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English Romantic

Circa-1923 Arts & Crafts in Evergreen.



The 1920s and '30s was a period of extreme romanticism in American architecture. We borrowed freely from Italian, French, Spanish, and English sources. Evergreen and Central Gardens were being built up at that time and contain the best Memphis has to offer in these styles.

The Tudor style, with its steeply pitched roof and multiple, forward-facing gables, was the predominant English architectural vein we mined, probably because it was concurrently popular (along with Gothic) for college campuses and ecclesiastical buildings. Tudor massing and detailing were also more adaptable to the residential scale than Gothic, but both came cloaked in an assumed mantle of sophistication.

On the more rusticated end of the English architectural scale falls the humble country farmhouse. A low-pitched roof, sleepy eyebrow dormers, and a casual mix of exterior materials set this house clearly in the Arts & Crafts tradition. Arts & Crafts favored the humble over the ostentatious. The English farmhouse was rarely chosen as an American romantic model -- too bad, as the pair of houses on the adjoining north corners of Overton Park Avenue and N. McNeil (obviously built by the same hand) well demonstrate.

This house's understated form is quite beguiling, particularly when handled with such finesse. A recessed front door highlighted with an applied post-and-beam frame draws your eye and feet to the entry. Bands of windows are set upon a continuous horizontal masonry course where the exterior brick changes to stucco. All of this glass is shaded by the deeply overhanging roof eaves that curve downward as if thatched.

The Arts & Crafts movement not only glorified the humble but also emphasized the builder's hand and the different materials used in construction. In this example, the interior woodwork in the public rooms is of richly colored red gum. Also called tupelo, this was a treasured local hardwood available to Memphians at the turn of the century that offered the look of exotic mahogany. For my money, I'd rather have a red gum interior any day, but it's now sadly depleted.

This house has just been redone and gleams like a new copper penny. The living room fireplace has a bracketed mantel shelf over a deeply colored tile surround. A silver-plated chandelier original to the house has been rewired and hung here. The kitchen was recently redone with solid-surface countertops, lots of storage, and good work space. There are double ovens and a down-drafted cooktop at a breakfast bar. The original butler's panty still stands in the adjoining breakfast room.

A long hall runs down the center of the bedroom wing. The bedrooms are comfortably scaled, and the bands of windows further expand their sense of spaciousness. The third bedroom qualifies as a master suite with its own adjoining full bath but would also function well as a family room. Surprisingly for Midtown, there's an attached two-car garage (which looks original) that's also quite spacious.

The yard has also been recently landscaped. A new stone-and-pebble patio is well-sited between the glass-enclosed sun room and a large tulip poplar. It is a shady retreat at any time of the day, and a small hedge to make it into a "garden room" would add yet another English touch to this lovingly renovated Arts & Crafts cottage.

1436 Overton Park Avenue

2,500 square feet

3 bedrooms, 2 baths; $225,000

FSBO: Carla, 323-0031 or 634-0034

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