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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Find Fresh Art in Memphis

With a cluster of new galleries, plans for a behemoth art space, and street murals galore, the Memphis art scene is having a moment.

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1. Where to Stay

Mid-nineteenth-century elegance gets a coolly modern update at the refurbished James Lee House.  

Sleep in a former art conservatory at the five-room James Lee House (from $245 per night). Once home to the arts academy that became Memphis College for the Arts, the 1848 farmhouse turned mansion was vacant until March 2014, when Jose Velázquez and his wife completed restoration on the inn. Original Victorian era details remain—a frescoed ceiling, intricate moldings, ornate golden Victorian cornices and mirrors, and elegantly distressed fireplaces—but the rooms are outfitted with plenty of modern touches like adjustable TempurPedic mattresses, flat-screen TVs, and rain showers. With your complimentary breakfast, expect homemade granola, blood-orange marmalade, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, plus made-to-order eggs.

Take advantage of some southern hospitality with Airbnb. Two couples and friends, Wes Riddle and Mary Phillips, and Nathanial Owen and Chad Standish, each offer homey yet stylish alternatives to the city’s big chain hotels. Chad and Nathanial’s 1929 apartment complex is across the street from Overton Park and the Brooks Museum of Art; their roomy guest bedroom is immaculate, and the penny tile in the bathroom is charmingly weathered (from $55 per night). Wes and Mary run an urban farm academy and usually offer guests locally roasted Ugly Mug coffee, a light breakfast featuring veggies from the farm, and comforting homemade fare like cheese grits. Their energy-efficient home, filled with traveler-centric décor like huge wall maps and wooden packing crates, offers two guest rooms: Ask for the larger one, with a double bed and old-fashioned bee skep (from $54 per night).

Banish any notion of the stuffy Old South at the Madison Hotel (from $183). Though housed in a former bank, the 110-room space feels decidedly contemporary, with bold, graphic-printed walls, splashes of purple, coral, and teal amid the room décor, and unconventionally shaped furnishings, like the tall-armed and semicircular demi-sofas. Through its Memphis Artists Spotlight partnership, the hotel exhibits contemporary works from local painters and photographers, like the colorful abstracts of Janice Nabors Raiteri currently on display in the ground-floor restaurant. Be sure to squeeze in a workout in the subterranean gym—it’s built out of the 100-year-old bank vault, and the nuts and bolts in the original steel walls are still visible—and head up to the Twilight Sky Terrace in the afternoon (when it’s guests only) for transfixing rooftop views of the Mississippi.

Published on Apr 10, 2014 as a web exclusive.

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