Midcentury former duplex charms first-time buyers
The young couple knew when they saw a midcentury former duplex that it would be their first home.
Scripps Howard News Service
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As first-time homebuyers Cate and Paul Plekon shopped for houses in 2009, their thoughts kept returning to a certain two-bedroom.
“We kept comparing everything we saw to (it),” said Cate, 28.
“It was one of those things you always hear people say: ‘You know it when you see it.’ We experienced that,” said Paul, 30, a health-care subrogation employee.
Perhaps the midcentury former duplex stuck with them because of its Japanese-meets-castlelike qualities.
“It is unique,” said Cate, a yoga instructor.
The east-facing home shares a front yard with Cypress Creek, which runs through the surrounding neighborhoods and along the couple’s property.
The Plekons call the waterway “the moat.”
Rather than see the concrete-lined drainage ditch as a blemish, the original builder of the property, John Robert Durschlag, who built the house in the ‘60s, turned it into a beauty mark.
He created a little bridge linking the property to the street, among other distinctive features.
The previous owner, Eric Wilson, who sold the Plekons the house in 2009, took its unusual qualities to the next level.
Wilson built a horizontal slatted fence along the front of the property, across the bridge and along the “moat.”
To a point.
At some time in the property’s 40-plus-year history, a fence made of large concrete composite squares set in wooden frames was erected to continue the property’s Japanese influences and separate it from its neighbors.
“We don’t know who built that fence,” Paul said.
Wilson also built a wooden gate as an entrance to the property where the bridge meets the sidewalk and parking area, giving the home even more privacy and an even more fairy-talelike quality.
Wooden walkways, decks and oak trees surround the house, with the trees as much a part of the design as the moat.
“We love the big trees,” Cate said. “They keep it cool and shady in the summertime. They shade the whole property.”
As much as Durschlag remained conscious of shade in his design, he also celebrated the importance of light.
Nearly the entire front of the 1,271-square-foot A-frame house is composed of windows, and skylights appear in almost every room.
“If we moved, I don’t know how we’d ever live without so many windows. We would have to knock out a wall or something,” Cate said.
The layout of the brick (and glass) home is simple. Its original floor plan was that of a duplex.
“It’s perfectly symmetrical on both sides,” Cate said.
Once Wilson took ownership of the house, he worked his magic on the interior as much as the exterior, turning the two residences into one.
He knocked out part of the wall dividing the front half of the house, leaving the brick, now painted white, a jagged, yet attractive reminder.
The kitchen on the south side became a laundry room, which also serves as a linen closet and tool shed.
The northern kitchen remained a kitchen.
“I would almost say we bought the house for the kitchen,” Paul said. “We love the kitchen.”
“(Wilson) used all Ikea,” Cate said.
Slate gray cabinets, wooden countertops, a homemade pot rack and self-closing drawers were particularly attractive to the couple.
“I love that the window opens to the patio. If Paul’s out there grilling and I’m inside cooking vegetables, we can still communicate,” Cate said. “Or if we have friends over and they’re hanging out on the patio, I can still talk to them while I’m inside fixing snacks.”
The patio acts as their living room during halcyon Memphis days.
“This is our favorite spot,” Cate said.
Most of the furniture, including a wooden bench, an Adirondack-style chair and a free-standing porch swing, came with the house.
“Of course, Eric built all of this,” Paul said.
“We just painted it purple,” Cate said. “The swing is next.”
The outdoorsy couple did add their own touch to their favored area — an outdoor shower.
“We went to a retreat in Middle Tennessee, and they had built their own sauna in the woods. They encourage you to spend as much time outside,” Cate said.
Surrounded by corrugated tin and complete with a wide rain shower head and a handheld movable one, the outdoor shower also comes with a removable accordion door made of the same corrugated metal.
“We’ve strategically placed plants so that the neighbors won’t be disturbed by us,” Cate said.
Cate is responsible for the plants, which dot the curved beds that follow the wooden walkways around the house.
“I volunteered at Gardens Oy Vey, and each day I would walk home with trucks of plants, trucks of trees, just all kinds of goodies,” she said.
She also got her hands on some gin trash, rich soil left over from the gin processing of cotton, and had used it to help grow her iteas, Japanese wood ferns, coral bark Japanese maples, hydrangeas, red fire glow maple trees and ajugas.
Lesley Young writes for the Memphis Commercial Appeal