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Local Color

Circa-1920s raised cottage.

by John Griffin

ou rarely see a raised cottage in Memphis. This house form is more closely associated with Louisiana, where the European tradition of placing the living quarters above service spaces was imported by the early French settlers. This configuration also allowed the main rooms of houses built in the lower Delta to be lifted above swampy ground and better catch the breezes.

This house, built near the intersection of Central and Goodlett in the 1920s – the heyday of Colonial Revivalism – is a very good interpretation of the Deep South raised cottage. One would hardly expect they were concerned the creek might rise here, so it must have been local color they were after.

The detailing is quite accurate. The two-story porch is supported on the ground level by massive brick piers. The second floor features four Doric columns, painted white (of course) to emulate the marbles of the Parthenon (which, by the by, aren’t really very white). A cast-iron railing surrounds the upper level, and the small-paned windows and doors are all provided with operating shutters (if you’re going to do it, … ). It would have been even more accurate if the two levels were clad in distinct materials (weatherboards over brick being the most typical. We’re quibbling here, but hey, I’ve got to keep up with the drama critic).

This was evidently a grand home, built to embody the finest traditions of its day. It sits on a magnificent piece of property – the whole cove was originally its front lawn – surrounded by plantings of holly, viburnum, dogwood, and magnolias. There’s even a guest house, thought to be a Victorian farmhouse, that has a vaulted ceiling finished in tongue-and-groove beadboard and tall casement windows, gently tucked at woods’ edge away from the main residence.

The current, almost completed, renovation has maintained, maybe even exceeded, the original high standards: Walls have been removed to create a spacious kitchen, a screen porch glassed in to form a sunroom, and a master suite created upstairs. None of this looks too new, too modern – even the brand-new garage with covered walk to the house looks like it’s always been there.

Openings between public rooms were both raised and widened to make the spaces more gracious. The plan is amazingly flexible. There are five public rooms that could be variously living, dining, library, family room, breakfast, playroom, or studio. I walked through with a discerning friend who saw a completely different layout than I did, based on her family’s needs. What a compliment!

New countertops are variously granite, marble, and slate. The original oak floors and front-stair balustrade are complemented by some fine old mantels. A wall of French doors now unites the main public room and the sunroom with a new terrace built of used brick, overlooking the deeply shaded lawn.

It’s unusual to find such a grandly conceived home this far out of Midtown. It’s more unusual to find one so elegantly updated. You rarely get more locally colorful than that.

4068 Robinwood Cove

Approximately 5,000-square-foot
main residence
5 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths; $945,000
Realtor: Coleman Etter Fontaine, 767-4100
Agents: Jenny Grehan and Mark Thomas

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