By Sharron Johnson
Some people move into a neighborhood strictly because of its housing stock, whether newer or older, more expensive or less. But less quantifiable factors — amenities, style — can play an even larger part for homeowners or renters looking to not just have a home but become a part of a community. Such people become like threads that weave a neighborhood together, giving it its distinctive character. And like a patchwork quilt, together the threads begin to tell a story.
Our yard of the month for February is no exception. Houses and their surroundings have a pulse that reflects its inhabitants. The home at 1920 Young has a put-together style that starts at the hand-chiseled limestone curb that was installed when the city installed the road, to the back-alley way that abuts the neighbors on Oliver street. Elizabeth Finch bought this home that was built in 1922 in October of 2015. The stately home sits atop a tall hill just south of Barksdale in the northwest quadrant. It has been totally rehabbed to reflect a more modern style. It is surely not for a purist that believes in only historically appropriate rehabs of the Queen Anne or Arts and Crafts styles. That’s why I choose it.
Not everyone wants the same house or garden. Finch’s home is a personal favorite of mine because it has its original roof line. One of the two porch gables was left original with a square window perfectly centered. The remaining gable and porch posts have been replaced with cedar. The siding on the front porch gable is laid in a modern horizontal pattern with gaps between the boards. The boards alternate into two sizes; one thick, one thin with vertical boards acting as straps. It reminds me of interior lathe boards without a plaster skin. This creates air flow and ever changing shadows with the changing of the seasons. The cedar has been sealed to keep its original orange tint and not left to its own devices to age into a dull gray.
The front of the house faces south, which is full sun. There are no trees to block the views. The house is painted a masculine color palette of khaki green and putty on its clapboard siding and trim. The house also sports a brown architectural roof shingle that is in keeping with the age of the home.
The windows are in line with the era to the original layout, flanking the entrance. There is a flawless manicured lawn that slopes down to the new sidewalk that is edged with a scalloped brick edger. In the center of the lawn and up the tall hill is a new concrete stairway up to a landing at the foot of the porch steps. This landing leads the visitor around the porch on a sidewalk that takes you past flower beds filled with azaleas and under planted with pansies. These beds continue around the house. There are three perfectly placed burning bushes adding punches throughout the azaleas plantings. Then the sidewalk changes into a gapped walkway of the same concrete. It leads you around to the back yard that is separated by a board gate and fence. Upon entering the back of the property, the first thing in view is an out building that is located on the extreme left corner. It perfectly matches the house in style and proportion, down to the doghouse cover over the door. This is no ordinary out building. It’s a garage. The large bay door is out of sight of the back yard because it’s off the rear alley. I now have garage envy.
The entire back yard is lawn with the exception of 12×12 concrete stepping blocks laid in a two-by-two pattern like soldiers marching from the garage to the back porch. Off to the immediate side of the porch is a fire pit made of brick with a slate tile rim surrounded by brightly colored Adirondack chairs. The back porch is a mirror reflection of the front porch with the same gable wood slats. It is big enough to seat four for dinner and a bench to boot. The lighting fixtures reflect a modern style as do the windows and French doors entering the house. Sorry I haven’t toured the interior as of yet, because I’m sure it’s sleek, modern, and sexy with a historic edge as the outside suggests.
Elizabeth, are you from Memphis or a transplant?
I am a transplant, originally from Orlando, Florida. However, this is my third time living in the Memphis area.
What brought you to Memphis?
I work for FedEx so my work has brought me to Memphis several times over the years. More recently I moved back from living in India three-and-a-half years and chose Midtown as my new home.
Do you have children?
I have three children, two who live in East Memphis and one that lives in Austin, TX. They all love to visit and be able to have a place to hang out if going to Overton Square, Cooper-Young, or downtown.
What is your profession?
I’m a sales VP for FedEx and have worked for FedEx 20 years. FedEx and Memphis go together; otherwise, I doubt I would have moved here.
What are your passions and hobbies?
I enjoy running and cycling along with traveling.
What made you pick this house?
I was looking in Midtown and was looking for a house that had character but was still updated. I did not want to really have any house maintenance to worry about or too much of a garden to take care of. I had looked at several houses and nothing was just perfect, but that is also what is charming about Midtown. The reason I ended up choosing this house was the inside was completely redone and all new, so no maintenance or things breaking down! There was a lot of work to be done on the outside and with the yard, but I had a great contractor to help me.
Why Cooper Young and not another neighborhood.
I looked at several neighborhoods, and wanted to stay in this area due to my running group, Star Runners. I also liked the idea of walking to dinner, reminds me of living in a small village in Europe.
Did you design your garden?
For the outside of the house, garden, and the garage I contracted with LP at Petrauskas Capital, LLC. He designed it all and offered great suggestions on type of grass, how many trees to remove, what plants to put down, and designed the stone/concrete walk ways.
Have you always been a gardener?
“Heaven’s no! I do, however, love to pull weeds and find working in the yard a stress release. I like to always have some type of flowering plant and always cut dead plants immediately. It’s depressing for me to have flowers that have died still in the ground.
Tell me a bit about the house and garden when you moved in.
When I moved in there was no garden in the back or any grass at all, the front of the house was all monkey grass, and it was NOT very nice to look at. I think before me they were scared to put grass on the front hill or maybe just worried about mowing it. The back was mainly just dirt. The previous owners had dogs and did not keep a yard plus there was no light to allow the grass to grow. But after we cut back trees in the front and back, we opened the yard up to sun light and planted the grass in the fall. Luckily just as the fall rain came! It held up all winter and looked great this summer when it grew back.”
Was the renovation of the house done by the former owner and what have you added since you moved in.
The inside of the house was completed by the former owner, but the outside patio and steps up to the house were never redone. They were old and cracked and a bit dangerous to even walk up to the house. I totally redid the steps and patio to be more secure and also widened the front steps up to the house. Now they look fresh and clean and not full of cracks and chipped cement.
I also added a garage in the back to match the house and added hardwood floors inside.
Lawn is the highlight of your garden; what type of grass is used?
The grass is zoysia.
Pet friendly comes to mind with all that lawn.
I have a black lab that is 12-years-old, and she loves me to throw the ball to her in the back yard and loves to lay on the front porch watching the sights of Cooper-Young!
What inspires your garden style?
I like flowers, so like shrubs that bloom. The big bushes in the back of the side are burning bushes and are beautiful in the fall.
Azalea is used as your foundation shrubs; what color are the blooms?
The blooms are pink on the side and white in the front.
I really love the modern design with the concrete paths that trail through the entire space. Tell me about your future plans.
My future plans are to landscape more of the back yard around the fence. Parts of the yard still do not get enough sun, so I will need to do something to replace the grass that will not grow. I would also like to rearrange some things on the side, add a few more plants, and get a larger azalea in the front. The one before died and it was replaced with a much smaller bush.