A contemporary dream comes to life through clean lines and colorful accents
Sondra and Tory Wimbs talked for years about a “dream home.” They lived 33 years in a house in Memphis they bought after seeing it in a “Best of Home Show” magazine. They worked and raised their son Joshua in a house always full of music—all while filing away scraps of paper for the future.
They talked about how their lives flowed, what they loved to do at home, how they cooked, entertained, how natural light would move, what was comfortable, modern and spacious. Tory had spent many years working with Bassett Industries, and Sondra retired in 2021 after working in property management in Knoxville, Florida and Memphis with Alco Management. Now that dream home seemed within reach. Sondra had family in Knoxville. This felt right.
“When we bought our home in Memphis, it had lots of wallpaper, stucco and columns. We knew this about it and took all the floral wallpaper down and completely renovated it, tripling the size of our patio,” says Sondra from her brand-new home in Knoxville.
The Memphis house became new again, with a redesigned open floor plan, a contemporary look and new flooring. They began to visualize what they wanted.
And then there were the paper folders. They were now thick with photos of furnishings in every imaginable color, style and material. Collecting them began years before their Knoxville dream home would become a reality in 2022.
As that wish list grew in Memphis, they would revisit those folders to see if they still liked what was inside them. Would this work in Knoxville?
Many Zoom Calls Later
Now they would build a home from plans in their heads and from six hours away. Literally.
“We began this in 2021, buying the property and picking a team, and we just built the house from Memphis on Zoom,” Sondra says, smiling. “Right from the start, Mike Stevens, our builder, our interior designer Paula Clancy and our architect Amy Driskill bought into that plan with us.”
Then began many Zoom and Facetime meetings, back and forth traveling to Knoxville and some sluggish supply chains related to the COVID pandemic. Their 4,305-square-foot, 2-story custom home was coming together.
The design came alive in colors of black and white, highlighting the contemporary interiors they loved. Pops of color and Italian brands throughout elevated the couple’s paper file of “must haves” to a new level.
“We both agreed on our choices, and we knew we wanted a clean, open fresh look and feel,” says Sondra. “That never changed.”
Tory and Sondra spent more than 30 wonderful years planning every aspect and finally creating their perfect home. By summer 2022, the house was finished, and their dreams were now part of every room. Tory became ill before the house was completed and passed away shortly after they moved in. Sondra continues to enjoy the memories of planning their new home.
Dreaming of a Home
Many months earlier the couple was picking a designer, builder and an architect—a totally happy experience Sondra loves talking about.
Their builder Mike Stevens already knew Sondra well. “Sondra knew she and Tory could lay out their life’s dreams for this home,” said Mike, who owns Mike Stevens Homes. “I wanted to listen and make sure I created that vision for them.”
Finding designer Paula Clancy, owner of Nouveau Classics, was a little different. They found her after a random search. “We looked up contemporary designers online, and Paula’s name came up. By then Tory and I had picked out most everything for the house. Paula helped everything all fall in place,” says Sondra.
This was going to be a home full of music for lots of family and friends of all ages to enjoy—community spaces in a home. And it would be a home all about the outdoors.
A House Full of Music—Inside and Out
“We just followed their wishes,” says Mike. “Tory and Sondra stressed to us they wanted the patio and pool area to be used year round.” The stunning result involved three overhead gas heaters and a custom-built kitchen designed for outdoor conditions, geared to easy winterization.
Loving a house full of “all kinds of music” meant installing speakers outside too.
The couple loved to cook, and they dreamed of lots of places for entertaining with a great room and kitchen that flowed into the outdoors. “This always meant the most to us,” says Sondra.
Where did the home design come from? “Inside our heads and our folders,” says Sondra. As they shared with the team their vision for a modern space inside and a more traditional outdoor area, the architect’s floor plan drawing was nearly exactly what they wanted. An inviting great room as well as an angular ceiling in the kitchen made it into the first drawing.
Years of brainstorming made the difference for Sondra and Tory. The first photo that made it into their files inspired the new home’s entrance. The front door and foyer of white tile with circles and squares of black came to life.
The home is essentially white—a bright white with polished white tile downstairs and gray tile upstairs. The theme extends to the kitchen’s white cabinetry. The large island is black and beige granite, and an easy gathering spot. Electronic white shades and a few white drapes dress windows throughout, giving the home both a bright and calming feel.
The home’s landscaping is minimal, with showstoppers being the pool, its three lit fountains and tall pots of rosemary and lavender.
From the start they knew an elevator for Tory’s mother would be part of the home. Nothing dramatic in design, and in fact “if you didn’t know there was an elevator, you’d never guess,” said Sondra.
“Elevators are becoming more and more common in homes,” says Mike. “I knew that carrying the design through with the grand tile entry had to be just perfect.”
The glass stairwell and panels with stainless rails and polished tile steps make for a big, open feel at the top of the second floor.
In keeping with their favorite colors, the brick home is painted white with black accents. The backyard is visible at the front door as windows completely line the back of the home downstairs—making the view seem endless.
“It all just fits in a big neighborhood near Pellissippi Parkway on Clingman’s Dome Drive that is diverse, eclectic and close, and where neighbors are open and heartwarming,” says Sondra.
It’s Not Just About the Furniture
Much of the home’s furniture and accessories for the 4 bedrooms, 3 ½ baths, Tory’s office, great room, kitchen, outdoors and more come from Italian brands. Brands Paula Clancy knows well.
“This is where Paula brought so much to us,” Sondra says. The couple knew they wanted contemporary, but that was it. “We had no idea of what brands to choose.”
Paula Clancy is no stranger to listening to clients. The designer opened a retail contemporary furniture store in Knoxville’s Old City during its energetic renaissance in the late1980s and 90s. She quickly found a niche in Knoxville’s marketplace and has since owned a store in Bearden and now in the heart of downtown on south Gay Street.
It all goes back to Paula creating Barbie houses as a little girl. “I loved doing it when I was young, and by working hard as I grew up I’ve made a wonderful life. I have the best job in the world.”
“It’s not just about the furniture,” Paula says. “The space that comes together promotes a great feeling. I get to work with great people like Sondra and Tory.”
Getting to know them meant “I learn their style and help take them to a new place and bring the ideas to life.” A close friendship surpassed the professional relationship she cultivated with them. “We just got each other immediately after we met. You have to click, and this was so easy with them.”
Paula’s signature modern style matched theirs, so she looked to European/Italian furnishings and statement pieces to complement the home in a way that wouldn’t overcrowd. This included designing a wine niche for Mike to build in Tory’s office and choosing the pool’s Italian tiles in hues of blues, greens and whites.
Paula wanted to bring out the personality of this couple to make the spaces feel comfortable, warm and inviting—just like them.
Knowing that black and white can be stark, she brought in wood for specific places for warmth, as well as textures in pillows and colorful artwork. “It all flows, and it’s playful,” she says. Minimal, but not like a museum.
Original artwork from American artists, special wall sculptures and pedestal pieces feel gallery-like. An Italian dining table of exotic zebrawood is actually underneath glass and pulls together the look of the expansive great room and kitchen. The kitchen’s white quartz countertops and an island that is granite swirled black, white and beige feel both dramatic and warm.
And about that elevator? Paula wanted it to be a surprise when entering. With a black and white interior in wallpaper, its abstract of trees is soothing, modern and organic.
That Special Speakeasy
Every custom-designed home project surprises its owners. One of the best for Tory and Sondra came about in Tory’s new office. When a safe that was in the original plan got moved, a wall area presented an opportunity. “I said why don’t we make a wine closet—like a speakeasy,” said Paula.
For Mike Stevens, coming up with something special is part of the job. “Sondra actually showed me a picture of a wine rack she saw on Pinterest. As fate would have it, we had just built that for another client.”
Unique cubbies show off a wall of wine, spirits and Tory’s momentos—like fishing reels and other pieces that belonged to Tory’s father and grandfather. The wine closet is small and a perfect part of the office to have a conversation about. “There was a lot of excitement about this office, and the wine closet was Sondra’s gift to Tory,” said Paula. “There are spaces in peoples’ homes that can be like this, that are an expression of the homeowners. This was a very special time with them, and I’m so glad I had that with Tory and Sondra.”
Building Trust to Build a Better House
For Sondra and Tory Wimbs, trust and listening have always mattered in their lives. Building a home in Knoxville with their design and construction team was no different. “Whether we were looking at countertops on Facetime or meeting in Knoxville, there was always wonderful collaboration.”
For Mike Stevens, keeping lines of communication open with clients is key. “Building for out-of-town clients has become a big part of our business.”
Paula Clancy knows a good designer will incorporate clients’ special tastes. “Getting to know Sondra and Tory helped me do this. They gave me great creative freedom,” she said.
Home in Knoxville
For Sondra Wimbs, this dream home is a little bittersweet. “As I look around, I see Tory in so much of the house. In that outdoor kitchen, at our coffee bar, office and wine closet, I see him. I’m so glad to see these mountains and be back in Knoxville, which always felt like home. And now this neighborhood, too, makes it feel like home to me.”