, the next projects being work on the guest house and gardens.
For me, what makes this place so charming, along with the formal façade and the interior, museum-quality antique furniture, are the rustic touches such as the vintage pecky cyprus siding in the central hall. Features like this add period character and warmth to the home.