Commercial Appeal: Feels like a vacation

by Stacey Wiedower

After six years in their Central Gardens house, Tori and Brandon McDonald were ready for something new -- in every sense of the word.

"We had an older home and we really enjoyed it," Tori said. "We did some renovations in that house, added a kitchen. It had a pool. We enjoyed the neighborhood and the area, but we wanted to get something with a little less maintenance, something newer."

The McDonalds knew that not only were new homes available Downtown, but the market was ripe for buyers.

"We started to look at condos," Brandon said. "With the market out there, you can really get a good deal."

Working with Realtors Lynda Biggs and Laurie McBride of Hobson Realtors, the McDonalds viewed homes throughout Downtown's 38103 ZIP code. But after checking out condos in renovated high rises and warehouses from the South End to the Downtown core, the couple realized the one amenity they couldn't compromise on was green space for their golden retriever, Garrett.

"So we started to look on Mud Island," Tori said.

One of the first places they saw was the RiverTown on the Island condo development on the island's southern end. With townhouse-style units and sweeping river views, the condos -- built by Grant & Co.'s Keith and David Grant -- hooked the McDonalds at once.

"We went through the building before they were even finished with construction, and we just fell in love with it," Tori said. "We pretty much knew at that point that this was where we were going to be."

The McDonalds put their Midtown house on the market in March, and by August, they had a contract. It took a few months for the buyers' transaction to complete, giving the McDonalds time to request a few custom upgrades in their new space.

They purchased the four-bedroom, 3 1/2 -bath, 3,200-square-foot condo in December for $417,500. They love the open, modern layout of the unit, the ease of maintenance and the amenities of the island -- when they're not underwater, at least. But by far, the McDonalds' favorite aspect of their new home is the view.

"Brandon always says he feels like he's going on vacation when he drives back over the bridge," Tori said.

The McDonalds' unit is situated to take maximum advantage of its real estate. It has balconies on each of its top two stories and a patio at ground level. It also has 32 windows, four 8-foot tall, full-view glass doors and a stunning vista of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

"The blinds we installed at the front of the condo, we did a bottom-up, top-down blind so we can bring them down or pull them up," said Brandon, who along with Tori runs Champion Windows of Memphis. Brandon is division manager and Tori is office manager of the company's Appling Farms Parkway showroom. "We can see the bridge from every front window and still have our privacy."

The McDonalds have worked with local designer Sandi Shawa to arrange the space, which has an open kitchen, dining area and living room on the first floor, three bedrooms and a laundry room on the second and a guest suite and open, loftlike playroom on the third.

"All our furniture was kind of older, Midtown furniture," Tori said. "This is very cool. It's totally different than our Midtown house was."

In the living area, a cream-colored leather sectional sofa wraps around a pair of ottomans and an 8-by-10 taupe shag rug. Two large abstract canvases with pops of teal and brown provide a bright focal point in the neutral space.

The room is separated from the kitchen by a wrap-around breakfast bar topped by modern, pendant-style light fixtures. Granite countertops, brushed nickel hardware and upgraded stainless steel appliances complete the space.

Upstairs, one small bedroom serves as an exercise room. Another, larger room has an attached bath. The master suite features two walk-in closets and an en-suite bath with two sinks, a whirlpool tub and a fully tiled shower with glass sides. In the bedroom, a king-size bed with a wood-and-leather headboard is topped by a shimmery brown coverlet adorned with brightly colored squares.

The stairs leading to each of the upper floors are open-tread, with concrete steps and contemporary wire and metal rails.

"It's very industrial, modern looking," Brandon said. "Also, there's an intercom system and a built-in sound system that's wired through the condo."

On the top level, an open loft contains a pool table and decorative shelving, and a fourth bedroom also features an attached bath. Because the McDonalds were able to make a few custom changes to the space prior to moving in, they haven't had much work to do to make the space their own. They plan to paint some rooms, though, down the road.

The couple, who moved to Memphis from Seattle in 2001 and who married in Brandon's native Cincinnati, are enjoying life not only on Mud Island, but Downtown in general.

"We don't have kids, and we go out a lot," Brandon said. "We go to Grizzlies games and Redbirds games and we do dinners. We always found ourselves coming Downtown. So we felt like this was where we needed to be."