Nap, by Cuban artist Yoxi Velazquez
Artist Sue Layman Lightman owns and operates a downtown gallery/studio in the street-level space of her G.E. Patterson condominium. This pied-a-terre in the South Main Historic Arts District is a haven that inspires a special creativity and energy in her art. At the same time Lightman’s home in East Memphis, while very different, reflects an equally creative side of her artistic persona.
She and her husband Stephen Lightman, Malco president who needs no introduction in these pages, live in a grand gated community off Shady Grove Road. Sue Layman Lightman says with obvious pride that “she put the whole house together in four years” with, of course, a little help from her interior designing friends.
At the outset she and her husband brought “almost nothing” to this home which meant that in starting over “there were compromises to be made” in the process of furnishing and decorating the place. Stephen’s tastes were generally more traditional while hers were clearly contemporary. However, the lady of the house is happy to say “he is coming along,” especially with respect to his art appreciation. Naturally, a number of Lightman’s own large canvases light up the walls with dazzling explosions of colors. The home is also filled with works by well-known local artists such as Carroll Todd and Maysey Craddock, as well as by international painters and sculptors.
Lightman picked out many pieces for the home herself, including some from Davishire Interiors in Nashville. Also she told me that some of her furniture was chosen from a modern line by nationally renowned interior designer Bunny Williams. I found this especially interesting as Williams is usually associated with more traditional furniture and accessories for the house and garden. Lightman added she was lucky enough to have visited Williams’ country home in Connecticut a few years back as part of a trip sponsored by our Decorative Arts Trust.
Lightman gives much credit to Tim Tanner and Kip Meyer of TannerMeyer here in Memphis, who selected window treatments (their specialty), as well as bedding, rugs, and lighting to add texture and layers to the overall decorative scheme. She is grateful also to Tim Causey, who owns ReCreations, a wonderful furniture and accessories store in Nashville, and was a great help as well.
To her mind these three interior designers worked beautifully as a team to understand and interpret her artistic vision for the home’s décor, which Tanner characterizes as “a different theme in every room.” Lightman also told me that Kevin Coble at Le Fleur is her “go to” person for exquisite floral arrangements.
The deep-green painted room at the front of the home was originally planned as the formal dining room, but it was transformed into the den with its two televisions, one on top of the other, of which Stephen Lightman is very proud. The cantaloupe-colored kitchen is open-plan with an adjacent dining area overlooking a small, side secret garden. Beautiful backsplash tiles were added; however, Lightman confesses she really doesn’t cook very often, though she does love to make her coffee there in the morning.
The living room is stunningly elegant with its snake-skin patterned velvet chairs, an arresting table-top white sculpture titled Nap by artist Yoxi Velazquez, and a dramatic central chandelier. Lightman says the fireplace surround was replaced in this room, but that is all that required a major change. The large, comfortable porch across the back of the house overlooks a pool and beautifully landscaped gardens.
The master bedroom has an amazing turquoise Italian glass chandelier that Tim Tanner helped find. He told me the object was to introduce a “pop of interest and romance” into a room brimming with luxurious neutrals. According to Tanner, the guest room down the hall also has a “New York chic” vibe and is decorated in a bold red, black, and white color palette with a “timeless” Scalamandre zebra print on the bed pillows.
Stephen has two daughters, Mallory Lightman Lester and Rachel Lightman, and this room’s strong color scheme was designed to suit his three grandsons when they visit.
A year ago Lightman went with Linda Pelts, her good friend from Memphis, on a trip to Cuba sponsored by a Miami group, Pan American Art Projects, to attend the Havana Art Biennial. Lightman says there were incredible installations along the waterfront and in studios around the city, and she ended up buying six fantastic pieces of art by amazingly-talented Cubans.
Stephen did not accompany her on this trip, as he does not like to travel quite as much as his wife does, although he does love to go to New York to see Broadway shows. They also have fun visiting Las Vegas from time to time, which is in fact where they were married. Nonetheless, I got the distinct impression that left to his own devices and desires, Stephen Lightman would just as soon stay home, relax and enjoy the companionship of the family’s two adorable Coton de Tuléar dogs — Bogie and Tish.
Lightman was determined that we photograph her husband’s upstairs “trophy room,” although Stephen Lightman is a modest man and wasn’t so keen on the idea. Thank heavens he relented, because it features an astounding display of crystal and silver trophies he has garnered over the years as an award-winning amateur golfer.
When I asked about his most memorable golfing achievement, Lightman mentioned that it was playing in the U.S. Senior Open in 1996 at the famed Canterbury Golf Club outside Cleveland. He claims it was a miracle that he qualified because “it took the best competitive 18-hole round of my life.” Once there he had the thrill of playing a practice round with Jack Nicklaus as well as “just being in the locker room with legends Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Hale Irwin.” He candidly admits his scores in the tournament were nothing to brag about, and in his words, “when I was there, I felt like I was in a gunfight with a dull butter knife.”
As to her background — artistic and otherwise — Sue Lightman says she is originally from Lynnville in Middle Tennessee and has two children from a previous marriage, Kristin Layman Norwood and Micah Layman. She worked in public relations and marketing when first in Memphis, but over time began to realize she needed something different. And then it came to her — a bolt from the blue. She began to paint the large, bold, colorful works of art for which she is so well-known. Admittedly self-taught, Lightman’s style utilizes many of her same basic design motifs over and over in varying patterns and colors. It is no wonder she also advises businesses on how to liven up their workspaces with colorful pieces of art — “to put some pizazz in the office environment,” to boost employee morale and enhance the customer experience.
The truth is that everything about Lightman is colorful. If you drop by Sue Layman Designs downtown, a visit with Lightman and her art will definitely put some pizazz in your life. Trust me!