French Fashion

Southern Accents November-December 2000

Written by Susan Stiles Dowell

Photographed by Thibault Jeanson

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The explosive color Bill Eubanks painted the library walls of his clients’ new house defies description. He compares the red to some well-known varieties to make his point. “Fire-engine red is more orange, and ruby is bluer than this color,” he says. “Chinese lacquer red? Diana Vreeland’s lilving room?” The soft-spoken Tennessee designer mulls over a host of famous reds and dismisses them all as tinted.
When it comes to comparisons, he says only one captures the color shimmering through a striated overglaze of raw umber. “My client likes red,” he says of the wife of the couple who commissioned him and architect Donovan Smith to build and furnish the house. “She’s dramatic, very beautiful, stylish, and a pacesetter in the Memphis business community,” Eubanks says. “This red describes her.”
Eubanks brainstormed a red room early in the planning stages of the house. His clients had admired the European dignity he instilled in other homes in the area and told him their building plans practically from the moment they found their garden lot. “The idea was to have a French- inspired house with doors marching across the front and back, 12-foot ceilings, and floors of limestone or oak marquetry reminiscent of Versailles,” he says. “It was conceived as a pavilion, like Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon. The trick was to get a whole room of my client’s favorite color into the old-world flavor of the scheme.”

Of course, he knew that one brilliantly hued interior would overpower a floor plan of rooms open to each other. Unfazed, he decided to place it in the center of the house. Emphasizing personality - going for the idiosyncrasy of real red - would also make a surprising statement. With Smith guiding the architectural concept, they wrapped the first floor rooms around a red library.

“Once we knew how different the character of the surrounding rooms would be,” says Eubanks of the courtly salon, gallery, and master bedroom, “we really mined the concept of the library as a dramatic contrast in the heart of the house.” He found a spectacular 19th-century red Oushak carpet with a pattern of paisley medallions as a ground for the library. Paisley upholstery, an antler chandelier, and a contemporary coffee table gave the room’s classic French architecture an exotic edge. Outside the library, Eubanks cleverly developed a color scheme of pink and red tones that anticipate the crescendo of vibrant color.

With so much red around the corner, he wanted to keep the other rooms livably mellow. Eubanks and the couple found the salon’s muted Aubusson carpet and Louis XVI fauteuils on antiquing forays and had the silk damask draperies trimmed with antique tapestry. The owners already had the two ornately framed 19th-century Venetian paintings. The wild card in the mix is the reproduction French sofa, which Eubanks covered in tiger-striped velvet. Also, setting a round table in the corner for dining was “an unconventional, informal substitute for a dining room,” he says. For all its old-world ambience, Eubanks wouldn’t let the house grow stodgy.

Achieving personality this distinctive takes “clients working right with me,” says Eubanks. “I don’t often concoct this kind of color. But then, most people shy away from such drama.”