When Dr. Jonathan McCullers first moved into his Central Gardens townhouse adjacent to historic Clanlo Hall, he knew that he would need some interior design help. Fortunately, he turned to Ami Austin, the principal in a nationally acclaimed design firm based here in town, to update this three-bedroom home to better reflect his tastes and lifestyle. He had seen Austin’s work in the pages of this magazine and very much liked her style.
While it might be hard to imagine, in view of the photographs shown here, Austin says basically all she had to start with were two red couches, a lava lamp, a collection of shot glasses (more about those later), and a behemoth television set. McCullers is recently single, and clearly his somewhat spartan man cave needed a bit of work. As it turned out, he was an enthusiastic client and partner in the project every step of the way, freely admitting it was the first time he was able to pick and choose exactly what he wanted for his home environment.
His vision for the décor was a rich palette of grey, purple, and red with bold and colorful art on the walls that would fill the living/dining room’s vaulted space. He wanted the look to be clean, uncluttered, and modern — “nothing fancy” — not to mention industrial strength, in view of the fact that McCullers has two young sons, ages 7 and 9, who are Presbyterian Day School students and unrelentingly active.
No structural work was required — just small enhancements such as replacing the beadboard on the sunroom walls with plaster. Austin suggested removing the traditional wooden mantle and instead using honed black tile for the fireplace surround; the firescreen was painted a gunmetal color to complete the tailored look. The walls were painted a sophisticated Benjamin Moore color, Nimbus Gray, the perfect background for the artwork.
Austin bought all the art for the homeowner, and in order to keep the budget within reason the paintings are high-quality giclée reproductions purchased from a gallery on the west coast of Florida. For the uninitiated, myself included, giclée prints are fine art digital prints that have all the tonalities and hues of the original paintings. The guitar painting in the entrance hall by Ron Olson, well-known Memphis radio host, however, is an original. Although he played the piano his whole life, McCullers tells me sadly there is no piano in the new decorative scheme, so he has taken up the electric guitar. The eye-catching art over the entertainment center is an assortment of large silver globes, which take the eye up, up, and away from the television set below.
Now as promised, back to those shot glasses, which McCullers has collected as souvenirs from his trips all over the world. They are showcased in a display case designed by Austin, who in turn collaborated with Lou Kerns of Kerns-Wilchek to produce a cabinet that McCullers considers “a beautiful piece of art” in itself. Having moved to Memphis in 1996, it is so gratifying to hear that McCullers is a huge booster of the city. He tells me simply, “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.” He is a native of Virginia, the son of an aerospace engineer, and attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for his undergraduate degree before graduating from the University of Alabama’s medical school.
In the course of their working together, Austin and McCullers have become the best of friends, and she is downright determined that everyone should know how lucky the city is to count among its citizens such an eminent doctor. However, the truth is that McCullers is far from being a hidden talent. He came to Memphis to work in the lab at St. Jude Childen’s Research Hospital along with Robert Webster, Ph.D., to research influenza viruses. McCullers now has a dual role as chair of the Department of Pediatrics for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Pediatrician-in-Chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
McCullers is proud of the fact that he and the “fabulous” Meri Armour are partners in running Le Bonheur, with Armour as president and CEO, and he as manager of the physicians. McCullers is often called upon to lecture around the world and not long ago he did just that in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan.
McCullers is dedicated to Le Bonheur’s mission to improve children’s healthcare here in Memphis where we have many chronic, poverty-related conditions, with pediatric asthma being a leading diagnosis. At the same time his goal is for Memphis to become a model for other cities as an “academic health center” that combines top clinical care, research, education, and advocacy.
He takes great pleasure in the success story that is Le Bonheur, which is becoming a national destination for pediatricians; the hospital now recruits top talent from around the country, having added 75 new physicians and scientists in the past three years. McCullers explains that the hospital has expanded in a time of economic downturn and that now “it is nearly full all the time.”
With reference to the welcoming big, red heart atop the hospital, McCullers reiterates that art is a transformative element in the hospital experience, not to mention an effective recruiting tool. He notes that Le Bonheur is the only hospital with a full-time director of art development, a position held by Linda Hill.
On a personal level, whenever he has some free time, McCullers likes to hang out with Peppy, his little Chihuahua-mix rescue dog, in his home’s small backyard area. He then often heads over to nearby Cooper-Young for dinner at his favorite place, Karen Carrier’s Bar DKDC.
The McCullers home is definitely a work in progress, and I am told that Austin often comes by to “tweak things.” For example, she tells me there is another piece of art which has not yet been mounted that utilizes swords — yes, swords — a reminder of McCullers’ fencing days. The next big project on the drawing board is a redo of the master bedroom and bathroom.
For now, though, I guess we will have to stay tuned, and with luck we’ll be allowed to take another peek into the McCullers house down the road. Here’s hoping!