by Jenna Bratcher

October 12, 2021

Jenna Bratcher is StyleBlueprint Nashville’s Associate Editor and Lead Writer. The East Coast native moved to Nashville 14 years ago, by way of Los Angeles. She is a foodie through and through and enjoys exploring the local restaurant scene bite by bite.
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The Chad James Group has been rocking the interior design scene from New York City to Aspen for over a decade. And while it’s undoubtedly a team effort, Chad James is behind the ingenuity in their impressive lineup of projects. Originally from Alabama, the savvy design guru and architectural consultant learned much of his work ethic and stylistic approach from his mentor, the late, great Landy Gardner, then forayed that training into a wildly successful career of his own. With a sophisticated style that melds old and new with an emphasis on sustainability, he draws attention with his creativity — and an inclination to color outside of the lines while still offering classic styles — that stand the test of time. He is, undoubtedly, a trendsetter who wholeheartedly embraces his forward-thinking tendencies. Please welcome our newest interior designer crush, Chad James of the Chad James Group. 

What led you to start the Chad James Group, and what was your first project?

I was doing a project years ago for McAlpine in San Miguel, Mexico, and had some health issues going on that I needed to get in check. I decided to take a sabbatical and resign from that position, and I was going to take about six months off to travel, get healthy, and get my mind in the right place again before I decided what the next chapter would be. In month three, I received a phone call from a former client, who said, “Hey, we’ve got this big project, and we’d like for you to do it. It was a big project in New York, and I decided to jump on that quickly. So, the first project out of the gate was this project between Park Avenue and Madison. When the word got out that I was starting my own company, the floodgates opened. I’ve been very blessed in this industry, I’ve worked hard, and I’ve been able to achieve a reputation for the quality of work that we do. I think that speaks for itself.

Black and white living room with bookshelves and Marilyn Monroe photos | Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

The Fountain House on Hillsboro Road once held the title of Nashville’s largest home. This study in that home went from old-school to stunning, thanks to Chad. The Marilyn Monroe photography pieces are originals, and Chad turned the books around purposely. “I went through this moment where I wanted people not to judge things by their cover,” he explains. “It was my outward expression.” Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

Bathroom with wood cut-out mirror | Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

The original homeowners of the Fountain House visited Versailles before building, leading to over-the-top features that begged for updating. “We wanted to pay homage to what the house was, but at the same time, we wanted to end it,” says Chad. “It was natural to think of these Baroque and Rococo-style, over-the-top gold gilt moments in that house. So, I took this rough-hewn wood and the scale and pattern of what a Rococo-style mirror would be and cut it out as a silhouette.” Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

How would you describe your design aesthetic, and how do you feel it sets you apart?

My design aesthetic is very transitional. I think that word is overused, but we’re not traditional or contemporary, and we’re definitely not modern. We’re a mix of old and new and a mix of found moments and found objects. I want to curate a collection of items for a home that tells a story. I want it to feel as though it wasn’t made in China yesterday. We’re in a world where we have a disposable mentality when it comes to furnishings. I find that’s an oxymoron because we know that we all should be protecting our planet, and recycling, and thinking about waste, yet we have a generation of people who think, “Oh well, I’ll get this piece of furniture from Wayfair or a mass market. It’ll come in a box; I’ll put it together, keep it for a while, and then when I’m done with it, I’ll throw it out.” We don’t think through where that “throw out” goes. So, I try to instill quality and longevity in all of our projects and clients.

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Hypothetically, if you had to choose only three colors to use throughout your own home, what would they be?

My favorite color is one we call “Belle Meade Green” here in Nashville. It’s a [custom] green-black color from Sherwin Williams, and I describe it as the darkest green on a magnolia leaf. It’s so dark green that there are times it looks black. When I constructed my house, I wanted it to feel like it had been dropped in a bucket of paint. Many times, you’ll see a house painted white on the outside and white on the inside. I wanted to swing the pendulum to the other side of the color wheel, and I did the interior all in this dark green, and I did the exterior in the same color. So, it became the neutral backdrop just like white would be.

To answer your question, the three colors that I would use are the green-black color; my favorite white, which is White Dove OC-17 from Benjamin Moore; and Revere Pewter, which is also by Benjamin Moore. It’s the perfect neutral color — kind of like the creamy grey on a birch tree. All of those colors mixed together to create this really beautiful soft backdrop.

Living room with dark green walls and fireplace.

This Atlanta home dazzles. It features Chad’s favorite “Belle Meade Green” on the walls (and even the fireplace), chairs from Holland MacRae, and a custom carpet from Chad James Collection. Image: Marc Mauldin

Chad James' dog, Josie, lying on his couch at home.

“I always try to think through backgrounds to make sure they’re all classic so that we can offer homes longevity,” says Chad. “As long as you have the right backgrounds, and you do things classically, you can change with the times through color and pattern.” Here, we catch a glimpse of Chad’s home, where his pup, Josie (a retired greyhound), is reclining on the couch. Image: Chad James

Do you have a favorite room in your own home?

My master bedroom is probably my favorite room. I am an introverted extrovert. My career causes me to be the showman at times, but when I’m at home, it’s my nest. It’s this quiet moment where I recharge. Bedrooms, especially primary bedrooms, need to be a place of comfort and rest. So, I made sure that my bedroom was a very cozy room.

If you could choose another designer to redo your home right now, who would it be?

There are so many designers that I’m close with and who I absolutely love and adore. If I were going to hire a designer to do my home, it would probably be Stephanie Sabbe, Rachel Halvorson, Sarah Bartholomew (all Nashville people), or Sean Anderson, who’s in Memphis. There are so many great designers who align with my aesthetic. We all pass along information if we need something or we’re stumped. Sometimes you can get designer block, so it’s nice to have that group of professionals to say, “What do you think about this?” I think the misconception is that designers are creative all the time, and we’re not. Or at least I’m not!

Kitchen with dark island and glass lighting fixture

A Matalliano hand-cast glass and bronze conical lighting pendant is a standout element in this Santa Rosa Beach, FL residence. The François and Co. kitchen island boasts beautiful cloches that display sea urchin specimens. Image: Kristen Mayfield

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Interior design by Chad James of a tiger-print chair, ornate lighting fixture, and gray and white geometric wallpaper | Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

This Nashville home delights with unexpected nuances like the Porter Taleo wallpaper in a custom color, the custom walnut door made with Rocky Mountain bronze hardware, and the light fixture from McLain Wiesand. Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

Gold and crystal chandelier in a bedroom with bed surrounded in curtains

A showhouse project in Hyde Point, NC, this gentleman’s guest bedroom features 1920s twin beds with canopies. The eye-catching Currey and Company chandelier adds a dramatic effect with its rock crystal and gold gilt branches. Image: Kristen Mayfield

Can you share one designer secret with us?

I stand by having a plan. If you don’t have a roadmap, you can’t get to where you’re going. Instinct is great, and some people have a knack, or they’re creative, but if you don’t have a plan for where you’re going (whether it’s upholstery, paint colors, or furniture layout), you make very costly mistakes. Proportions are so important in design, and it’s something that often goes wrong — even for professionals. One of my tricks is making sure that rooms are laid out on paper first. Then, if need be, I go to the space and block the furnishings in the room with blue tape. That way, we can feel the space and make sure that proportions are appropriate from the beginning. No one likes to order something and get it in there, only to find out it’s the wrong size.

Where do you like to take chances in design?

I learned from Bobby McAlpine that it always takes one wrong thing to make everything else right, so take chances in design. I’ve been very fortunate — my clients tend to have large collections of art. We often get pigeonholed and think that we can only place art on walls, but I’ve been known to hang a piece of art on a door, over a window, or floated over drapery. It’s important to look through the lens and see how we can utilize spaces that we usually wouldn’t. I always think through unused spaces to see if they’re spots that I can use to showcase something important. That’s one of the hardest things for our clients because we’re trained and geared to think, That can’t go there. I often have to say, “Trust me, and if we get it installed and you don’t like it, then we’ll pivot.” No matter how many drawings or mock-ups we do, sometimes you have to fill the space and see it in person.

Little girl's bedroom with peony wallpaper

This pretty room, which belongs to the daughter of Chad’s dear friends, boasts peony wallpaper from Area Environments. Image: Abby Flittner

Living room with light-up heart on window | Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

The heart is a piece of art by a company called Coup D’Etat,” explains Chad. “When you walk into this room, you walk down a long hallway that’s probably 80 feet long, and the thing you see is that heart.” Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

Pool with backdrop of open licing space | Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

This gorgeous pool house renovation in Nashville boasts light fixtures from Paul Ferrante and a dining table set from Holly Hunt.  Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

What are your favorite places to find treasures for your home or design projects?

The Nashville Design Collective is a great place for antiques, bedding, lighting, and inspiration. I love the Belle Meade Shoppes, which is a little antique mall. They do some really beautiful things in there. My friend Jeannette Whitson owns Garden Variety. She doesn’t have a storefront, but she has a warehouse that I love to peruse. I love Provenance Antiques, Parc Monceau, and R. Hughes, which are in Atlanta. And then, of course, we have our vendors in New York, Chicago, and all over.

If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?

I know it’s eight words, but the Chad James Group philosophy is, “If it’s not fun, we’re not doing it.” Before I started this company, I had worked for three major design firms from Nashville to New York, and there were a lot of things that I had to do that weren’t fun. When I lived in New York, I had to wear a three-piece suit every day, even in the summer. So, when I started the Chad James Group, I was very deliberate. I had an already-established career, so my name is in the title, and I’m the principal designer, but I work with a collaborative of designers. You’ve probably heard me say “we” a lot because I can’t do this without my team.

I’m 46 years old. I’ve lost both of my parents in the past four years. I’m very type A, very organized, and I can be quick to get wound up — everything has to be perfect. But losing my parents has put things into perspective. I think COVID has done that for me as well; it has caused me to relax. So, if a project isn’t fun, I don’t want to do it. I want to produce and create happy, fun moments that build the foundation of our clients’ homes.

Interior designer Chad James standing against a desk

Chad James of The Chad James Group. Image: Abby Flittner

To see more of Chad’s work, visit his website, chadjames.com.

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