Memphian Peg Wahl and her husband, Dan, lived in their 1950s home in historic Hein Park for 15 years before they fully embraced it and made it their own. In the meantime, they hid its light under the proverbial bushel. “We didn’t entertain for years because it wasn’t fun. The house wasn’t ready for it,” Peg says. “And now, we’re ready to party.”
Once their three kids left the nest, the Wahls took a look around and shook their heads. “We knew we needed to make some changes because we were so uncomfortable, just generally uncomfortable,” Peg says. “We couldn’t decide whether we wanted to move and get a better house or just stay put. We looked at houses all over Memphis, and we couldn’t find a house we liked as much as this one or a neighborhood we liked as much as Hein Park.”
It took a conversation with friend and architect Charles Shipp to help them make a decision. First, Charles reminded the Wahls that, though they were empty nesters toying with idea of downsizing, their days of children toddling around underfoot weren’t over. “He said in the next five to 10 years, you’re going to end up with some grandkids,” Peg recalls. “‘You’ll want them to come and run around in the yard and play.’ It made a whole lot of sense. We could see how this house would be wonderful for grandkids—Easter egg hunts, trick-or-treating in this neighborhood.”
Next, Charles revealed that he’d already drawn up renovation plans for the home’s previous owner. It didn’t take much convincing for the Wahls to put those plans into action. “We didn’t want to change the footprint. We wanted to keep the exterior as much as we could the same,” Peg says. “We drew out ideas, but then (Charles) came back with his ideas. His ideas were so much better.”
The couple brought in builder Jimmy Wittenberg to help them implement the changes, opening up the space in a few areas, reconfiguring the kitchen layout and adding a den in place of a former downstairs bedroom. They also called on interior designer Andrea Stratton, who’d worked with them when they bought the house years earlier, to formulate a design plan and a palette that captured the homey elegance and comfort the couple was seeking.
The result is a comfortable, livable home swathed in restful neutrals that highlight an extensive art collection. And now, all the Wahls want to do is entertain. “We were really lucky. The previous owner hadn’t done anything other than maintain the house beautifully,” Peg says. “It was a pretty simple renovation, just opening up walls and renovating spaces.”
In the adjoining dining room, Andrea married the couple’s traditional dining table and chairs with bold, bright artwork and whimsical accessories, including a scattered collection of antlers Peg picked up at a garage sale for $5. “I like to mix the old and the new,” Andrea says.
The kitchen still contains the home’s original metal cabinets. When Jimmy built new wood cabinetry to surround the repositioned refrigerator, he carefully designed it to match the shape and color of the originals.
At the center of the space is an antique planter’s table the Wahls repurposed into an island, replacing the battered wood top with a stunning slab of striped marble. And at one end of the long, open space, another work from David Lusk Gallery creates a dynamic focal point. The mixed-media piece, by Memphis artist Maysey Craddock, bridges the walk from the front of the house to the new den, bringing life to the breakfast area.
The farmhouse table was a find from RS Antiques & Art, and Peg scored the six caned chairs that surround it from Poplar Antiques for a total of $240. Dan refinished them, trying out three paint colors before landing on their soft, creamy finish. “My husband and I both love doing things around the house,” Peg says. “And what I can’t do he absolutely can do. He’s a great painter, and he loves to fix things. He’s got great ideas. We’ll get into a project and just have a blast.”
The couple’s fun and creative flair also appears in Dan’s closet in the master suite. Tucked behind a pocket door, the small space features a traditional carpet, a celadon-painted armchair and a drum shade pendant light, with baskets to organize items and an antique chest for added storage. In the master bedroom, a sculptural headboard is covered in a pale green, graphic print that matches the custom bedskirt. Andrea found the fabric, a soft botanical print, for the coordinating valances. And in the en-suite, the Wahls gutted the space and started fresh. “We ripped out the master bath and the big hallway bath,” Peg says. “We had a pink bathroom and a blue bathroom and upstairs a yellow bathroom, with tile four feet up the wall. The jackhammering was unbelievable to get all that stuff out.”
In the new space, a walk-in shower has subway tile walls and fun, round, whimsical tiles on the floor. “That bathroom floor is like a party,” Peg says with a laugh. She uses her new, marble-encased soaking tub on a regular basis and loves it. And Andrea loves what hangs above it. “I love a crystal chandelier in a bathroom.”
Along with the interior changes, Andrea guided the Wahls in an exterior revamp, painting the former orange-purple brick a calming off-white that marries well with the soothing indoor palette. They added wider shutters and a pair of gas lanterns that flank the front door. Meanwhile, Jimmy put his vision to work on the front porch. “We had these dinky little hand rails and dinky little steps that were all brick,” Peg says. “Jimmy had the vision to broaden the whole thing, take out the hand rails and expand the steps across the front porch to give it presence.”
He used matching bluestone on the front porch and on an expanded, whitewashed screened-in porch that opens off the kitchen and den. And landscape designer Jackie Distretti made a huge difference in the outdoor spaces. “Now, when you walk out the back door you can see my little courtyard,” Peg says. “That’s one of my favorite things. It’s nice to be able to walk outside and see something beautiful instead of cars.”
The whole project flowed as well as the home’s graceful entertaining spaces. And that, too, was by design. “What we found about working with Andrea is that no matter what she picks, it’s perfect,” Peg says. “We never, ever second-guess it. If I pick something, I’ll look at it and go, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’ But if Andrea picks it, it’s perfect.”
Photography by Julie Wage Ross