A New Carriage House Not for Carriages

Emily and Ben Graham have lived in Central Gardens for 5 years in a beautiful, historic home built in the 1920’s on Harbert Ave. For many people in Central Gardens, the need for additional space is varied. In their case, they wanted to create a place for their parents to stay when they visit from Nebraska. Both sets of parents retire in the next few years and want to spend more time with their grandchildren and having a dedicated space would allow them to visit in month-long chunks. With this purpose in mind, Emily and Ben decided to build a detached structure that could function as its own living space.


How do you design a contemporary functioning structure for your property in a historic district? This question led Ben and Emily to the Memphis Room at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library where they were able to access the Sanborn map for the neighborhood, which included the plats from the 1930’s. They discovered that their lot originally had a carriage house in the same corner where they wanted the new structure. The original carriage house was long gone, but it inspired their design. It was a two story structure, with servant’s quarters above the garage. 


Not only did their research at the public library assist them in recreating a structure which would maintain the historical integrity of their property, their research also led them to the realization that they already had a sewer line running from the basement and the contractors were able to tap into this sewer line, instead of punching a new hole in the foundation.


Armed with their information, they enlisted John Harrison Jones to draw the plans. Ezra Elam was the project manager who the couple worked closely with to create a space for visiting grandparents which eventually included a bedroom, kitchenette, and bathroom on the main floor-all on one level. There is also a bonus room over the garage connected to the main-floor backhouse, which accounts for the large dormers on either side of the carriage house. Once the design was complete, it had to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. The commission is charged with protecting the city’s historic, architectural and cultural landmarks. The commission evaluates the applications of neighborhoods that seek landmark status and advises the Land Use Control Board and city council of their merits. Central Gardens was designated as a “Historic Conservation District” by the Memphis City Council in 1992.


Once in front of the commission, the commissioners requested a slight change to the roof line and the drawings were able to be amended quickly. When asked specifically about the landmarks process, Ben stated, “Landmarks was a painless process, but that is because Ezra was the person who went before the council to testify on behalf of the project. Honestly, the commission was more demanding than I anticipated—I was glad that we had used a local architect who anticipated some of their concerns ahead of time. It was a little surreal to watch him testify about our garage in the city council chamber.”