English History

Southern Accents June 2002

Written by Liz Seymour

Photographed by Thibault Jeanson

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Designer Bill Eubanks’ 1920s Tudor home in Memphis reflects the sumptuous, exuberant style of a lifelong connoisseur

During the 1920s and 1930s, Bryant Fleming, head of architecture and landscape design at Cornell University, sprinkled the East Coast with his graceful interpretations of English country houses, including homes for Andrew Carnegie and tea magnate Everett Macy, as well as Nashville’s imposing Cheekwood. Among all of Fleming’s work, however, Carrier Hall, tucked into 2 acres behind a weathered brick wall in Memphis, remained in his own estimation the “little jewel” of his architectural career. “Little,” of course, is a relative term. With 14 rooms, a guesthouse, and a summer house, Carrier Hall is miniature only by the expansive standards of the 1920s, but its warm glow remains undimmed over the decades.

“It just sort of wraps its arms around you,” says Memphis and Palm Beach interior designer Bill Eubanks, who has lived in the house for 17 years. “And it’s so full of marvelous details that they can slip past you if you don’t look closely.”

An almost letter-perfect re-creation of an early 17th-century Jacobean country home, Carrier Hall—begun in 1923 and completed in 1926—sits in an oasis of dappled sunlight surrounded by oaks, evergreens, and magnolias. Its pleasingly asymmetrical roofline is punctuated with tall chimneys. Its weathered brick, imported from England, is warmed by the patina of age. Original owner Robert Carrier, a lumber baron from Buffalo, New York, who came to Memphis to be near his Mississippi forests and sawmills, spent six summers abroad collecting authentic architectural elements from grand houses and ruined abbeys. Employing the help of local artisans, Fleming spent the next three years stitching Carrier’s crateloads of carved oak paneling, leaded casement windows, fireplaces, stone archways, and ironwork into a seamless architectural tapestry. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, Carrier Hall is a living—and delightfully livable—piece of history.

Purchasing the house in 1985 represented a kind of spiritual homecoming for Eubanks, whose own graceful interpretation of European style has helped to shape American interior design. Since his first trip overseas in his mid-20s, the Tennessee-born Eubanks has carried on a lively love affair with Jacobean England. “Essentially this is a 17th-century house,” says Eubanks. “There’s something about the 16th and 17th centuries in England that is so romantic and textural and simple. I’m always drawn back to it.”

With a sure eye and a practiced historical knowledge, Eubanks has filled Carrier Hall with a mix of furniture and fabrics that reflects the house’s own inspired omnium-gatherum of architectural details. The broad entry hall, for instance, is furnished with 17th-century portraits, 18th-century giltwood, and 19th-century porcelain. The master bedroom—converted years ago from a muted palette of taupe and cream to a lively mix of yellows and greens—is a Georgian fantasy of lush shapes and textures. Outdoors the landscaping blends the formality of early English garden design with the soft edges and romantic vistas of a later era. Eubanks took down trees and cut back greenery to reclaim a series of exterior rooms and brick paths carpeted in patches of moss.

Despite its deep roots, Carrier Hall wears its history lightly; even its grandest rooms have a pleasingly human scale. The 35-by-60-foot living room, lit with light from east- and west-facing windows and paneled in richly stained dark oak, is furnished with a pair of plump sofas that face each other in front of the stone fireplace. Across the room a Knole sofa and a pair of roomy William and Mary-style armchairs invite leisurely conversation. “I can easily seat 30 people in the living room,” says Eubanks, “but it is equally comfortable for two.” A set of black painted Regency chairs illustrated with paintings of children at play takes the starch out of the formal dining room. Pine paneling warms the morning room.

The house’s iron entry gates open often to visitors. Twice a year Eubanks, a past president of the Memphis Chamber Music Society, hosts concerts in the drawing room. Guests often sip summer cocktails in the charming tea house or pull an armchair up to a winter fire in the barrel-vaulted morning room. “This house has a definite spirit,” says Eubanks, “and it is happiest when I’m sharing it with other people.”