WARM and SLEEK, A creative East Memphis remodel achieves comfortable, cozy modernity.

This article originally appeared in At Home Memphis and Mid-South in the October 2017 issue

Modern and contemporary are not home design styles that typically lend themselves to cozy family gatherings, yet when Leslie Shankman-Cohn was approached by an East Memphis family to revamp their 5,600-square foot Italianate residence, that was exactly what her clients wanted: “a sophisticated, contemporary feel that wasn’t too harsh or stark,” she says.

While the home already had some special features like a private Japanese garden and unique front-yard pool that could basically be left alone, the entire first floor needed reworking.

The home’s original design included two designated dining spaces just to the left of the front entrance.  Since the family had no need for two formal dining rooms in addition to the breakfast nook off the eat-in kitchen, Shankman-Cohn made the decision to do something a little bit different with the space closest to the entryway.

“We made the first dining room into a more formal sitting room,” she says.  And, since so often in home design, everything gets lined up in perfect little intersecting arrangements, she went bold, grouping six plush club chairs in circular formation surrounding the metallic, and also circular, coffee table.  “The circle placement lends itself to conversation,” Shankman-Cohn explains, “and also breaks up the symmetric stiffness of other areas.”

Through the conversation area and breakfast room, which features lovely counter tops flecked with blue amethyst, is the original family room, an awkwardly designed space that, due to traffic patterns, left a marble-mantled fireplace sitting obsolete.  “People were constantly walking past the fireplace to get to other areas of the home,” Shankman-Cohn says, “so we couldn’t put anything in front of it.”  Instead, she suggested taking down the original mantle and, in its place, covering the entire wall in mother-of-pearl tile.  With the family room saved, Shankman-Cohn had three big projects left: the patio, laundry room and master suite.  Her work on the patio was fairly simple: the designer chose to enclose the area and create a cozy gathering place for her clients.

The laundry room, however, was more of a challenge.  In its original incarnation, the space was closed off and compartmentalized into separate areas for extra kitchen storage and the ubiquitous washer/dryer.  Under Shankman-Cohn’s supervision, the walls came down, additional storage and an island were installed, and non-porous counter tops were put in place, lending the homeowners not only a more pleasant environment for conducting household chores, but also a new spot in which to execute their frequent crafting projects.

Finally, it came time to re-envision the home’s main-floor master suite.  While the existing master bath was not particularly remarkable, the master bedroom was massive, detracting from the homeowner’s sought-after feeling of warmth and comfort, Shankman-Cohn’s solution was simple: steal from the bedroom to enrich the bathroom.

The accent wall she installed behind the bed not only helps define and reorient the space, it also creates separation between the clients’ sleeping area and the newly expanded master bathroom.  In addition to the existing his-and-hers walk-in closets, Shankman-Cohn designed a wall of ebony storage closets equipped with a magnetic touch-latch system and rigged to light up when opened.  The combination of rich, dark colors and the decrease in square footage helped achieve the “intimate bedroom feel” her clients sought.

Then there was the bathroom, which also needed reorienting.  “My clients wanted to feel like they were standing outside in their bamboo forest,” Shankman-Cohn explains.  To that end, she removed the existing tub–a decision that, as an aging-in-place specialist, she advocates for all her clients–and in its place beneath the window, she oversaw the installation of a custom-designed floating vanity.  To achieve a more seamless blending with the view of nature, walls along both  sides of the vanity were mirrored and the sinks were completely integrated into the counter top with just a quarter -inch waterfall drain in the back as evidence of their existence.

In keeping with the streamlined design for the space, the newly created shower was left open, with no threshold door or curtain marking off the area.  Instead, it was fitted with a massive “lobby” and tiled in the same soft gray porcelain as the rest of the bathroom.  In the separate water closet, a floating TOTO toilet and a textured black tile focal wall completed the clean, contemporary vibe.

With flow and design updated, it was time to add in the true masterpieces of the home–the opulent light fixtures.  As soon as you walk in the front door, Shankman-Cohn says, you see the “tulip-shaped chandelier that reaches down at all different levels.”  In the living room hangs another showstopper, “a dandelion sunburst that’s five feet in diameter.”  And, as the piece de resistance, an “intricate network of intersecting nickel plated metal tubes with strategically placed xenon lamps to cast a starry light” was given pride of place over the master bathroom’s floating vanity.

At the homeowners settled into their practically brand-new home, it becomes clear that Shankman-Cohn has pulled off the nearly impossible: a completely functional but very contemporary design plan that is, in all ways, simply fabulous.

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