Memphis Elegance

Southern Accents January - February 1996

Written by Brenda Ware Jones

Photographed by Langdon Clay

Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo

This 1970s house and its neoclassical additions maintain an old-world charm in a turn-of-the-century neighborhood

Since the turn of the century, the Central Gardens neighborhood in midtown Memphis has been a choice address, a venerable quarter with exquisitely manicured lawns and 100-year-old trees. But not all the houses are old. Some of the larger estates lent themselves to tasteful division, and in recent years, houses with contemporary architecture have sprouted gracefully among the pre-World War I dwellings.

“My clients’ house was built in the 1970s,” says designer William R. Eubanks. “But the clean, 18th-century style had good bones we could work with, including high ceilings and tall windows.” The only trouble was a rather confining floor plan and the lack of a master bedroom downstairs. So Eubanks, who became acquainted with his clients through a Heart Fund Gala committee, sketched a U-shaped bedroom, loggia, and library addition that virtually doubled the square footage of the house. “The loggia connects all the downstairs spaces to the formal terrace and pool out back and gives the openness I like in a family home,” says Eubanks.

After the ideas were finalized, Memphis architect R. Donovan Smith prepared the blueprints and designed a neoclassically inspired pavilion to extend the family’s entertaining spaces. Crab-orchard stone, native to Tennessee, paves the terrace, adding texture amid the symmetry of landscape designer Jeff Mog’s work.

Because the rear garden was small, Smith left the back wall of the pavilion blank, forming a canvas for a full-scale trompe l’oeil mural that visually expands the view. The artist was not difficult to choose. Steve Schneider, the wife’s brother, is an accomplished landscape painter in Louisiana. “We wanted a definite palazzo feeling here, a Palladian perspective that would lend the illusion of distance,” says Eubanks. “We drew what we wanted and provided Steve with copies of old Italian landscapes to get the colors right.” The owners can see this arresting image of Italy from the dining room.

Inside the house, Italian, French, and English antiques provide an old-world charm and blend beautifully with more contemporary pieces. In the living room, for example, a modern steel tea table melds effortlessly with a pair of painted parcel-gilt Regency chairs, and a faux-tiger fabric looks just right with cushions made from old Flemish tapestry. Gold, salmon, and ivory hues in fabric at the windows and on the sofa echo the aged tones of the Oushak carpet. A subtle taupe glaze on the walls provides a calm backdrop.

The dining room supports the old-world motif, with English Sheraton shield-back chairs and an 18th-century English mahogany and satinwood sideboard. Lamplight glows through silk shantung shades, illuminating the ocher walls dabbed with umber by painters Frank and Tony Maino. For drama, the father-and-son team added a tortoiseshell finish on the trim. “Because this room has no direct source of natural light, other than the loggia,” says Eubanks, “I felt we needed brightness.”

Eubanks, who lives just two doors away, clearly had a personal and professional interest in the polished work. “This was a wonderful house to start with. We just made it perfect for this family. By the time we were finished,” he adds with a smile, “I was ‘Uncle Bill’ to their three children.”