Art is everything to Memphians Ron and Debbie Lazarov. A financial manager by day and an artist at heart, Ron began collecting pieces that spoke to him before he and Debbie were married 33 years ago. And then they began building a collection together. “On our first trip to San Francisco the year after we were married we bought our first piece of art,” says Debbie. “We would buy art as we travel.”
And so, when the empty-nesters downsized from their family home to an East Memphis condo two years ago, it made sense that a key piece from their collection formed the basis for their new home’s aesthetic. The piece, a thickly rendered oil painting of a chair by late Memphis artist Peter Bowman, holds special meaning to Debbie. “I worked with Peter (at Memphis University School),” Debbie says. “I’ve always had fond memories of him.”
“The chair painting is what really started the color palette,” says Michele Pinstein, interior designer with Ray & Baudoin Interior Design. “We knew it was going to be a focal point when you walked in, so we let the colors flow from there.” The result is a streamlined, cohesive space with gallery-white walls and a thread of silver, with hits of chartreuse that run throughout the home. Before the design could come together, however, the Lazarovs had to assemble a team to turn what once were two small, choppy units into an open, airy and spacious home.
“When we took on this project we knew we needed an architect, contractor and interior designer,” Debbie says. She knew right away that the team would include Michele. “I was familiar with her work for years and years and knew her personally, as well,” she says. “I’d never been able to use her as a designer before.” She and Ron found architect Christopher Schmidt of cs s t u d i o through a referral by a close friend. And contractor John Duke came to the team via the golf course – he’s a golf buddy of Ron’s. The team came together weekly to share ideas, take notes and collaborate throughout the process. “I can’t stress enough how this wouldn’t have happened without Michele, Christopher and John,” Debbie says.
From start to finish, the project took less than five months, despite major structural changes and a clean slate from a furnishings standpoint. “We’d had our furniture a long time, over 30 years,” Debbie says. “And when we moved I envisioned everything new. Of course, my husband didn’t, but I talked him into it,” she adds with a laugh. “And he was really happy with the outcome. I felt like this was my dream home, and it was a dream come true.”
Because the Lazarovs were combining two units, the first hurdle was connecting them. Christopher’s goal was to open the space up so that it flowed well for both daily family life and entertaining, but he first had to overcome a few structural challenges. “I got in touch with the original structural engineers,” he says. “Probably the biggest challenge came from a suggestion by Michele to change the orientation of the entrance from the elevator.”
Once he made it happen, everyone agreed the difficulties were well worth the result. The former entryway was cramped and lackluster. Now, a spacious foyer greets guests as they step off an elevator directly into the Lazarovs’ home. Michele gave it added punch by covering the walls with a dark, boldly patterned paper by Kelly Wearstler. A drum shade pendant hangs above a modern glass and metal center table, keeping the floor space clean and open.
“I felt like that foyer needed to make a statement that you have arrived,” Michele says. “You get off the elevator into a really neat space, and then you turn and get a vista of a focal point that’s also very strong. Sometimes with open space plans you see everything at once and there are no surprises. This one, it really unfolds.”
The Bowman painting is at the heart of that focal point, placed on a wall across from the entry flanked by a pair of lamps and two clean-lined, upholstered chairs. “We didn’t want a lot of ‘stuff,’” Debbie says. “We wanted it really clean.”
With the footprints of two units to play with, Christopher used one side of the space – the side with more light – for the home’s public spaces. “The one sandwiched in the middle became the private side, the master suite, a TV area off the master bedroom, a private exterior space,” he says. “With the natural light coming into the corner unit, that became the more public side of the two – the living room, dining room, kitchen and a couple of existing bedrooms.”
The light-filled kitchen is awash in pale grays, with honed quartz countertops and contemporary cabinetry that give the space a crisp, clean edge. Michele designed two-toned draperies to filter light from a wall of windows, repeating the fabrics in the adjoining breakfast room’s oversize Roman shades.
Michele also designed the breakfast table and had it built by Memphis cabinetmaker Posey Hedges. “The breakfast table is where Michele spends a lot of her day because the lighting is so nice,” Michele says. “She sits there and does work and it becomes like an office in the kitchen.” Modern citron chairs continue a thread that begins with the range of greens in the Bowman painting, jumps to the clean, striking chartreuse of the guest room’s draperies and appears in small bursts throughout the main spaces of the home.
In the formal living room, neutral furnishings and finishes spotlight another bold, colorful piece from the Lazarovs’ art collection. They found the painting by Memphis artist Sheila Bailey after moving in. “It was in her living room in a stack of paintings on the floor, not even finished,” Debbie says. She loved it for its strong colors and its scale.
Beyond the living room, a formal dining room features a showstopping chandelier – a large-scale spiral hung with cascading blown glass orbs. “I wanted something oversized without too much visual weight,” Michele says. The fixture is by Currey and Company, and the pedestal table beneath it is by Julian Chichester. The home’s new entry formed a backdrop for a wall of built-in storage that features a mirrored subway tile backsplash, used to reflect light in the interior space.
Connecting the home’s public and private areas is a sitting room that features a gallery wall of framed black-and-white photos curated by Memphis photographer Jack Kenner, a family friend. The collection includes works by Ernest Withers, New York artist Shig Ikeda and Kenner himself. Adjacent to that wall is a striking piece the Lazarovs purchased in New Orleans. Formed out of individual painted sticks, the installation adds swaths of bold color to a cozy conversation nook featuring a whimsical metal table and four Hancock and Moore klismos-inspired club chairs.
Across the room hangs another bold painting, a cherry red canvas the Lazarovs brought home from Santa Fe. It hangs beside a wet bar that makes use of the second unit’s former kitchen.
In the private portion of the house, a cozy den contains one of Debbie’s favorite features of the condo – a built-in bookcase that provides loads of storage and display space. Its dark stained wood also surrounds the doorway that bridges the den to the master suite beyond. “It’s really strikingly beautiful,” Debbie says. “It’s one of my very favorite pieces of work in here.”
A gallery wall of family photos leads to the master suite, which features a clean-lined, upholstered bed, a soft, neutral color palette and a screened-in porch that overlooks a zen container garden. A spacious walk-though closet leads to a master bath with marble countertops, a marble shower surround and modern, slate-gray tile that forms a directional line to a sleek, sculptural and dramatically lit soaking tub. Across the room, a built-in dressing table has a marble top and oversize glass knobs that continue on the closet cabinetry.
Together, Michele and Christopher, with the help of John Duke and his team, paid attention to the smallest detail, leaving no decisions on the table. “Not all projects are as collaborative as this one,” Christopher says. Adds Michele, “That’s what separates this project from so many others. We had a goal, a level of achievement we wanted for the finishes, and we got it.”