This unusual cantilevered mid century home in Memphis, Tennessee once sat on the edge of a lake, with a vacation home feel that it still retains today.
Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t often spring to mind as a location known for modern architecture. In fact, Memphis has a rich history and a strong catalog of Mid Century Modern homes, but you have to look hard to find them.
Margaret Mikkelsen and her husband, sculptor Ryan Faulkner, were looking for a modern home when relocating to Memphis two years ago, but they were short on time. “I had exactly one day to look at homes. I found that the AIA (American Institute of Architects) had a list of significant modern homes, so I read through it and then cross-referenced that list with what was on the market.” Mikkelsen recalls, “There were actually three homes for sale, but only one was in our price range.”
Original Elements Galore in this Memphis, Tennessee Legacy
That home turned out to be a stunningly preserved mid century gem with a multitude of original elements including birch ceilings in the great room, birch paneling elsewhere and original cabinetry in almost every room.
“All three bedrooms have built-in dressers,” explains Mikkelsen. “Two have built-in lighted vanity mirrors that lift up, and the third has a built-in desk. The floating credenza in the dining room is original, as is the 12-foot sofa in the living room that has an integrated end table and connects to the marble fireplace hearth.” Mikkelsen herself sewed new cushion covers for the sofa when she was unable to find anything that fit.
Few Owners, A Lasting Mid Century Legacy
The home was designed in 1957 by W. David McKinnie, a Navy lieutenant-turned-architect, who designed two hospitals in Memphis as well as myriad public buildings and homes. The house was originally created for the Forsythe family, who Mikkelsen says owned it until around 2003.
The Memphis, Tennessee mid century home formerly sat adjacent to a small lake, so there’s no basement. Built on concrete pylons, one whole wing of the home cantilevers out from the rest, providing space for a carport and a narrow opening to the expansive backyard beyond. The bedrooms are located in that section of the house, and Mikkelsen says the raised section means the bedroom windows overlook the tree canopy, making the rooms feel like they’re part of a modern treehouse.
Quirky Details in the Memphis, Tennessee Mid Century
The mid century Memphis, Tennessee home has some fascinating elements, where architect McKinnie attempted to maximize square footage, even in the awkward corners where the two wings of the home meet. The result is a triangular bathroom with an original wedge-shaped vanity. “It has 15-foot ceilings because it’s set at the main level of the house, but the ceiling is the same as the top level of the house. So it’s the tallest powder room and very hard to change light bulbs,” Mikkelsen says. An angular closet below makes use of similarly shaped dead space.
Another standout feature is the array of built-in lighting throughout the home. A hidden light fixture in the dining room ceiling is tucked into a small recess, and Mikkelsen says it casts a lovely warm wash of light down over the built-in Formica-topped wood buffet. “That light fixture is easily 15 feet long, and I think it might be fluorescent or possibly neon. If it ever goes out, I don’t know what we’d replace it with.”
Mikkelsen says the previous owners had kept the home in outstanding shape, and only some basic maintenance was required when they took possession. She was able to take her extensive collection of vintage furniture and move right in, finding everything fit the aesthetic and the wide-open spaces perfectly.
Finding Value in Memphis Modernism
Having fallen in love with her new city and new home, Mikkelsen has had time to reflect on how tough it was to find something special when she was hunting for her Mid Century Modern house, noting realtors would often market these modern and mid century-era homes as “perfect for teardown,” when in fact their bones were strong. “It drove me bonkers to see these really great family homes being torn down and replaced with McMansions.” So Mikkelsen decided to pursue her real estate license, becoming a realtor in Memphis specializing in modern and mid century homes. Through word of mouth and her website, modernmemphishomes.com, she focuses on helping people find these homes—or sell them for their true value.
Her realtor status also means she’s had the opportunity to peruse the old listings for her home and see how it’s changed (there was once a mirrored fireplace in the den) and what some fixtures and finishes previously looked like. That’s helped her create an aesthetic that balances the home’s history with the needs of a family in 2021.
Future projects include replacing the carport ceiling with something that offers more insulation since the cantilevered section of the home can be chilly in the winter. “I hope we’re here for a long time. I just love this house,” Mikkelsen notes. “There are some things we want to do with it, but nothing radical.”
Memphis’ Most Eclectic Neighborhood
Hunting modern homes in east Memphis
Norfleet Estates was part of the eastern expansion of Memphis in the 1950s. While a small lake adjacent to Mikkelsen’s home was probably a neighborhood selling feature initially, it was later filled in as the development advanced over the decades.
The first parcel of land sold in the late 1950s; however, the last lot in the area was only finally built on as recently as 2020.
The neighborhood has an eclectic mix of classic Southern homes and stately properties, cottage-style dwellings and MCM homes, like Mikkelsen’s. “Every house is unique, and it makes it a beautiful neighborhood to walk through. There’s something for everybody here.”
Looking for more MCM in Tennessee? Read on for The Dwell Hotel: Tennessee Hospitality With a Mod Touch. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!