In July of this year, Dr. Marjorie Hass began her job as the 20th president of Rhodes College. Coming from being the president of Austin College in Texas, Marjorie knew that creating a livable, comfortable home that would represent her new era as Rhodes College’s president would be an essential part of her transition to Memphis. And interior designer and Memphian Rachel Gray of Rachel Gray Interior Design & Consulting helped make this transition a seamless one for Marjorie and her family.
Upon meeting Marjorie and her husband Larry in Dallas, Rachel says that “the process became very fluid and clear, mainly through the discovery of our shared Midwestern backgrounds.” Once Rachel had a better understanding of the couple’s personal style and functional needs, she set about developing a plan for the redesign under challenging time constraints: only two weeks’ time. Once the plan was set, she then had seven weeks for the renovation and installation for the 6,000-square-foot historic home located at 91 Morningside Place. The house was originally built in 1912 and was purchased by Rhodes College in 1992, with the Hasses as the third presidential family to reside there.
Marjorie describes working with Rachel as amazing, saying, “She was so able to very quickly get a sense of who Larry and I are and get a sense of the kinds of things that make a house feel like a home to us.” Together, Rachel and Marjorie were able to create a home that expressed both the couple’s vivid personalities and Rachel’s distinct design aesthetic, as well as to maintain the functionality that a college president’s home is expected to serve. If you ask Marjorie, she would say, “Anything that you look at in the house, and think ‘ooh that’s funky,’ that is Rachel.” Marjorie’s mix of modern and classic with warmth and elegance meets Rachel’s eclectic vibrancy to make for a gorgeous fusion of styles.
The home beautifully serves its purpose both as a cozy, private hideaway and an open space for entertaining the Rhodes community. Marjorie’s sunroom is exemplary of this balance. Rachel used a palette of nuanced, muted reds in this room to incorporate the signature Rhodes color in a more subdued tone. “I wanted to provide her with a setting opposite of the Gothic-influenced architecture of Rhodes’ campus,” says Rachel, “a sort of reflection of her personal work-life balance.” Here, Marjorie can have a moment to herself to “curl up and read in a light and airy space,” Rachel says, while still feeling connected to Rhodes. Also found in this room is a painting by Mary Sims that illustrates a woman with crossed arms over a pot of geraniums. Rachel sees this piece as an essential to the room as a reminder that, as she puts it, “The woman in the piece is a badass much like President Hass.”
Like in the sunroom, the art in the rest of the home is also a defining feature. When selecting art for the home, Marjorie found it extremely helpful to have a Memphis-based designer who was able to recognize the spirit of both Memphis and Rhodes, as well as the personality of the Hasses, to make selections that would be meaningful in their home.
Rachel sought out the Rhodes art collection to gather the majority of the pieces found in the president’s home, comparing herself to “a kid in a candy store” with the opportunity to browse and select from such an extensive collection. Artists of the pieces that she chose include Burton Callicott, Ted Faiers, Mary Sims, Lon Anthony, Betty Gilow, Graham Smart and Kat Gore, among others. Among these pieces is a small replica of the statue that stands outside the stately and iconic Palmer Hall building, the home of President Hass’ office. “That’s really fun for me to have in the house,” she admits.
There are many small elements of Rhodes infused into the home to bring the design full circle for President Hass. The house also embraces Rhodes’ past by keeping certain pieces that are original to the home, such as the gold antique mirrors, which Rachel moved to the formal living room “to elevate the grand space.” Using and repurposing these original pieces also was helpful in sticking to a strict budget, which allowed the Hasses and Rachel to pick strong new pieces that would really make an impact within the home.
Having a space that was conducive to entertaining was vital for the Hasses in the redesign. Even early on in the school year, the couple has already hosted a number of dinner parties, including one for new members of the Rhodes faculty. They hope to continue this spirit of entertainment and begin a series of events they have planned that will also include students. Marjorie says that her favorite element of the house is the fact that she can both have her own space for a calm cup of tea in the morning or a drink before dinner in the library, as well as spaces, both indoors and out, to entertain guests for the number of events they will be hosting for many years to come.
The Hasses have not only connected with the Rhodes community, but also their own community within the neighborhood.“It was very easy to settle into the house because the community has been so welcoming,” says Marjorie. “The home is on a beautiful cul-de-sac, and there’s a real sense of spirit and connection among the neighbors. We have already been invited to a party or two, and there’s a group of neighbors that all walk their dogs in the morning.”
From Rachel’s dedication to creating the ideal living space to the help of the Rhodes College faculty and staff along the way, as well as the generosity of former President and Mrs. Troutt, President Hass and her husband have been met with nothing but accommodating and gracious open arms. This comfortable and functional home base for President Hass sets the tone for a successful, dynamic presidency at Rhodes College.
Thank you to Stephen Jerkins for the gorgeous images of this home.
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