My New Home: Downtown Memphis loft suits couple

Jan 31, 2010

by: Stacey Wiedower, Commercial Appeal

It was the easiest move James Hutto could have made -- all he had to do was walk down the hall and turn his key in a new lock. It wasn't quite as simple for his fiancée, Dr. Aaron Kerr. Not only did she have to sell her character-laden Central Gardens house, she had to ready herself to move into its opposite: a modern Downtown condo. But that second part, she found, wasn't so bad. "My old house was built in 1924," she said. "I loved my yard and wraparound front porch, so this was a big transition. I kept driving by my house after I sold it, feeling sad. "But then I saw the leaves on the lawn that were three feet deep and realized I didn't have to rake them anymore."

Now Kerr, an optometrist and associate professor at the Southern College of Optometry, is an enthusiastic downtowner. "I've converted her," said Hutto, who moved Downtown 31/2 years ago to be close to the EmergeMemphis office of the online marketing firm he founded in 2005, Valeo Design & Marketing. "Downtown rocks," said Hutto, a lifelong Memphian. "There's always something to do, and all my favorite restaurants are down here."

Hutto's first condo, like his new one, is in the Riverside 648 building at Riverside Drive and Georgia Avenue. "This was the first building I ever looked at, and I was like, 'Yeah, that's it,'" said Hutto, who bought a place as soon as the building opened, in May 2006. Last fall, when Hutto and Kerr decided to find their first place together, they didn't bother to look further. "I really liked (the building), too," said Kerr, who's originally from West Virginia. So they asked Realtor Larry Thomas with Eagle Real Estate to show them available units, and found the space they wanted a few doors down from Hutto's one-bedroom condo, which he still owns and now leases to a tenant.

Kerr sold her home in less than two months, and the couple purchased the 2,215-square-foot condo in mid-October for $329,000. Their three-bedroom, two-bath place retains the historic character and high ceilings of the warehouse it was carved from -- the old Memphis Imports Building -- while offering amenities that include an on-site fitness center, rooftop party space and gated, covered parking. The couple had to blend their furnishings. Kerr owned a house full of antiques, ideal for her historic Midtown house but out of place in her new surroundings. Hutto's contemporary furniture was a good fit with the clean-lined space, but the scale of the condo called for larger pieces than either Kerr or Hutto owned. "I had a huge table that had a leaf in it that I'd never had to use, and when I put it in the dining room, it looked like a little peanut," Kerr said. "I kept telling her, 'Think big,'" Hutto said. The couple bought several new pieces to furnish the large-scale, open living area. They were able to reuse several items, including Hutto's modern coffee table and TV console and a couple of Kerr's antique cabinets, which soften the space and add an edge of modern eclecticism. Hutto and Kerr chose a color-blocked palette of gold, green and red that is repeated throughout the space. The wide entry features one red wall punctuated by a modern console table and rustic octagonal mirror.

The couple use an open space off the foyer as a home office. Off the entry, a guest room contains Kerr's former bedroom furniture, including her old TV and entertainment armoire. Another bedroom now serves as a storage area for the couple's extra items until they decide what to keep and what to sell. Eventually, they plan to convert it into a multipurpose/guest room, possibly installing a Murphy bed on one wall. A streamlined kitchen with black cabinetry, brushed-nickel hardware and granite countertops includes an island with a breakfast bar large enough for four metal and leather barstools. It overlooks an open dining area the couple furnished with a round wood table and six white leather chairs, anchored by a brown and blue area rug with a swirling, modern print. The dining space is open to the living room, which contains a huge brown leather sectional sofa, oversized metal-and-glass coffee table and another large, modern rug.

Hutto and Kerr covered the corner unit's wall of windows, which includes doors that open to a balcony overlooking Riverside Drive, with new custom draperies that draw to block out the intense light coming in from the west. They echoed the striped drapery fabric on the windows of the master suite, which they painted gold and a soft gray-green. Hutto's leather bed and two new dressers outfit the space. The en suite bath includes ceramic tile floors, granite countertops and separate shower and tub.

While the home search was simple, some parts of the move have required adjustment. The couple's cats, Maynard and Smokey, are still getting used to one another. "They're both males, and we've decided they're both dominant males," Kerr laughed.