MEK House

(Chad Mellon Photography)

When Memphis-based architects Archimania set out to create a house for a former NBA basketball player, it wasn’t his height that was the biggest design challenge. It was his massive, nationally recognized collection of African American art.

Before he was married or had a family, the player had bought an unremarkable house in a typical Memphis neighborhood. Years later, he hired local firm Archimania to renovate the structure to better accommodate his family and showcase his art, while sticking to a budget. This led the designers to a tactical solution: Rather than renovate the house, they would choose small spots to intervene with “insertions” that would be an entirely different color and material palette than the rest of the house.

(Chad Mellon Photography)

A dark walnut “wrapper” snakes up the stairs and through the renovated living spaces, creating a contrast with the white walls, which are meant for displaying artwork.
This meant focusing on five areas—the entry, master bathroom, kitchen, hangout space, and living room—that would have the biggest impact on the house. While this concept seems simple, the execution was actually surprisingly difficult. “There was an awful lot of strange detailing in the house,” architect Kayce Williford told AN. “There were a lot of 45-degree walls in the plan and we weren’t sure if those were structural or not. It took a little time to figure out what we could leave or what we could keep.”

First, they carved a multiuse room, dubbed the hangout space, from the attic above the garage by playing off of the existing angled roof to create built-in seating along the perimeter. An orange space to the side is used as an office. Cut off from the rest of the home, the colorful area is meant to be less about the art and more about the family.

(Chad Mellon Photography)

In the house’s main volume, Archimania took the existing stair and wrapped it—along with the railings—in walnut to make it sculptural and give it more weight in the space. The walnut treatment continues up to the other renovated spaces, the kitchen, and the master bathroom. “We got rid of much of the trim and details,” said Williford. “It was a challenge to figure out which columns and trim work were essential and what we could remove.”

In the kitchen, the walnut paneling turns into similarly treated millwork. White glass subway tile and a white quartz countertop, backsplash, and overhead add a sense of lightness and create contrast with the polished laminate millwork.

Contrasting walnut and white is a theme throughout the house. While the walnut denotes what has been refurbished for the livability of the home, the white walls act as gallery display space. “Because the NBA player has so much art, it is hard for him to not put up art everywhere,” explained Williford. “The architecture is a diagram of where pieces might go. It created notions of where he might want to frame the art and on which walls.”

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