Rachel Gray’s home is a three-dimensional expression of this Memphis-based interior designer’s creativity. She has always enjoyed traveling and has seen various definitions of beauty worldwide, which points to a recurring principle behind every design decision in her home: a willingness to change. Dramatic simplicity keeps life’s clutter at bay, creating a canvas for self-expression and an ideal place to experiment with interior spaces.
The goals for decorating her own home are contrary to the manner in which Rachel works professionally. While she does not put forth one style, and her clients have a full range of goals for a variety of interiors, Rachel does follow a series of structured steps when working with others, a start-to-finish layering process.
In her home, however, she is often moving her things around and adding found objects. Sometimes she makes interior choices simply to make things more child-friendly for her two girls, Vivian, age 13, and Ava, who is 11. Rachel sees her home as an interior design lab, a place to safely try a new idea or assess a product she represents. The rug underneath the Parsons table in her dining room, for example, is a line she is testing for quality before recommending it to a client. The dining room light fixture (pictured below) is called “Mary Poppins,” and was created from copper by an Italian designer. Two red aluminum chairs in the corners are unique finds from St. Louis.
Another illustration of Rachel’s willingness not only to change, but change quickly—the orange chairs around her dining table just arrived because her client wanted the ones that were there before! The “Therapy” sign in her dining room was a street-side find. And the brass Moroccan lanterns hanging below two wood diamonds were a treasure uncovered while helping a friend with an attic clean-up.
Rachel is a visionary designer with a passion for collecting art. She favors abstract paintings and mixed media. As an art consultant, she has a reputation for guiding her clients towards art objects that not only complement their interior surroundings, but also have the potential to grow in value. In fact, she has recently rebranded her interior design business to include consulting, especially in the realm of art collecting.
Rachel is already building an art collection for her daughters. A case in point, the painting hanging over an Asian day bed in her foyer was purchased for Vivian. It is by Jeri Ledbetter, purchased from the L Ross Gallery of Memphis.
Another passion of Rachel’s is designing furniture, and she is also known for her ability to summarize otherwise overlooked objects into repurposed forms. Two bamboo panels, currently flanking the entry from living room to dining room, are shown with lights. These panels have also served as headboards; they have been suspended from the ceiling with lights; and they have been on display without lights—a prime example of the experimentation and repurposing that takes place in Rachel’s home.
The antique iron horse positioned at the center of her living room was found at an estate sale. She calls it a “slam dunk” discovery. While browsing through flea markets and art galleries is a routine passion, Rachel notes that providence often leads her to some of her favorite finds in the most unexpected places.
Consider the circular art sculpture installed on the wall above her couch. She found this on the side of a street. Originally a floating wooden structure used to hold up a dock, it is now a decorative focal point in Rachel’s home. The lamp next to that same couch is a repurposed bottle-drying rack that she found in France. Her end goal for this object is to create a light fixture mounted on the ceiling. “I see it upside down, grand scale,” Rachel says. “It is a work in progress.”
One of this designer’s trade secrets is her annual quest for decorative objects in Michigan. She often brings home a U-Haul trailer filled with finds from this part of the country. The candle altar (pictured above) is one gem from Michigan.
Rachel likes to create unpredictable yet seamless combinations, as represented by the candle altar, juxtaposed atop the chest and mirror (which happen to be two of the finest antiques in her home). The wood cut prints, reflected in the mirror, are by deceased artist and former Memphis College of Art professor Ted Faiers.
Sometimes Rachel calls on the art of persuasion when she has a desired object in sight. The iron and wire antique fire screen pictured above is her second favorite item in the house. It was not for sale, but she convinced the owners of the antique store where it was displayed that they should sell it to her. The screen is in front of a fireplace whose mantel currently displays a collection of wooden red plates below a stainless-steel, exotic horn sculpture.
In a transaction similar to the fire screen, Rachel recently spotted the outdoor sign for an antique store that was closing, located at the intersection of Summer Avenue and National. She quickly identified what a nostalgic and progressive decorative object this could be. After talking the owner into letting her have it, she figured out how to personally relocate the oversized sign. With safety lights flashing and daughter Vivian shaking her head all the way, Rachel arrived home with this new, prized possession.
Even though change is inevitable in her home, Rachel maintains one constant: “When I come into my house, I want to see my favorite things,” she explains. This is an underlying goal when she is directing her clients’ choices as well. “Everything in my house has a story, always interesting and sometimes funny.”
Other guidelines Rachel adheres to are steadfast rules for proper scale and lighting; these two elements, she adds, determine the success of any interior design project. Rachel’s circular structure of floating balls makes a statement not only with the object’s repurposed design, but also in size. This decorative object is an example of using proper scale and proportion. She also says that “lighting is everything, and it is often overlooked.” There should be a dimmer on every switch because light creates the mood of a room. Natural light is another element that has a huge influence on design choices such as color, trim, flooring, fabrics, art and more. Finally, color in a home “should be fluid, not like a staccato rhythm but fluid.” Of course, the structure and floor plan of a home help determine color choices, but more often, color should be used to “pull together, not separate.”
Because any creative process involves learning through experimentation, Rachel uses her home as a place for expressing new ideas, her design philosophy and lifestyle. The result is an efficient, orderly and engaging home that is fun to be in because it is changing all of the time.
To learn more about Rachel Gray Interior design and Consulting: rgrayinteriordesign.com
Photographs were taken by Katie Benjamin: behance.net/katiebenjamin