• Photography by Andrea Zucker •
I f Memphis culture is your cup of tea, look no further than the magnificent Midtown home of Dana and Kent Farmer. The Farmers live a stone’s throw from Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and, perhaps inspired by their location, are very generous patrons of the arts. They have long been philanthropic supporters of the museum and were title sponsors (along with SouthernSun Asset Management) of the recent (and spectacular) exhibit at the Brooks, “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement.” The Farmers’ gracious 5,000-square-foot home dates to 1941, and is situated on a gated one-and-a-half-acre site across from Overton Park. It was originally owned by a member of one of Memphis’ best-known families, Philip Belz. His son, Jack, responsible for the reopening of The Peabody in 1982, grew up there. The period details are impressive, including a sweeping staircase, stained glass windows, beautiful crown moldings, and elaborate escutcheons on the doors. The Farmers have put their own stamp on the interior design of the place by filling it with travel mementos and antiques from Europe and the Far East as well as inherited family pieces. They own a home in New Orleans as well and, of course, have bought art and other treasures there through the years.
Dana Farmer tells me she was raised in East Memphis on Lake Drive, and that she and her husband lived downtown in Harbor Town after they were married. But somehow the beauty and charm of Midtown had always called to her — in her words, the neighborhood “had its hook in me” — and bought their current home in 2004 the first day it came on the market.
Another reason for wanting more space, they confess, was to accommodate their beloved animals. And so it was that they moved in with three very lucky dogs and two cats. The Farmers are (no surprise) big supporters of the Mid-South Spay and Neuter Services and the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County, and what’s more, Dana started the popular Harbor Town Dog Show — now a local institution.
The Farmers have put their own stamp on the interior design of the place by filling it with travel mementos and antiques from Europe and the Far East as well as inherited family pieces.
Over the past seven years, the Farmers have undertaken four major projects which include renovations of the kitchen/keeping room, master bathroom, guest bathroom, and pool house. All of this work has been designed and completed by Shari C. Carter, owner of SCC Residential Design and Construction. The Farmers have also recently refurbished their den, dining room, and living room with the interior design expertise of Lesley Samuels Marks.
This sounds like a lot of work to the layman, but honestly, the Farmers insist that it all went smoothly, thanks to the expert professional help they received. Shari Carter was with us the day that we photographed the home, to provide some details on what these renovations entailed. Dana Farmer told us “every project we’ve done with Shari, we’ve been thrilled with.” Carter admits she is very hands-on, often to be found on her hands and knees measuring to be sure everything fits perfectly; she adds that her style is to “listen” to her clients rather than telling them what it is they need. This particular relationship between contractor and client is an obvious mutual-admiration society, as Carter in turn heaps praise on Dana Farmer’s decorative “intuition and taste.”
Renovating the Tuscan farmhouse-style kitchen was a big job, as it had previously been somewhat dysfunctional, on account of, among other things, limited storage. The project was dear to Kent Farmer’s heart as he is the cook in the family, and in fact took a course in Cajun cooking at the University of Memphis, the better to serve up delicious dishes in both his indoor and outdoor kitchens. What’s more, Shari Carter had to plan and execute merging the existing kitchen with the adjacent, underutilized mudroom, to create an expansive and stylish kitchen/keeping room configuration. Among other stumbling blocks was having to match the stone flooring in both rooms. The resulting opened-up space is now perfect for cooking and entertaining, and the fabulous large bar in the keeping room is a well-used focal point with its collection of vintage Jim Beam bourbon decanters that once belonged to Dana’s father.
Reconfiguring the master bath was a tough task as well. Kent Farmer needed more closet space, and here again matching the new floor with the existing slate floor was a challenge. A large enclosed shower was added, as was an ornate, claw-footed tub, and better vanity space was created.
As always, Carter insists that her clients go out and help find what they like, such as the pretty crystal knobs that Dana Farmer picked out for this bathroom. Working with the master bath, which had ample space, was a stark contrast to what was required in the smaller guest room bath. To give the illusion of space there, Carter used mirrored elements and white Carrara marble, and arranged both tub and shower behind the same glass partition, a look she says is becoming more and more common on the West Coast.
Dana Farmer took me up to her studio on the third floor of the house where she gives private and semi-private Pilates and yoga lessons. She also teaches at the downtown Fogelman YMCA. She is clearly a very “fit” person and told me that she met Kent while running.
Moving outside to the gorgeous grounds of the property, we were told that the new pool house was quite an undertaking, as meeting code on the grading was critical in an area which has traditionally been prone to flooding. The existing swimming pool was not replaced, and today blends in perfectly with the new structure. The outdoor kitchen has a wood-burning fireplace, a wonderful ceiling, and stained concrete flooring. A long, wisteria-covered arbor leads into the garden.
The Farmers are extremely hospitable people who love to entertain; as Dana puts it simply, “We party a lot.” They have a wine cellar, and good wine is a passion for them. In fact, we were delighted to photograph the revamped pool area on the very day that the Farmers were hosting the al fresco Private Winemaker Dinner, an elegant affair and part of the Brooks’ 2015 Memphis Wine and Food Series celebrating the “art of good taste.” There is plenty of that on display in the Farmers’ magnificent home!