Thomas Wolfe says you can’t go home again, but with apologies to this famous author, Memphis’ very own Zada Hart Gates begs to differ. She and her husband, Jeptha (“Jep”) Gates, an agronomist, moved to Australia in 1999. While there he formed an agri-business partnership, BioAg. After 15 wonderful and productive years spent “down under” living in Western Australia an hour from Perth and in Narrandera, New South Wales, the couple returned home and purchased the very home Hart had grown up in.
Zada Hart Gates tells me her father, R.B. (“Babe”) Hart, was raised in-town on Belvedere in Central Gardens, and her mother, also named Zada, was from a farming family in Keiser, Arkansas. Her parents made the decision to build their one-story, mid-century modern house in 1951, just as the city limits were expanding and this particular East Memphis neighborhood was being established. The low-lying home is on a leafy, corner lot which is just short of an acre and spreads out diagonally across the property. Located in a neighborhood which is seeing more and more “tear downs,” this house is an original — and it’s the real deal.
After close to 40 years the Hart family home was sold; another family lived there for 25 years while making a few improvements along the way. By great good fortune in 2010 a Memphis friend, Grayson Smith, reported to Gates that her old house had come on the market. She was excited at the thought of living there again, but cautiously — and considerately —she said to her husband, “I think you’ll like it, but if there’s anything that makes you uncomfortable, we will walk away.” The good news is that Jep loved it! They bought it in 2011, although the couple only permanently moved into it in 2014.
They were still living in Australia while their new/old home was being significantly renovated. This was quite an undertaking to take on from afar, and they are especially grateful to their good family friend, designer Jenny Yeates, who agreed to take on the project. Fortunately, Zada is delighted with the results and happily tells me “the character of the house is unchanged.”
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The original living room has been transformed into the large dining room — the better to suit the home’s host and hostess who love to entertain.
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In a vintage family photograph, this handsome couple, R.B. Hart and his wife Zada, pose together in front of a fireplace in the home they lovingly built.
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An extensive collection of wooden bowls from New Zealand, Australia, and Bali are artfully arranged on the back wall of the family room.
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The “killer” view from the windows of this sleek, modern, state-of-the-art kitchen never fails to inspire the homeowners.
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This handsome and expansive office with its customized Murphy bed behind the bookshelves on the wall at left is a perfect working — and perhaps napping — environment.
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“Kevin Kangaroo” languishing outdoors is a constant reminder of happy years spent in Australia.
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The spacious, light-filled bathroom opening off the master bedroom is positively spa-like with its heated floors, beautiful tiles and soaking tub.
As she shows me around, pointing to the changes that were made, she tells me her only rule is that guests must make themselves at home. (I know; I did!) Gates clearly feels a deep sentimental attachment to the home of her youth and everything in it, and she’s artfully blended family antiques, such as gooseneck rocking chairs (fyi, their scrolled arms do resemble geese) with pieces acquired in their travels. These include, for example, the extensive collection of wooden bowls on the wall in the family room and “Kevin Kangaroo,” the sculpture languishing outdoors. Zada loves texture and has textiles from around the world, which add warmth to the home’s furnishings, as well as all kinds of art ranging from bird panels in the dining room to Paul Edelstein’s painting of the beloved family pet, a Jack Russell terrier named “Peanut.”
The original 1950s knotty-pine Florida room with its peg flooring and fireplace was originally separated from the kitchen by a wall. To improve traffic flow and enhance entertaining space, this wall was removed in the renovation process. The kitchen was gutted and pushed out towards the front of the property; the result is a sleek, modern kitchen with stainless steel tiles and black granite countertops — not to mention a killer view of the property. The paint color used is “Virtual Taupe” which, by the way, is also used on the home’s exterior. The adjacent pantry/laundry room was also expanded.
Other changes included transforming the former living room into today’s dining room. The large family room was painted and shelves were added. The master bedroom was reconfigured; now the master bathroom is positively spa-like with its heated floors, soaking tub, double sinks, and natural light flooding in.
The couple built a three-car garage and Jep, being the great duck hunter that he is (he hails originally from Clarksdale, MS), now has room for his duck boat along with the family cars. A whole wing off the garage provides space for his woodworking shop and a beautiful office with a little bathroom and a customized queen-sized Murphy bed.
All the rooms of the house overlook lovingly landscaped grounds which are maintained by Ryan’s Lawncare, owned by Ryan Michalski. I am told he has been out every day this spring, patiently moving bushes and doing whatever else needs doing. There are many beautiful trees on the property, including huge hollies and dogwoods. A standing-seam metal roof was added over the home’s front entrance, adding architectural interest.
For Zada Hart Gates, home is where the heart is (pun intended), and a major reason is because her 94-year-old mother Zada Hart Curcio lives nearby at Trezevant Manor retirement community. Gates and her brothers, Charles K. Hart and Joe Harris III, also have many old friends from their days at White Station and Messick High Schools and from jobs they once held here.
I happen to live in the same neighborhood, and we often stop to chat as we walk our dogs. One day, Zada hospitably enticed me into her fabulous kitchen with the promise of herbal tea and Whole Foods cakes and cookies. I was fascinated by the interesting history of the family “homestead,” and knew then and there that this would be a story well worth telling in this magazine!