Photographs by Andrea Zucker
Strange as it may seem, until 2008 Alan Nathanson, founder and president of Alan’s Carpetland Inc., and now recently retired, had never owned his own home. This might seem hard to believe for the owner of a company that specializes in carpets — elements essential to home décor. Maybe Nathanson was just too busy; maybe he didn’t want the responsibilities of home ownership or maybe he just had never found the right place. But no matter the reason, Nathanson had lived in an East Memphis apartment for his entire adult life. Ultimately, though, he came to the realization that he really needed more space.
Six years ago, eureka, a home on a beautiful, Midtown circle across from Overton Park came available and called out to him. Custom-built in 1954, the house has a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired floor plan, and Nathanson, ever the perfectionist, immediately had a vision for the place. As he puts it, “I knew what the house wanted,” and as it turned out, what it wanted was Stickley furniture, first produced by an early twentieth-century manufacturer that turned out simple, hand-crafted furniture which was in sharp contrast to the ornate Victorian pieces of that day.
Interior designer Susan Goldsmith, currently a member of the sales support staff at RS Antiques & Art, who also has her own design business, first met Nathanson while she was working at Samuels Furniture store (sadly now closed) and introduced him to the Stickley furniture line. Together they agreed Stickley had the quality and authenticity that Nathanson was seeking. A collection of this company’s handsome pieces seemed a natural fit for a mid-century modern home’s stylish and coherent décor. “It was a tall order to fill a house with Stickley all at once,” according to Goldsmith, but she got the job done in a relatively short period of time.
If you thought Stickley furniture was best acquired at auctions, on eBay and at estate sales, you would be wrong. Founded near Syracuse, New York, in 1900, the L. & J.G. Stickley Furniture Company is very much alive and well. It was and still is famed for its mission oak designs (known also as Arts and Craft style or American Craftsman), its use of high-quality woods, and its solid craftsmanship harkening back to a pre-industrial simplicity.
There is even a Stickley Museum alongside the factory, where the company still manufactures hand-finished, top-quality furniture, albeit not under the original ownership. The pieces that dazzle in Nathanson’s home are from Stickley’s newer Metropolitan and Twenty-First Century collections, both of which have a sophisticated, art deco look and feature highly polished, rich finishes on cherry wood furniture.
The Nathanson house has several nice original period details including marble window sills, a sunken living room, pocket doors, and handy built-ins. The entrance foyer is minimally furnished, and there is a step-down to the formal living room with wood floors refinished in the light tone of the 1950s. In turn, there is a step-up to the dining room, which is adjacent to the kitchen and dining nook. The large great room at the back of the house has sliding doors out to the patio. This downstairs floor plan also includes a master bedroom, a guest room, and a sitting room.
Working with Nathanson was a true partnership, according to Goldsmith, because the owner had very specific tastes and made a number of design choices on his own.
He prefers a clean and pared-down look without many accessories. He wanted to use, of course, some sentimental family heirlooms such as the centerpiece in the dining room, a glass gondola his parents bought in Venice. Susan told me she usually helped homeowners with rug selections, though in this case “rugs were obviously in Alan’s DNA.” An inherited family rug is in the living room, and for other areas Nathanson purchased pieces from Anthony Shaw in Chickasaw Oaks. Interior lighting from Graham’s is essential to the look and feel of the modern décor.
Drapes were dispensed with to allow for maximum visibility of the mature trees on the home’s grounds (after all he is located near Memphis’ famed Old Forest). The monochromatic walls are energized by Nathanson’s colorful art collection by local artists and sculptors such as Paul Edelstein, John McIntire and Zoe Nadel, purchased through David Smith. He also has several Picasso prints, purchased from Galerie Michael on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
It is important to mention that while Alan Nathanson is a devoted Memphian, local businessman, arts enthusiast, and member of civic organizations including Building Owners and Managers Association and Memphis in May, he loves the West Coast. He has good friends in the Los Angeles area and in fact for a period of ten years he was back and forth between Memphis and L.A. on such a regular basis that he even contemplated buying a place in Malibu. However, as things turned out, family circumstances arose which prevented his moving there.
As a result, Nathanson calls his large, upstairs media room with its big-screen television and four leather swivel Stickley chairs his “Malibu room,” in a nod to the place dear to his heart and the life he almost led.
Landscaping his property included redoing his patio and driveway. He’s fond of the outdoor life, which of course was a big draw in his love of California, and he’s been a golfer since his college days. He plays frequently at Justin Timberlake’s Mirimichi in Millington (he can get there from his house in 20 minutes), where his friend, Greg King, is the outstanding director of golf.
In the end, while this Midtown, mid-century Memphis house doesn’t exactly have Malibu’s palms or Pacific Ocean views, a man’s home is his castle. And in this instance there is no doubt that Nathanson is a well-pleased and proud “Johnny come lately” to the wonderful world of home ownership. Better late than never!
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The rectangular dining table and chairs are from Stickley’s line of furniture, which is strongly influenced by the “Glasgow style” introduced by famed Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the early twentieth century.
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View through the leafy canopy of Nathanson’s mid-century home near Overton Park.
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Nathanson kicks back with his faithful canine companion, Asa.
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The wide entrance foyer is light and bright and minimally furnished with a small console table.
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The loveseat, coffee table, and comfortable chair seem to float in the formal living room, which is anchored by a handsome, inherited neutral-toned oriental.
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The great room’s sofa and loveseat are upholstered in chocolate leather; the butterfly chair is one of two that Nathanson owns; the Stickley mission-style lamp is a focal point of this room that overlooks the beautifully landscaped backyard.
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