The Memphian Hotel

The Memphian, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel in the city’s Overton Square neighborhood is a design lover’s dream. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

Travel by Design

How The Memphian Hotel Showcases Design That Mirrors Its Funky Overton Square Neighborhood

Travelers seeking a stay in Memphis, Tennessee, can look beyond tourist-filled Beale Street, home of the blues, and turn their eyes toward Overton Square, a historic Midtown neighborhood now home to the city’s trendiest accommodation, The Memphian, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel.

The Memphian Hotel
The hotel’s exterior. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

The 106-room boutique property’s facade is that of a classic hotel, with grand main entrance doors and accent greenery as anchors. But upon entering, visitors are transported to an eclectic world of arts and offbeat style, a true reflection of the culture and history of the Square.

Once home to an ice-skating rink, shops, a music room and movie theater named The Memphian, the Overton Square neighborhood thrived in the 1970s. After falling into disrepair in the 1980s, the neighborhood began undergoing a revitalization in 2012.

In recent years, Overton Square has burgeoned into an arts district with performing arts theaters, a movie theater and a ballet company tucked among fashionable eateries, shops and live music venues. It remains a neighborhood that’s walkable and family-friendly while thriving on individuality and creativity.

The Memphian Hotel
The lobby and its funky fishing bobber chandelier. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

The neighborhood’s current vibe is felt as you walk into the lobby of The Memphian. From the furniture and wall decor to the flooring, your senses will be stimulated by bold, high-gloss colors and lights with layered textures, patterns and fabrics. An undeniable focal point is a multicolored chandelier located just inside the lobby that is not made of crystals or metal but instead of fishing bobbers inspired by some of hotel designer Mary Seay Loeb’s personal travels to Miami.

“I thought to myself, ‘We need one of those fishing bobbers to speak to our space in the city [Memphis sits on the bluff of the Mississippi River], but make it Midtown,’” Loeb says. “[The previous architectural concept] looked like something that didn’t belong in Midtown, and it felt really wrong to plop something [like that] down in the middle of this proudly eclectic bohemian community.”

Right off the bat the lobby lounge area gives a not-so-subtle wink to the neighborhood’s theatrical history. A family of velvet sofas, leather chaises and a pair of animal print chairs surround a grand piano, above which hangs an Insta-worthy, vintage-style sign that reads “All Drama Must Remain on Stage.”

The Memphian Hotel
Playful artwork is a backdrop for colorful furniture. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

As Loeb explains, “This is Midtown. It’s kind of an elevated — but still completely authentic — connection to what the ethos of this part of town is.”

Loeb and her interior design partner curated eclectic furniture, wall art and wares from across the globe, featuring top retailers and independent sellers. But to remain true to the city and neighborhood, they made sure to include elements designed by local artists, as well.

Loeb likens the hotel to a family member you might know and love. “The Memphian is your really well-traveled aunt,” she says. “She experienced everything, she would tell the stories of the people that she met, and show you artifacts of things, and she wanted to share all of that with you in her living room.”

Take, for instance, the black-and-white stock photos of the original Overton Square that also hang in the lobby and pay tribute to the neighborhood’s origins. The images have been restored and upgraded to include splashes of color and new framing. “We added the neon Lucite frames to make it relevant now but not ever forgetting why [the hotel] is here,” Loeb says.

The Memphian Hotel
Unwind at the hotel’s bar. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

The hotel undoubtedly has flair. According to Loeb, in the Complicated Pilgrim, the hotel’s full-service restaurant and bar, vibrant green colors, handmade wall art and wicker lounge seating reminiscent of the 1970s all serve as an ode to Overton Square’s heyday.

The design flow continues in the guest rooms, which have soft color palettes but furniture and accents that add pops of color. The arts theme is again highlighted in rooms through bathroom vanities with light fixtures like those you’d find in a theater dressing room and standalone tubs to create an old Hollywood feel.

The Memphian Hotel
Even guest rooms have flair. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

Infrastructure materials and supply-chain challenges brought on by the pandemic severely reduced the art budget, which in turn influenced the design, but the team tapped into their creativity to bring even more authenticity to the hotel, handcrafting a chandelier and repurposing some pieces like a reception podium reupholstered with a vintage rug.

“It made there be a lot more heart and soul in it because we had to figure out how to get what we wanted,” Loeb says.

The aesthetic is intentionally Instagrammable and selfie-approved — there have already been influencer photo shoots here, plus a marriage proposal! Nowhere is that style more elevated than at the entrance to the indoor-outdoor rooftop bar, Tiger and Peacock, where red velvet ropes and exclusive views overlooking Overton Square await visitors.

The Memphian Hotel
Quirky details abound in The Tiger and Peacock rooftop bar. (Photo: Sarah Bell Rossi)

Throughout the Tiger and Peacock guests will find large mirrors, safari backdrops and themed rooms, including the main bar, which showcases a ceiling hand painted by a local artist with constellations, including the zodiac signs. Loeb hopes guests will search for their own astrology sign overhead.

“I wanted everybody to be able to connect themselves specifically to something here,” Loeb says.

At The Memphian, everything is art, and anywhere can be your personal stage.