Graceland: Mid century homes open to the public

Our series on historic, mid-century homes open to the public continues.

Visit-an-historic-house2.2Continuing on the hunt for retro inspired Historic Homes you can visit I was reminded of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, located in Memphis, Tennessee. Of course I’d heard about this 14 acre white columned estate before, but I never could have imagined the lavishness (if that’s what you want to call it) in which Elvis decorated it. The American Colonial style mansion was originally built in 1939 for Grace Toot, heiress of a successful printing firm. Elvis bought the home in ‘57. He enjoyed the privacy and security Graceland offered — plus, for only $100,000 it was hard to pass up.  Elvis immediately began extensive renovations on the 23 rooms in the house & its surrounding grounds. He added the musical inspired wrought iron gate, a fieldstone wall to match the tan limestone on the home, racquetball court, swimming pool & the infamous jungle room. Finally, he designed & developed the meditation gardens — Elvis’ preferred reflection place — where his twin brother Jesse, parents and grandmother are buried.
.When you first enter the house there is a grand mirrored staircase front and center — Elvis’ personal design choice. Elvis’ parents lived upstairs until their death. Although I have no pictures, the cleansing white theme is continued upstairs & there is a full pink bathroom. I’ll mention now in case you are seriously interested in visiting — most of the downstairs rooms, along with the upper floor, are roped off (no flash photo of course), but there are so many exhibits & activities you would not be disappointed. The combo living/ music room is the first stop on the tour. The white theme (which is predominant in most of the rooms) makes everything look so clean and crisp. It is only complemented by that giant 15-foot-long couch, where can you look at the gardens through the mirrors hanging over the fireplace.

Off to the side is the adjoining music room where a totally retro TV & baby grand piano hide behind those amazing stained glass peacocks — in front of which Elvis’ coffin was placed for the widely attended funeral held at Graceland. I cannot explain you in words how much I love the yellow in this room. Complimented by the mirrors, the white, & gorgeous furniture…oh my! That even looks like a gold accented television set.
Just a few steps down the main floor is this wonderful wood kitchen, which (along with the dining room) was used by Elvis’ Aunt Delta until 1993. When dealing with this much wood, you need to bring color through the accents and hardware. The bright fixture, copper cabinet pulls, and bowls of fruit does the for me in this kitchen. I can’t be positive, but I think that sink is yellow.
This image really shows how much room this kitchen offers, it’s almost two rooms. They aren’t built in, but Graceland still has all the high tech appliances of the era. Off the kitchen is the dining room, the tours next stop, then down then stairs to where Elvis really showed his style.
This dining room should belong to a king…oh wait it did. The blue in the curtains in so rich, it reflects just as much as the great white & black tile floor. I can’t get over the crystal chandelier  and gold accented furniture — it would be such a dream to eat in here everyday. I love those arched built ins in each corner — this room would look much simpler without them.
The tour takes you downstairs to the media room, game room and bar. It is down in the man cave that Elvis’ brought his peculiar brilliance to Graceland. The media room holds three TV sets where Elvis would frequently sit and watch all at once — of course, always in arms length of the built in wet bar. Whenever he and his buddies had their fill they would move on to the billiards room. I love a lot about this house, but I don’t know if I could get used to all that fabric. It’s even on ceiling. I bet this room gets super toasty if you laid a fire in that fireplace.
Back upstairs, the final room in the home is the famed Jungle Room. Elvis choose everything that went into this room, from the furs to the waterfall. He placed sentimental gifts & hung family photos. When Elvis’ was staying in hotels while he was on the road he would have them remodeled to be more like home for his stay. The Jungle Room was almost a template for how he would like his room to be. Although the tour of the home is over, out the back door are more exhibits including Lisa Marie’s swing set, a model of his childhood home, his father office building, Elvis’ shooting range, and finally The Trophy Room. This room was built by Elvis to hold all the items that he had been awarded or held dear over his career. Overall the house has been described as gaudy, phony, poor taste & even “straight out of the brothel.” However, just like Elvis’ music, the house was a creative piece of art — he incorporated his personal style at every opportunity. It’s very reminiscent of the gorgeous Madonna Inn in California— check out the post Aunt Pam did here. As you probably know, Elvis passed in Graceland in 1977 and was buried in the meditation gardens with those he loved most. The house was opened to the public as a Museum in ‘82. Since Elvis purchased the home, it has gained 7,000 sq ft, been recognized a National Historic Place in ’91, a National Historic Landmark in 2006 (the first site related to rock n’ roll) and ultimately become the second most visited private home in America with over 600,000 visitors a year. Only beat by the White House, of course.  Thanks so much to the Graceland staff, especially Robert, who provided the images — please visit their website it you are interested in anything Elvis.

Read all our stories about historic mid century homes you can visit here.

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  1. Stacey says

    I’ve been to Graceland a couple of times; it’s quite a sight but I don’t think I will be taking decorating cues from it!

  2. Annie B. says

    Thank you, Matthew, for bringing back so many memories of growing up in t950’s Memphis. I can still remember the Sunday drives my parents took past Graceland in 1957. I was fascinated as a four-year-old by those musical notes in the iron gates.

  3. says

    I’ve been to Graceland a couple of times and each time I’m completely in awe of the house and the museum. It’s ironic that this post should appear this week. I traveled to Denver last weekend for a mid-century modernism show and came upon a very lavish white laquer with gold embellishments dining room set and the first thing I said was, “This looks like it was plucked right out of Elvis’ house.” He was certainly over the top!

  4. Gavin Hastings says

    Is that carpeting in the kitchen????
    Ozite level-loop in the kitchen was the height if fashion in the 1970’s and YES, I WOULD consider it. How much dirt and grease can 2 adults with a rug steamer and no desire to cook create? And you could re-carpet every 3 years for the price of any high end flooring….

    Those yellow draperies are just lovely.
    Not at all what I expected: I never thought Graceland was so livable…..

    • pam kueber says

      Note, Matt has larger photos – and he will add them to this post when his class gets out. Will be even more fun to ogle at 920 pixels wide.

    • Marta says


      When my sister bought her 50’s rambler in the late 80’s, the kitchen was pretty much original, including the worn-out linoleum. With every spare dime eaten up by ever-escalating closing costs, replacement flooring options were limited.

      While looking at vinyl remnants, she found a piece of oatmeal-colored berber carpet big enough to cover the whole kitchen/breakfast nook area for around $70. Thinking it would get her by a year or so until she could afford what she really wanted, we hauled the carpet home.

      After measuring and re-measuring (I so don’t love math), we spread the carpet out on the front lawn, and I marked and cut it, sweating bullets that I’d screw it up. The neighbors were highly entertained. One man driving by stopped to say “Wish I’d thought of that before I bought the new lawn mower!” When we rolled it back up and carried it into the house, it dropped into place around the peninsula and built-ins with remarkable accuracy. It was off maybe half an inch in one corner.

      That was 17 years ago, and it’s still going strong.

  5. Tina says

    My family and I loved visiting Graceland. The home was decorated in the height of style for the year Elvis died. If he’d lived, the decor would have been updated several times, I’m sure. But what a great time capsule for us today!

    Matt… do you have a photo of the awesome Tappan stove/oven combo? It was the same one we had in my house growing up, with the double “french” doors and the four side-by-side burners in a drawer that pulls in and out from the body of the stove.

    I love this series of historic homes! Too many people think “historic” only means “colonial.” Keep up the great work!

    • pam kueber says

      It’s great to hear you like the series, Tina. More houses coming — readers keep sending in tips! I’ll ask Matt re the stove…

        • tracie says

          Oh, I died over that Tappan stove when we went last. I have a pic I’ll forward along to Pam tomorrow. That kitchen is seriously amazing.

  6. Kate H says

    I was at Graceland about 10 years ago — and that pink bathroom has POODLE wallpaper, I kid you not, straight from 1953. I don’t remember if it’s flocked, but it could be. It was fabulous.

    The carpet in the kitchen was the indoor/outdoor kind. As I recall the kitchen was really dark, maybe not a place I would want to cook in (kinda cockroachy), but OK for doing a fluffernutter sandwich or mac and cheese. I don’t think Graceland was totally low class, but it is sure 70s.

  7. jkaye says

    My son, aged early 20s, went to Graceland, and he made it sound much worse than what it looks like in these photos. He said it looked like the inside of a conversion van. I guess it looks like a very expensive conversion van. I’m glad I’ve gotten to have a look — thanks.

  8. Elaine says

    Love, love, LOVE those pix. I haven’t been to Graceland yet, but I recall throughout the 60s and 70s running condescending commentary about how lavish and unclassy it was. It looks pretty good to me. What would he have done if he made it into the 80s?

  9. tamra says

    Elvis is the original King of Bling! His home is a statement of the times (50’s, 60’s, 70’s). If it weren’t a bit over the top, it wouldn’t be Elvis. Look at the massive belts, rings, & watches he wore. I love everything about Elvis!

  10. Chicago Mel says

    We visited Graceland on our honeymoon. I thought it would be a cheesy roadstop attraction, but by the end I was crying at Elvis’ grave. You really get a sense of what a kind and generous person Elvis was when you visit his home and grounds. More than any other historic house in America, you feel as if you have stepped into his life and home.

  11. Cinscope says

    I just saw Graceland on Thursday. The kitchen sink is avocado. The fabric on the walls and ceiling of the poolroom is gorgeous. The TV room is done in navy blue and lemon yellow. One area had green shag carpet on the walls and ceiling. I was anxious to see the Witco furniture, and it was dreamy! PS…Elvis’ parents’ room is on the first floor. You can only see a small part of one bathroom wall, and the tile is definitely pink!

  12. Brenny says

    Yes, pink poodle wallpaper in Glady’s bathroom! And a beautiful deep purple bedspread. Gorgeous!
    Sputnick light fixture in the hallway by the staircase. Gorgeous!
    The kitchen is a 70’s dream!
    The whole house really is. I actually enjoyed my tour there.
    He had his own style and he dared to show it. I admire that!

  13. Pam says

    One very bored father and uncle loaded us kids into the car on a cool, rainy afternoon in Memphis and drove over to Graceland. The gates were closed. Elvis’ Uncle Vernon walked out to the car, spoke to my Uncle Woodrow and we were allowed to drive in. I remember the lions but the house seemed much smaller. The driveway was lovely, curved and graceful, with big trees. Having spent our lives living in shotgun shacks built on squares of land in the middle of cotton fields it was impressive and really did seem like a fairyland sort of place. I was told that when we saw Graceland, Elvis was in Vegas filming “a movie with Ann-Margret.” So that makes the year what? 1962?

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