The House That Dr. Nick Built 

A truly modern house from the 1970s.

This boldly modern house must have caused quite a stir when it was completed in 1977, because Memphis never really embraced modern architecture, especially in houses. High-style modern architecture of the late 1960s and '70s reflected America's heightened awareness of the environment. Modernist houses tried to be totally integrated into their site. They had strong horizontal massing, tent-like roofs with deep overhangs, and "open" plans with the main rooms flowing over changing floor levels that defined spaces and functions. Exposed beams, fieldstone walls, skylights, and dark wood trim emphasized the environmental look. Broad expanses of glass gave a strong visual connection to the outside, where terraces and built-in planters merged with gardens and water features. These elements originated in the 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement and developed through its descendants, the Midwestern Prairie School architects, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright, and the California Craftsman tradition of the brothers Charles and Henry Greene, best known for the Gamble House in Pasadena. This Memphis house evokes images of Wright's 1930s studio at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Charles Moore's 1960s design for the Sea Ranch residential resort in California.

Contemporary California architecture had a direct influence on this house built for Dr. and Mrs. George Nichopoulos. Dr. Nichopoulos was Elvis Presley's personal physician. He said that he and his wife liked contemporary houses; they especially liked the way the living room and den were open to each other in Elvis' house in Beverly Hills, and they wanted that same openness in their house. Prominently sited on the crest of a low hill, the house is clad in stone and redwood siding. A trio of shed-roofed dormers punctuates the façade; one dormer defines the entrance and creates a dramatic space in the entrance hall.

The foyer, living room, den, and dining room radiate from a central, two-story, glass-walled, skylit atrium. The living room is two steps below the foyer, the den two steps below the living room, and the dining room is several steps above the den. The dining room has a coffered ceiling and a shimmering cascade of prisms for a chandelier.

An open-riser stair with a robust wooden balustrade ascends from the foyer to the second floor, where the balustrade continues along both sides of a bridge leading to suites of guest rooms. From the bridge, you get a view of the entrance pergola, seen through the foyer chandelier which has a dozen smoked-glass globes arrayed at varying heights.

The living room and den have sloping ceilings accentuated by dark beams. Both rooms overlook the pool terrace and the backyard. A massive fieldstone wall with fireplaces and raised hearths separates the two rooms. A television is built into the stone wall on the den side. The bar in the den has a fieldstone base and a full-width, mirrored backsplash, modeled very closely on the bar in Elvis' Beverly Hills house. An exercise room and racquetball court are behind the den.

The kitchen and breakfast room are between the racquetball court and the dining room. Their sky-blue cabinetry is a vibrant accent in these large spaces with white walls and high, sloping ceilings. The family bedrooms and a small chapel are in a wing opposite the racquetball court, across the pool terrace.

Whether seen as retro-chic or still avant-garde even after a quarter century, this thoroughly modern mansion would be a groovy pad for a large, active family or for entertaining on a grand scale.

5564 Cottingham Place

6,900 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 6 1/2 baths; $589,500

Agent: John Giovannetti, Realtor: Traditional Properties, 788-1752, 753-4007

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