The Commercial Appeal
Unique collections make this house a reflection of owners
Reed Malkin and Diane Benson have some basic thoughts about what it means to live well. No. 1: Buy no more space than you’ll actually use. No. 2: Fill your house with what you love.
And No. 3, and most important: Make sure guests know they can put their feet up.
“I hope it’s comfy,” Malkin said of the couple’s renovated 1950s ranch house. “That’s the main idea. And for the two of us, it’s the right size.”
The couple, he a retired lawyer and she a retired banker, regularly travel the world, and their home displays bits and pieces of places they’ve seen and things they’ve done. In the dining room, for example, hang Cuban prints Malkin bought last year in Havana. In the master bedroom, a shaving mirror with bull horns hails from the original Hi-Tone Café.
“We’ve never bought anything thinking, ‘This will go here,’” Malkin said. “We just buy things we like and figure out where to put it. The same goes with art. Art’s kind of a passion for both of us.”
“The sculpture by the pool is by Mark White, a Santa Fe artist,” added Benson, pointing past the vine-draped backyard pergola to a twisted, patinated metal orb that rotates with the wind. “We bought it in Texas. We’re always finding something.”
That’s what made working with Malkin and Benson so much fun, said Memphis interior designer John Griffin. Griffin, a longtime friend of Benson’s, consulted with the couple on both the interior and exterior of the 2,200-square-foot one-story East Memphis house.
“I wasn’t quite expecting all the cool stuff they were going to bring into it,” Griffin said. “And in their travels, they find more. More raw, funny-shaped curved coffee tables from Montreal.” He laughed. “They just rose to the challenge and found fun stuff to make the place special.”
With the couple’s collections of art, glass and interesting objects, Griffin’s main objective was to help them display items to their best advantage.
“The point was, how could we show
off their collections and make this something special?” Griffin said. “I said we were going to need a lot of lighting.”
In fact, lighting was one of the biggest features of the renovation. Benson and Malkin liked the home’s floor plan, with its large front room that adjoins the kitchen and links to the den, providing a good flow for parties. They didn’t move any walls or make major structural changes. They didn’t even excise the dated bathroom tile and fixtures.
Instead, they made them work.
“The tiles influenced the baths and the bedroom pretty readily,” Griffin said.
That’s especially true in the guest bath, where salmon-colored wall and floor tiles got new life with earthy terra cotta paint and black granite countertops. Malkin and Benson had the stone installer create a custom jagged-edge backsplash that mirrored one they saw in a restaurant near Lake Maggiore, Italy.
They didn’t have any pictures to show the installer, just a description culled from memories.
“Recreating that was fun,” Benson said.
Low lighting from sconces mounted on the mirror glints off a hammered copper sink, creating a sultry effect. Ceilings and trim are painted the same warm, earthy tones as the walls, making the overall space feel cocoon-like and cozy.
“That room was the biggest hurdle,” Griffin said. “How do we make that pink tile look modern and fun?”
The deep, earthy colors in the private areas of the house carry into the entry and den. In the living room, however — which Malkin and Benson refer to as the music room — cool greengray walls and a lighter gray ceiling are offset by bright white trim, creating a modern backdrop for the individually lit pieces of art that line the walls.
A comfy leather sofa and love seat are arranged around an expansive square coffee table. The seating area faces a custom-built cabinet that houses the couple’s sound system and vinyl collection. Across the room, a dining area with a contemporary round table and four chairs leads to the kitchen.
Bleached hardwood floors unify the spaces, as does the color scheme.
“We picked the countertops for the kitchen, so that brought in the sage green and united the living room, dining room and kitchen,”
The point was, how could we show off their collections and make this something special?”
John Griffin, interior designer for Reed Malkin and Diane Benson
Griffin said. “I thought we needed something that played opposite to the greens, and that was the terra cotta in the hall. It just fell together pretty readily. We picked the rich colors rather than the pale ones. They had enough lighting and the guts to do it.”
In fact, both Malkin and Benson are free thinkers when it comes to decorating. Benson literally dreamed the design of her bed.
“I dreamed it, told (Griffin) about it, and he drew it up,” she said with a laugh.
Local artisan Bobby Putt built the custom creation out of steel. Above it hangs a Hunter ceiling fan made from fishing rods and reels. Also in the bedroom, painted in a color Griffin describes as “paper sack brown,” an entire wall is lined with shelves that hold mostly music, but also more of the couple’s extensive art collection. Among the artists whose work is displayed throughout the home are painter Annabelle Meacham of Senatobia, Miss., and Canadian sculptor Jim Ritchie, who now lives in Vence, France.
“We’ve made friends with a lot of artists over the years,” Malkin said. “Jim Ritchie the sculptor, I’ve been friends with for 30-something years. He’s internationally wellknown.”
Benson and Malkin aren’t into art for its investment value, however. They simply know what they like and acquire what they can.
“If we’re traveling — and we travel a fair amount — and we see something we like and we can afford it, we get out the Visa card and worry about where it’s going later,” Malkin said. “We’ve been buying artwork for a long time.”
While Malkin works constantly to arrange the couple’s collections, Benson works tirelessly in the backyard. Surrounding the pool is a wide variety of foliage, some native, some exotic. Inside and out, the house is a labor of love and a reflection of its owners.
“I hate those kinds of houses that have the rooms you can’t sit down in or aren’t sure if you ought to put a glass down,” Malkin said. “I hope our house is comfortable. That’s it. If there’s a style, I hope it’s ‘comfortable.’”