Neander Woods Jr. may have been Memphis' most inventive architect of the first quarter of the 20th century. He did notable buildings downtown like the Cotton Exchange, but his houses, mostly sited in Central Gardens, are distinguished by a very organic twisting of floor plans and by roof volumes that both hunker low over porches and push up through the roof as dormers in a controlled explosion of form. He was the Frank Gehry of his day -- working with only tile, stucco, and stone.
One of Woods' signature forms was to twist the carriage entrance, or porte cochere, away from the primary mass of the house on a diagonal and set a covered, outdoor entertaining room across the drive but accessible to the house via the entry. These garden pavilions usually end up surrounded by masses of azaleas, which, as they mature, provide a private spot from which to view activities in the front yard and out on the street.
This house in Hein Park is thought to date from the late 1920s but seems consistent with the work Woods was doing between 1909 and 1912. One of the exceptional features is the unusually deep front yard. This allows the drive to begin over against the right property line and continue to the house, hugging that side and leaving an expansive front yard until the last moment, when it too turns at a diagonal running in front of the house and under the porte cochere. This is as close to foreplay as architecture gets.
After alighting, you proceed up the diagonal entry where French doors tease you with views of the living room. At the last moment, you turn yet again and enter the foyer. The narrow-oak floors have inlaid borders of dark and light woods. The living room has a very late 1920s or early 1930s Moderne fireplace mantel of spandrel glass, which was commonly used on Deco commercial facades. It's too cool and could easily be Woods pushing the envelope once again in the late '20s.
The interior wood trim has been blessedly spared the paint brush and has mellowed to an unspoiled patina. The dining room is pushed out in a separate wing with windows on three sides so that you practically dine al fresco every night. The kitchen is surprisingly large for its day. But if it's gone through a later structural enlargement, it was done seamlessly. There are dark beams at the ceiling and an overscaled wrought-iron chandelier, both of which seem too fancy for a "staffed" kitchen but look perfect. There's also a back service porch and a breakfast room currently used as a home office. One rear corner of the main floor houses a bedroom with an adjacent full bath.
The stairs are tucked away off the back hall. Downstairs, a room is finished in the basement, and up are three bedrooms and another full bath. The master bedroom runs across the rear of the house and is also surprisingly large. A wall of built-ins accommodates hanging and folding clothes. But the ultimate bedroom here is the one over the diagonal porte cochere that commands the property, with views in all directions.
There are also two water features of note here: A kidney-shaped water garden is nestled into the crook of the front drive and filled with water lilies, horsetail, and other aquatic plants. Out back, in lieu of more lawn, is a Gunite pool. It's big, as is the paved deck around it, and the only room left is occupied by a two-car garage and shrub borders. So after the buildup to the house, with all its architectural bells and whistles, you can cool down by the pool out back and steal yet another post-ramble glance at this sexy beast.