NFocus, October 2013
One look at Michael Shane Neal in his finely tailored three-piece suits, wingtip shoes and two-toned 1946 Chevy Fleetmaster and it’s obvious this is a man who has a great respect and admiration for the elegance and style of eras gone by. A chat with the portrait artist reveals a depth of insight and a wealth of fascinating stories that are the natural by-product of a career that has spanned 24 years and included commissions for almost 600 portraits. When Shane wanted a studio added onto his English-style stone manor in Green Hills, architect Terry Bates and interior designer Mark Simmons had the unique challenge of merging Shane’s throwback style and collection of antiques with the modern conveniences he required in a working studio. The end result is a breathtaking, cozy and functional space that blends effortlessly with the overall aesthetic of the main house.
Stepping into the studio, one of the first things to catch your eye is the high vaulted ceiling, measuring 24 feet in the center, which allows the room to be flooded with illumination. The main source of light, per Shane’s specific requests, comes from the large north windows that welcome steady, yet indirect, sunlight into the room throughout the day. “To evoke the emotions of period spaces (mostly formal libraries) that Shane finds so appealing, the interiors work hard at being both grand and quaint,” Terry says. The studio provides the large open space required for painting coupled with warm details that create the intimate environment that Shane desired.
The wood-burning fireplace, creating an inviting focal point for guests, was a must-have for Shane. Surrounding it with built-in seating, known as an inglenook, was a decidedly British touch that complements the rest of the house. Also a necessity were built-in bookshelves—lining nearly every wall in the room—to house an extensive collection of art books and antiques. One of the most eye-catching pieces on display is a Victorian hatbox, which holds the antique top hat that Shane wears once a year to, you guessed it, The Swan Ball. Filling the studio with Shane’s collection of antique furnishings—an impressive lot that includes a taboret to house his paints and brushes, a circa-1800 French bench and English barley twist oak furnishings that date back to the 19th century—rounds out the lived-in quality that marks the room. “All in all, it’s a very inspiring place to work,” Shane says.