South to Manhattan, a Luxurious Second Home

Veranda Winter 1999

Written by Agnes Sarah Clark

Photographed by John M. Hall

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“A hotel is not a home. When you’re living out of a suitcase and getting ready for presentations, you need to feel grounded,” notes interior designer William Eubanks, who makes frequent trips to New York City. “About two years ago while returning from Europe, I decided not to go back to Memphis without finding a place in Manhattan.”

Not that the designer has any plans to give up his Southern residence. Home for Eubanks is Memphis, Tennessee. There he operates his eponymous design concern, using as showroom a Georgian mansion where antiques and furnishings are displayed in settings that resemble the luxurious salons, libraries and morning rooms that are his design trademark.

Eubanks oversees sixty or so projects his firm manages annually. In a typical week he may fly to Tampa, zig to Palm Beach, zag to the Bahamas, then jet to Southampton. He makes several trips a year to London and Paris to purchase antiques. And recently he has taken on projects in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, requiring him to spend more time in the northeast.
His one-bedroom pied-a-terre is in a nice old brownstone on a tree-lined street on the upper east side. In making Manhattan his second home, Eubanks joins other creative Southerners who have responded to the city’s magnetism. Exactly why people from a region famous for its social grace and impeccable manners would gravitate to a city with a reputation for rapid action and quick-speak conversations may seem puzzling. But as Eubanks has discovered, the city has great rewards. Its fast pace can even be counted as a plus.

“I love the unbelievable energy,” he explains. “My days are longer and fuller. I have many friends in the city. We go to the theater, the opera. I jog in the park, work out at the gym. I check auction houses to see if a great sale is coming up. I love just walking along Madison Avenue and looking in the windows and seeing the first colors of a new season.”

Trendy colors, however, will not be found in Eubanks’ apartment. The sitting room evokes a vision of a French salon. Gloria Vanderbilt, a guest at one of Eubanks’ parties, told her host that the room captured Paris. The intimate, polished and exquisite drawing rooms in houses in the heart of New Orleans also come to mind.
“My home in Memphis is Jacobean, with wide oak plank floors,” says Eubanks. For the New York apartment, he wanted a complete departure. “I moved more into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”

To turn the bare-bones space into an architectural gem he resorted to a legerdemain that began with a truckload of millwork. Two-inch-wide molding strips created chair rails and frames that give walls and hollow core doors the appearance of paneled woodwork. Once all walls and moldings were glazed the same soft hues—to convey a feeling of spaciousness and continuity—the high-ceiling rooms mirrored the look of French salons lined with antique boiserie.

The salon has no grand Central Park vista or East River panorama—most New York apartments do not—so Eubanks provided interest within the room with myriad rich surfaces. He built on the burnished tone of the walls by choosing fabrics in gold and strong yellows contrasted with dark lacquered furniture—an antique Japanned secretary in an unusual black-green color, black Regency-style chairs and a pair of large antique Japanned fish bowls. Gilding appears throughout the salon: a Charles X mantel clock, a pair of brackets depicting chinoiserie figures and detailing on tables, lamps and other objects. Presiding over the salon is an eighteenth-century French painted panel. Purchased years before Eubanks even thought about where it would hang, it fits exactly in the central boiserie frame.

If Eubanks seems to create glamorous rooms so effortlessly, it is perhaps because he developed a taste for them while a design student at the University of Memphis. “During the 1960s, contemporary art was impressed on everyone,” he says, “but I went the other way. The world stops for me at the onset of the twentieth century.”