Olivia Lomax had been wanting to live in Midtown for years. Her business, Delta Groove Yoga, was part of the 2013 revival of Overton Square. However, her children, Dylan, Bella and Henry, were all going to grade school in East Memphis. When the youngest child started middle school in Midtown and her daughter started at the new Crosstown High, the family actively started looking for a house within the Parkway system.
“My fiancé Jonathan ”Joni” Rokotnitz is from Europe and was used to walking everywhere,” said Olivia. “So we knew we wanted to be in Midtown where New Urbanism was evolving. We wanted to be inside or just beside the Parkway system that encircles Overton Park and Overton Square. Access to the Greenline and bike lanes was also important. We were looking for a two-story house where the kids could have their own private space upstairs. We also wanted a fireplace, a screened porch, and a detached building that we could convert to studio space for Joni, who is an illustrator and a musician.”
The couple casually looked at houses for a few years, but got serious after they finished remodeling their previous house in East Memphis.
“When our remodeling was done, we knew we could get a good return on it,” explained Olivia. “We actually didn’t list our East Memphis home until we found this one. Luckily our previous home sold in one day.”
Stephanie Taylor, an agent with Sowell Realtors, helped them buy their new home, an “airplane bungalow” built in 1924 in the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood. They paid $260,000 for more than 2,400 square feet of living space. The home had four bedrooms and two bathrooms. When asked what they liked about their new abode, Olivia quickly responded that they loved the high ceilings and way the space opened “to let you really flow in it.”
“It’s the most comfortable house we’ve ever lived in,” exclaimed Olivia. “The moment we walked into the living room with the built-in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, we said, “Yes!” The house has a working radiator system which was another of our requirements. We didn’t want forced air. The radiators offer the softest and most comforting heat. For this summer, we unstuck all the windows to open them and reinstalled screens on them that we found in the attic. These houses were built to breathe and they do it well when the windows are open and fans are on. We only have to turn on the window units in the rooms we are in when it’s over 90 degrees. In England and Israel, where Joni is from, they use Split Units which are quiet and more efficient. We plan to add a few of these in the future, but overall we really only turned on the window units in August this year. Also this house didn’t initially have a screened-in porch, but Joni had a vision of it on the front and built it for us during the time we have been quarantined. It’s definitely the favorite place in the house now.”
Olivia added, “Also, the detached garage has an interesting history. It was once used by Tennessee Williams to perform some of his first plays. His grandparents lived next door and he used it as a stage for neighborhood performances. Joni is planning to renovate it to become his music studio and workshop, so he will keep the arts flowing.”
“In East Memphis, most of the homes are one-story, ranch style houses,” said Olivia. “We had a bigger backyard, but we had to drive to go anywhere. Living in this house, Overton Park is nearby and the kids go almost daily. We walk to eat breakfast or grab a coffee and can easily walk down the V&E Greenline to go to Crosstown for other activities.”
Olivia said that she can also ride her bike to work on the bike lanes or through the park.
“Being able to leave your car parked is the one of the greatest parts about living here,” said Olivia.
The couple said they have a lot more space in their Midtown home. Daughter Bella opted to convert a floored attic space into her bedroom. The family had it insulated and Bella made it into her own teen haven. The size is like that of a studio apartment. That left an unused bedroom that Olivia turned into her virtual yoga room and office. At the height of the global lockdown, with her Yoga studio in Overton Square temporarily closed, she was teaching 6-10 classes a week from this room. As for other changes the family has made since moving in, they built a screened-in porch.
“Part of prep for the screened porch was tuckpointing the brickwork,” said Olivia. “After 100 years, these bricks needed some new mortar. We finished the columns and the front of house. Now we have three more sides of the house to go. Also we enclosed the backyard with the new fence and sliding gate. Joni built the fence during quarantine and the whole neighborhood was out walking around, so it gave us a chance to meet many of our neighbors. One special neighbor volunteered to help Joni build the sliding metal gate. Over the course of a few weeks, and many little tweaks along the way, we have a sliding gate like none other. It has its own suspension to guide it over the uneven driveway.”
“Other changes included moving the washer and dryer to the basement so we could have a proper food pantry,” continued Olivia. “And we added gutters to the house to help with the problem of water getting into the basement. In the spring we plan to build a garden and get creative with the land we have to grow some of our own food. When we first moved in, we probably spent two weeks pulling out English Ivy. Hopefully we got most of it and can start to improve the soil. Also, we are considering adding a small bathroom in the mudroom.”
Joni is currently abroad and plans to ship his belongings over in the new year. When he is back the couple plans to start a kitchen remodel project and he will begin working on his studio in the detached garage.
As for their neighborhood, Olivia said, “It’s been the sweetest surprise to realize what an oasis of goodness we moved into. Everyone is so generous and kind. They get outside of their box and get to know one another. It’s how we always imagined a neighborhood should be.”
Emily Adams Keplinger is a freelance reporter who produced this feature for the Advertising Department.
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