Lisa Mallory’s first task in designing this East Memphis house was to “un-design” it.

“Everything in the house was very traditional — it was the most traditional house you’ve ever seen. So we totally started over,” says Lisa, interior designer and owner of Memphis-based Lisa Mallory Interior Design. “We took out all the traditional furniture and just took a complete contemporary turn.”

East Memphis Arthouse

White walls, modern furnishings and artwork turn this formerly traditional East Memphis house into a contemporary haven.

Lisa’s second task was to make the house live up to its name: Art House. Her clients had collected works for 30 years, including many pieces from David Lusk Gallery. For Lisa, building the home’s design around the art was the most fun and rewarding part of the project. “The whole house was done with the art collection in mind,” Lisa says. “We freshened up the house and just painted it white. The only room that’s not white is the bedroom.”

In that space, now the homeowner’s favorite room in the house, Lisa started with dramatic, deep charcoal walls that laid the groundwork for a room rich in pattern and texture. A king-size platform bed appears to float above the soft gray carpet. A cowhide-covered Le Corbusier chaise lounge – an iconic mid-century art form in itself – holds court in one corner beneath an oversized canvas by Kit Reuther, a study in moody slate hues. Ample windows treated with simple white shades bring in an abundance of light, allowing the dark-walled room to retain its sense of mystery and calm without feeling closed in.

Art House bedroom

The master bedroom used to be the homeowner’s least favorite room in the house. With its new, modern design and restful color scheme, it’s now one of her favorites.

Modern master bedroom

A modern chair mixes with an antique side table in the master bedroom. Achieving the right balance of new and antique pieces was one of Lisa’s biggest challenges in the project.

Le Corbusier chaise, Kit Reuther painting

Simple window coverings and spare furniture forms keep the attention on the artwork — a main goal in this home’s design.

When the homeowners bought the house eight years ago, they considered a more contemporary aesthetic, wanting to highlight their growing collection of paintings and sculpture. But with their fine antiques and the home’s Southern sensibilities, the design strayed from that vision. Lisa listened carefully to their wants and needs, aiming for a true collaboration.

“It’s like night and day,” Lisa says. “A total transformation. It was something she’d been trying to accomplish but never could get done until she hired us.” Lisa didn’t completely eliminate the owners’ antiques from the mix. Instead, she worked them in around a range of new contemporary and modern furniture forms, aiming for an eclectic mix that both updated the home’s aesthetic and called attention to the art. “We had a very traditional house with lots of antiques and nice collections of Staffordshire and Majolica,” the homeowner says. “And she did a beautiful job of integrating the two.”

Art by Robert Rector

A painting by Robert Rector stands out against an accent wall surrounding the living room fireplace. The formality of this space allowed Lisa to integrate a few of the family’s traditional and antique furnishings.

Living room shelves with art

“Even the bookcases are filled with art,” says Lisa. Formerly filled with dark, heavy leather tomes, she lightened up the vignette and incorporated quirky objets and sculptures.

In the living room, for example, Lisa designed the space plan and color story around a large-scale, whimsical painting of Napoleon by Memphis artist Mary Sims. The bold purple sofa complements the yellow-orange hues in the painting. “And it’s one of her favorite colors,” Lisa says of her client.

Pops of orange and gold form a thread throughout the space, also drawing from the large canvas, the room’s focal point. A smaller work by Freida Hamm hangs above a console, continuing the color scheme. Meanwhile, a piece by Robert Rector hangs above the fireplace, highlighted by a chocolate brown accent wall. “We had a fabulous time taking all of her wonderful artwork and finding a new home for it,” Lisa says.

Art-filled living room

This large-scale painting of Napoleon, by Memphis artist Mary Sims, found at David Lusk Gallery, formed the basis for the living room’s design. The smaller work is by Freida Hamm.

In the dining room, one wall is occupied by a massive painting by Michael Crespo of fish on a background of deep ocean blue. An adjacent wall features a large-scale metal sculpture by Memphis artist Greely Myatt, a nod to the homeowner’s involvement with the National Ornamental Metal Museum. The furnishings in the space complement but don’t detract from the art, with a rectangular glass table that seems to float above its metal base and 10 sleek, modern chairs. With no rug to draw the eye down, the art steals the show.

Michael Crespo painting, Greely Myatt sculpture

Rather than heavy and formal, this spacious dining room is feather-light and airy, taking its cues from the art.

In the den, an airy space with a peaked, beamed ceiling that opens to the kitchen, a bold Robert Rector painting hangs above the sleek, white leather sofa, splashing the room with primary colors and setting the tone for the room’s décor. A cherry red Barcelona chair and glass-topped Noguchi table form the main conversation area, while two eggplant leather Eames chairs create spots for reading, lounging and relaxing. A stacked stone fireplace features a wood mantel with a surround that stretches to the ceiling, grounding the space and adding a natural element. A painting by Maysey Craddock hangs above the mantel, complementing the warm wood and connecting it to the surrounding space. “One of my favorite things is when I sit at our breakfast room table and eat lunch and look into my den,” says the homeowner. “I love the den. It’s colorful and it’s open and light.”

Modern furniture in Memphis home

Contemporary and modern furniture forms, like the red Barcelona chair and iconic Noguchi coffee table, harmonize with the modern abstract artwork.

Contemporary breakfast room

The breakfast room, which blends modern chairs, art and lighting with traditional antiques, is one of the homeowner’s favorite spaces, largely because it offers a view of the colorful den.

The study, too, is filled with artwork and interest, including a painting of a sheep by Michael Crespo that hangs above a neutral sectional sofa, as well as a quirky pair of mounted antlers. In an upstairs hallway, a whimsical, colorful alphabet painting by Tad Lauritzen Wright hangs above a custom-designed bench covered in an equally bold Brunschwig & Fils print. Even the home’s bookcases are filled with art.

Art by Robert Crespo

This sheep painting by Michael Crespo found its home in the husband’s study. A roomy sectional makes the space comfortable for lounging, as well as working.

Art by Greely Myatt

Lisa had a bench custom made to complement this fun, colorful canvas by Memphis artist Tad Lauritzen Wright.

“I like that the feeling of the whole house is light and airy now,” the homeowner says. As for Lisa, she enjoyed taking a house that was no longer working for her clients and turning it into their ideal home. “We made it feel like a different home,” she says. “I loved working with someone who was open to doing different things. It’s not like too many houses in the city. And it’s fun to do something different.”

Thanks to photographer Julie Wage Ross for today’s stunning images. Want to see more gorgeous Memphis homes? Check out our page on Memphis Interior Design.