Welcome to the first article in our new monthly series, Interior Designer Crush. Each month, we will chat with an interior designer we are crushing on and ask them the questions we’re dying to know the answers to. We hope you enjoy it!

If creativity and passion were contagious, then spending an hour with Rachel Gray would make you feverish with inspiration. For more than a decade, Rachel has helped clients channel their own vision into design reality through her firm, Rachel Gray Interior Design & Consulting. As an avid collector of art and a furniture craftsman, Rachel brings her love of art and designing to her work, guiding clients toward a plan that incorporates all the essential pieces of interior design — fabrics and furniture layout, textures and accessories, the consideration of light and symmetry, and color — to create an environment that is completely authentic, as well as true to their lifestyle. We caught up with this Midtown resident, mother of two girls and Memphis design star, and asked her to share more about where she finds her inspiration, and to show off her style.

Rachel Gray sits in a sling chair she found in France, and recovered here in Memphis.

Rachel Gray sits in a sling chair she found in France and re-covered here in Memphis.

What are you influenced by, and how does that get translated in design?

I often look at the work of fashion designers. The work of Belgian designer Dries Van Noten always grabs my attention. His collections and runway shows fire my neurons and, more times than not, spark an idea that gets translated into a project. An image of one of his looks from last season has been taped to my refrigerator, and I’m enchanted by the marriage of cerulean blue and gold. No doubt this affection of blue and gold fueled the choices I made recently while designing a custom dining room table and selecting the light fixture that adorns it from above. What I like best about Van Noten is that he infuses his creations with elements of eccentricity. It is the idea of eccentricity or uniqueness that inspires me as a designer.

Rachel designed this dining room to include the client's massive collection of cookbooks. "The client was a food writer and is the ultimate "foodie", says Rachel.

Rachel designed this kitchen and eating area to include the client’s massive collection of cookbooks. “The client was a food writer and is the ultimate ‘foodie,'” says Rachel.

Travel always provides a new perspective. Throughout my travels, I meet amazing folks and see extraordinary things. It is also this perspective that allows me to see the ordinary in an extraordinary way. What’s becoming an annual trip for me is traveling to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina to participate in a two-week course of study in the pursuit of elevating my craft. Last year’s course was in the woods studio where we looked at woodworking from a new perspective. While we reviewed furniture construction, milling, dimensioning and joinery, the objective of the class was for us to break free of archetypal constraints in furniture design. In other words … does a dining room table always need four legs? The experience has impacted my designs and increased my appreciation for the master work done by the many Memphis artists that I have the privilege to collaborate with. The dining room table top that is mentioned above was professionally executed by the wood master, Will McGown of McGown Studios.

Inspired by her work at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Rachel designed this table for her client's kitchen.

Inspired by her work at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Rachel designed this dramatic table for her client’s kitchen.

What is your design aesthetic, and how do you translate that to a client/homeowner?

A few principles that guide my work include authenticity, functionality and longevity, with a healthy dose of adventure. I like a bit of drama. I won’t upholster a client’s dog bed in an ivory silk. I strive to make choices that stand the test of time and that are client-centric.

What has been your most challenging project to date, and why?

Most of the time, tile is applied to floors and walls. In one installation, I chose to tile an entire dining room ceiling. A bold design choice, but the right decision to elevate a small space and the right decision for my clients. It was the wrong decision for my blood pressure. The 24-karat gold accent border and mosaic tiles had to be flawlessly installed, and the process was painstakingly arduous. Thanks to the great skills and tremendous patience of Dan Martin of Construction Services Unlimited.

Two photos by Ben Fink hang in the kitchen at the client's home.

“The photographs in the background have an awesome story,” says Rachel. “The client had her dear friend and talented food photographer, Ben Fink, take images of an octopus, a trout and a bunch of beets they picked up at the market earlier in the day. The two of them cooked and consumed the trout and beets; I was graciously given the octopus (photo below), which I seared then simmered and served to my ravenous teenage girls,” says Rachel. “We decided the trout and the beets needed to be framed and installed in the kitchen, of course!”

Octopus photograph by Ben Fink

Image: Ben Fink

Share one design secret with us regular folk.

A helpful tip in determining yardage needed for a project is understanding the terms “up the bolt” and “railroaded.” “Up the bolt” is a term used to describe a fabric pattern or grain, which runs up the roll vertically, parallel to the edge (selvage). “Railroaded” is a term used to describe a fabric pattern or grain that runs across the roll from edge to edge horizontally. Depending on the fabric pattern, you most likely will use less fabric and avoid seams if you railroad your fabric. Quality fabric by the yard can be pricey. Selecting to railroad a fabric may save money.

Rachel found this pair of sling chairs in France and had them recovered.

Rachel found this pair of sling chairs in France and had them re-covered. “The decorative pillows are actually a modern design based on constructivist work,” she says. “I fell in love with the fabric not because of the modern design but because it reminded me of an old African textile.”

Who have been your industry role models/mentors, and why?

Ann Fay, my aunt, has had a tremendous impact on my life and my professional trajectory in the decorative arts. While not officially in the industry by trade (she’s a book editor), she has a fluency and curiosity in art that is meant to be useful as well as beautiful. Her tastes and interests have always been and continue to be fascinating, meaningful and thought-provoking. She has a serious addiction to textiles and has shared her passion with me. It was my aunt who introduced me to Selvedge magazine. Selvedge is a British publication that acknowledges and celebrates the significance of textiles. The work of the artisans and designers featured are compelling, and it has become an invaluable source for inspiration.

What are your favorite local sources for decorating a client’s home?

We have an amazing arts community in Memphis. It is a great honor to utilize the works of the many talented artists to create unique interior spaces. (Check out our feature on Rachel’s home, which is filled with art, here).

What is your current obsession?

Four vintage lithographs from Antwerp, Belgium, and primary colors.

Our thanks to Nashville photographer Stephen Jerkins  for his images of Rachel and her work.


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