Couple builds Dutch colonial dream house on blighted CY lot


By Sharron Johnson

April already? Yep, it is spring. It is a time of rebirth for shrubs, bulbs, trees, grass, and houses.

Yes, houses are also awakened to the pleasant temperatures offering a hope for new life. Everything new and shiny like a new penny, which brings to mind the old ditty: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

This was taught to my daughter when she was a child by her Brownie troop leader. She would sing it a lot, so much so that I too began to join in. My daughter is 36 now, and I still recitate the tune to myself. Why? Because it is still relevant today. There is room for new alongside the old. We are as a species creating history constantly. Some old and the other new. Cooper-Young embraces the dichotomy— side by side in tandem, creating a community — like no other neighborhood in the city.

Take for instance, the house located at 914 Cox. It is a brand-new house and garden. It was built by its occupants, Martin Jellinek and Bill Branch. Traveling north on Cox street just off of Oliver, the two-story Dutch Colonial home delights the senses with its resemblance to a barn. It is painted a classic county blue with bright white trim and a red door. At its highest point is an accent window in a half circle; it looks like a wedge of lemon on the rim of cool glass of Southern sweet tea. There is fish scale siding adorning the front gable, and cedar brackets define the gambrel roof line. The porch posts are also cedar.

Of course, being a new construction, all of the siding, including the fish scale, is Hardie board; check it out at I personally love this product. It’s for people who are conscience of energy effiency.

The concrete porch seats two comfortably. It has the extra bling of a bay window adjacent to the porch. In the bay is a full glass window in the center and double hung sashed windows on the sides. A triple set of double hung windows round out the look.

Dutch Colonials do not litter the neighborhood like Queen Anne’s and Bungalows. According to “Dutch Colonial house plans share many features common to other Colonial styles: A simple rectangular footprint, a side-gabled roof, and a symmetrical exterior with windows aligned in rows and a central door, often leading to a central hallway with flanking rooms. The primary difference is the shape of the roof: the eaves may flare out, or the roof may have dual pitches. This is called a gambrel roof; it is commonly seen on barns (where it creates extra space in the hay loft). The roof shape is so distinctive that nearly any home displaying a gambrel roof, even more complex Colonial Revival house plans, may be classified as Dutch. In many Dutch Colonial designs, the eaves extend over a full-width front porch.”

Unlike many of the homes around it, Jellinek and Branch’s home is set close to the street, leaving little yard space. The yard is a small patch of lovely sod with daffodils plugged throughout. Over time they will naturalize and develop a carpet every spring. This will be a pretty sight. There are two arching flower beds — one filled with annuals and the other to be filled with herbs and veggies. The same sod runs down the north sides of the house. A driveway on the south side fills out the rest of the property. As you travel down the drive through to the back of the property, a mural has been painted on what was an eyesore of a cinder block wall. In the back yard sits a two car garage. Adjacent to the garage is a decent patch of lawn for a dog to romp in. From the garage to the house it’s all concrete for driving, parking and a great flat space for party goers and tables. The back of the house has a two-story screened in deck space, yet another detail I have fallen in love with.

Martin Jellinek

Martin Jellinek

Tell our readers a bit about you two. Are y’all native to Memphis or transplants?

We are both transplants. Bill came from North Little Rock Akansas, in 2005. Martin grew up in New York and came to Memphis in 1977.

Where did y’all meet, and how long have you two been together?

We met online in 2002 and then in person in Memphis in September of that year. For two years we did weekend commutes, either to Memphis or North Little Rock. Martin was not in a position to move, so Bill moved to Memphis in 2004 and took a position at the National Civil Rights Museum. So we have been together for 14 years. We were married in Lamberville, New Jersey, in December, 2014, and had our marriage blessed at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis in June, 2015.

What are y’all’s professions?

We are both retired. Martin worked for FedEx for 27 years, mostly in accounting. After retirement, he attended Memphis Theological Seminary and earned a Master of Divinity in 2015. Bill was a museum professional and worked in several Memphis museums, with his last position being curator of the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas. He retired in November 2016.

Hobbies and passions?

Martin’s hobbies are reading, gardening, and doing volunteer work. His volunteer work includes serving the homeless through Room in the Inn, supporting survivors of human trafficking through Thistle and Bee, as well as pastoral care. Both Bill and Martin are deeply passionate about their faith and attend Calvary Episcopal Church.

Bill’s primary passion in retirement will be to pursue his artistic nature. The second floor of their new residence is Bill Branch Studio. At his studio he will create watercolor paintings. In addition he will give watercolor instruction and offer his studio space as a resource to other Memphis artists. You will be seeing Bill painting en plein aire — in the great outdoors.

With so many nice places in Memphis to choose from, why Cooper-Young and why this property?

We lived in a 1910 house in the Tucker-Jefferson neighborhood, where Martin had lived for 37 years. With Bill retiring and wanting to pursue his art career, the old house was too small. So we looked for properties in attractive neighborhoods where we could create our vision. We saw the house at 914 South Cox on the tax sale records and decided to bid on the property since it suited our needs.

Why demolish an old house opposed to rehab?

The house which was on the property was severely neglected and beyond repair. I spoke with a contractor, who advised on the costs for restoration versus demolition and rebuilding. Since we could get a house which more fully would suit our needs, we decided to build a new house from plans that were developed by Chris Cratin, a friend with a background in architecture and building. In this way we got a house that is close to perfect for our needs and lifestyle.

This a lovely new house and garden. Were there any challenges/ benefits associated with working with a clean slate, so to speak?

We worked with our contractor, Tom Hamilton of Hamilton Builders, to create a quality custom home. One of the challenges at our previous house was the large yard, which required extensive work. So when Martin designed the yard at our new house, he wanted to create a landscape that would have maximum impact in the smaller space.

However when construction was completed, we were left with a yard which we laughingly referred to as our moonscape since it was full of hills and craters and became a clay bog after every rain. We hired landscaper Ceylon Mooney, who worked wonders rehabilitating the yard. We now have a flat yard that is carpeted with two types of zoysia grass: One more shade tolerant for the side of the house and the other more sun loving for the front lawn since it is bathed in afternoon sun. Martin planted daffodil bulbs throughout the front yard last fall, and we have had a spectacular showing this spring. He also created two flower beds in the front. One will be used for annual plants for splashes of color and interest. The second bed will be largely used for herbs and vegetables. There will also be elephant ears, a favorite of Bill’s, as well as ferns and flowers in containers on the porch. It is all currently still a work in process. The back yard is very small and contains native ground cover as well as a newly planted black gum. This tree should fit the space well as it matures and have beautiful fall foliage.”


What types of plants have you planted and are any of them brought from an old garden to continue on?

We did bring elephant ear bulbs from the old house as well as white irises, which Bill’s mother had planted in their home in North Little Rock. These are the only plants that we brought from our old residences.

Tell the readers about the mural.

The mural was a very recent art project designed by Bill. The mural, painted in acrylics, is beautifying an otherwise ugly, dirty and plain wall that is the back of a neighbor’s outbuilding. It directly faces our new driveway and can be seen through the kitchen and dining room windows. The painted wreath of flowers is lifted directly from our everyday dinner plates. The design ties in with the Dutch Colonial architecture of the home.

Dutch Colonial isn’t a style associated with Cooper-Young, There is one two doors down from where I live that was built in circa 1910, which I love. Why this style of house for a new build?

Martin grew up in New York State, where Dutch Colonial is quite common. He was always drawn to this design for its clean lines and classic design. We were looking for a way to maximize Bill’s studio space upstairs, and the gambrel roof which largely defines Dutch Colonial architecture provided the maximum amount of space and a great amount of light. We also felt that, although Dutch Colonial is not very common in Memphis, there are other examples of the style scattered throughout midtown, so it would not stand out as an anomaly.

An anomaly it is not, but a shining example of how a dilapidated property that is not collecting taxes be turned into a goldmine that is collecting higher taxes from the vast improvements. Bravo! Welcome to your new/old neighborhood.

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Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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