A charming 1940s-era home with beautiful bay windows and white-columned front porch has been transformed into a light-filled, personal living space for the Spinosa family.
It is always fascinating to see how other people live, in particular those who work in the design profession. I long have wanted to feature an interior designer’s own “great home” for this series and was delighted when Sarah Spinosa graciously agreed to let us pay her a visit. Her house is a reflection of her professional talents, and, in this particular house, she is clearly her own client.
Sarah and Philip Spinosa have now lived in Chickasaw Gardens for four years, in an older home which they lovingly renovated. Funnily enough, the couple had previously built what they envisioned as their dream house further out in East Memphis. But when prospective buyers literally knocked on their door, the Spinosas pulled up stakes and moved several miles farther west.
While their 1940s-era house had been well maintained, it was certainly in need of a basic facelift; the Spinosas also required more living and bedroom space. The plans for the renovations were drawn up by architect David Anderson, whose work Spinosa characterizes simply “as art,” adding “opinionated as I am with design, I loved his vision from the start.”
In the talented hands of builder Ryan Anderson of RKA Construction, the house was completely gutted and reconfigured and ultimately transformed into the perfect personal living space for her family. Spinosa admits she likes “the quirks and charm” of an older home but fortunately the lessons learned from building the first house were very helpful when it came to renovating the present one.
Among other things, the master suite was shifted downstairs and an existing downstairs bedroom was transformed into the master bath and closet. Baby Bradford’s nursery is downstairs while 8-year-old son Graham’s bedroom and separate study nook are upstairs, along with a guest room and bathroom. The large screened-in porch was absorbed into the house, becoming the handsome, large family room which is the heart of this newly refurbished home. The rudimentary attic stairs were moved and new wrought-iron banisters were fashioned courtesy of the talented David Doss. All of the old windows were saved, and the floors are original, although stained a darker color.
Fresh fruit and flowers add warmth to the welcoming entry.
As Sarah Spinosa toured me around her house, she told me a bit about her background. Originally from Maryville in East Tennessee, where her family was in the newspaper publishing business, she is a graduate of the University of Tennessee. After moving here, she was studying for a master’s degree in counseling at the University of Memphis, but after working for 10 years with Lisa Mallory, the pull of the interior design business won her over. Spinosa has the highest praise for her close friend Mallory, saying: “She did so much for me and was my role model.”
And so it was that Sarah Spinosa Interior Design was born! She defines her style as “traditional, timeless, but with modern, fresh touches.” Her favorite sources in Memphis are Market Central, Blu d’or Interiors in Laurelwood, and, of course, Lisa Mallory’s shop in Chickasaw Oaks.
Spinosa buys at the markets in Atlanta and Highpoint, North Carolina, and a variety of other places in her travels. When I ask for one tiny design secret, Spinosa says simply, “Go to the grocery store and buy fresh fruit and flowers.” She clearly puts this philosophy into play in her own home, as when we visited, bright yellow tulips were arranged throughout the house in silver julep and loving cups. I asked her what designers she admires, and Spinosa immediately mentioned Aerin Lauder, whose 2013 book Beauty at Home she has read and relished cover to cover.
Spinosa likes simple drapes — neutral linens and dupioni silks. She uses sisal rugs for the most part, to give texture and durability to her design scheme, though she says readily that she would have Oushak orientals from Turkey everywhere “if she won the lottery tomorrow!”
The light walls of the living room perfectly show off fabulous artworks by Megan Hurdle and Amanda Stone Talley (see the baby’s little red plastic car in the background!).
Her walls are mostly neutral — Benjamin Moore’s White Dove and Ballet White are the paint colors — the better to set off her artworks. In particular, Spinosa points to the contemporary abstract works of New Orleans painter Amanda Stone Talley on the living room wall. In that same room is a gorgeous one-of-a-kind mixed-media piece over the fireplace, featuring a circle of metallic laurel leaves by local artist Megan Hurdle. It was a Christmas gift commissioned by Spinosa’s husband, Philip, and thus a treasured object.
She did splash out with incredible, large print purple and grey “Iris” wallpaper by Cole and Son in the dining room. In fact, neutral walls notwithstanding, Spinosa confesses that she really loves wallpaper; “if I could do it everywhere, I would.” She has a passion for sophisticated lighting — table lamps, pendants, and chandeliers such as the Currey and Company “Sputnik” fixture in the dining room. “Lamps are an easy decorative accessory,” she says, which add a lot of style.
As to furniture for the new home, Spinosa confesses that she purged some pieces, reused some pieces, and bought some pieces. She points to the dining room table, a favorite which she loves in part because it was purchased from the home’s previous owner, the late Betty Stewart, at her estate sale. She was gratified that Stewart could bring her family to see the renovated home, and everyone seemed to love the changes the Spinosas had made. Stewart, who sadly died very recently, was a well-known and beloved personality in the Chickasaw Gardens area for her dedication to its preservation and security.
Spinosa’s favorite room is the den, where the family gathers and as she says, “where memories are made.” I remarked on her use of navy in this room which I noted seems to be very much in vogue this year, and she allows that she has always loved all shades of blue. The kitchen is open-plan and streamlined with honed granite counters and marble backsplash. She gives her husband all the cooking credit — he’s “a great cook,” she explains. The Spinosas like to entertain at home, something that makes socializing easier, since they have two young children.
Philip and Sarah Spinosa are such a wonderful and welcoming couple, which shows in this photograph.
I so appreciated Philip Spinosa’s taking time out from his job as district sales manager at FedEx Services to be photographed for this story. Of course, I knew he had been elected to the Memphis City Council in 2015, and he told me that in this capacity he loved being downtown and “trying to do the right thing.” I know that readers will applaud him for service and efforts to make, in his words, “a greater Memphis now.”
I asked about “free-time getaways” for the family, and Sarah Spinosa just had to smile. Clearly at the moment, what with juggling the schedules of two young children and a busy husband wearing two hats, she does a lot of her design work for clients on the weekend. And since a designer’s work is never done, phase two of the renovation process for her own home will be the addition of a garage and playroom out back, whenever time permits.
One of my personal favorite coffee table books is An Affair with a House by celebrated interior designer Bunny Williams, in which she lovingly describes her country house and the joys and challenges of its restoration. Like Williams, I can see that the Spinosas are proud of their beautiful home, and it was pure pleasure to share an afternoon with this welcoming family.
Upon leaving I even got a friendly bear hug from Philip Spinosa. Now, that’s hospitality!
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The modern, streamlined kitchen and handsome breakfast room flow together beautifully with the wonderful Freida Hamm painting and light fixture by Visual Comfort adding color and style.
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Sarah Spinosa’s love for wallpaper comes through loud and clear in her dining room with its bold “Iris” wallpaper; the antique column in the far corner was a gift from Spinosa’s role model in the interior design business, Lisa Mallory.
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The downstairs master bedroom with its original bay window, neutral color scheme, and light wood furnishings is elegant, comfortable, and most importantly — restful.
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The large den, a former screened-in porch, is Sarah Spinosa's favorite room where the family gathers and “where memories are made.”
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This sophisticated room with its bright green drapes in the bay window serves as a small sitting room and Sarah Spinosa’s home office.
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At the top of the stairs is son Graham’s little study nook located just outside his bedroom.