Designer Chad Graci renews a Warehouse District condo with a nuanced blend of sophistication and comfort.
A round table with a zinc top and base is surrounded by four chairs that came with the condo. Graci had the chairs covered with a strié cotton. The chandelier, moved from another spot in the condo, is silver-leafed and topped with parchment shades. The Blue Dog painting was purchased at New Orleans Auction.
Photographed by Sara Essex Bradley
“It started out when we were just going to replace the carpet in the bedrooms,” says architect and interior designer Chad Graci (of Graci Interiors) of the Warehouse District condo that ultimately became a complete top-to-bottom redo. Graci’s client, a sugar cane farmer from Napoleonville who makes New Orleans his home, bought the condominium furnished and originally planned to live in it as-is – changing only a few worn items. But after asking Graci to remodel the master bath, he ultimately wanted the rest of the two-bedroom, two-bath unit to follow suit. “He just kept saying ‘light,’” says Graci of the client’s vision for his home’s new direction. “Before, everything was dark: browns and mustards and matte. Now everything is very subtle and nuanced. It’s all about these little micro-textures everywhere that make it interesting.”
The long version of the story is a bit more involved. From beginning to end, the project took two years and required rethinking nearly every part of the condo except the floor plan, which remained the same. “It was heavy French Country, very unfitting for the building,” says the designer. “We wanted the opposite. We wanted it to feel timeless and transitional and comfortable. It was really important to mix periods and styles.”
Architect and interior designer Chad Graci with his sister and business partner, interior designer and artist Christina Graci.
To make the most of the main living area’s natural light, Graci lacquered the ceiling with a high-gloss celadon tint. “It pulls the light from the windows upward and makes the ceiling look taller,” he says. Underfoot, he replaced the existing tile with herringbone-patterned oak flooring, bleached and custom-stained with a color he mixed himself. To tie the foyer, kitchen, dining, living and work areas together and create a neutral backdrop for the client’s art, Graci chose a single shade of gray-beige for the walls. He also recolored the open kitchen with hues similar to those in the floor and walls. New stainless appliances, an antiqued-mirrored backsplash and rough-honed blue slate counters provide elements of cool gray; a strié glaze applied to the cabinets by decorative painter Tony Gagliano relates to the warmer notes of beige.
Undeterred by the trapezoidal footprint of the loft-style living space, Graci found that it created an axis with which to work. He anchored both ends with a focal point – the narrow end with an antique French armoire retrofitted as a “glam bar,” and the wide end with a striking abstract painting that already belonged to the homeowner. “It’s basically one great big space, but it feels more intimate than that,” says the designer, who fine-tuned his skills working for design greats such as the late Greg Jordan in Los Angeles and David Easton in New York. “The thing to do was to break it up into zones. Everything is defined by the furniture layout. You’re led through the condo one focal point after the next.”
Subtle silver tones are found in the living room’s sofas and drapery. The two sofas are copies of antiques but custom-proportioned for comfort. The drapery is custom-made with a Scalamandre ribbed silk edged with a gray and brown Samuel & Sons trim. The living room’s Directoire chair is upholstered with a Jim Thompson zebra-print silk. Graci accented an end table next to the sofa with natural and man-made elements: a Chinese Celadon lamp with a crackle finish; coral; and a 19th-century, English terracotta vase.
Since most of the color was reserved for the art, Graci concentrated on a palette of silvery beige, celadon and coffee in the public areas and what he calls a “paled-down Wedgewood blue” in the master bedroom. He then created depth with understated variations in texture and attention to details, including custom trims, pillows and dimensions. The sofas, for example, (one an elegant cut velvet, the other a slick chenille) were copied from antiques but generously proportioned so that the homeowner could nap on either comfortably. A final layer of decorative appointments was then selected for their enduring appeal. “I think it’s important to finish a space to the last detail,” says Graci, who is fond of organic finds like coral and overscaled mineral specimens. “Natural things are the best accessories. They don’t refer to a certain fad or period. They always look beautiful and collected.”
Because the homeowner kept only a couple of furnishings that came with the condo, Graci was able to put his knack for mixing and juxtaposing styles to good use. Today, the condo includes English Regency, 18th-century French, Biedermeier, Art Moderne, Mid-Century Modern and contemporary finds from local sources as well as dealers in New York, Houston, Atlanta and Baton Rouge. “This was a chance to do what I thought needed to be done with a space,” says Graci. “This is a fresh outlook on modern living. It’s the way people want to live now. I love to take beautiful things from different periods and put them together in an unexpected way.”
The kitchen’s cool and warm tones were chosen to marry with those in the herringbone oak floors, which Graci had bleached and stained. At the narrow end of the loft-style living area is an antique French armoire, now a bar with a mirrored interior.
The master bedroom’s slightly more traditional feel features a pale, Farrow & Ball version of Wedgewood blue on the walls, antique oil paintings, a headboard upholstered with cotton velvet and a reproduction Italian bench from Tara Shaw Maison. Beneath one end table is a glazed Chinese garden stool. The lamp shown at right is one of a pair, custom-made, for the master bedroom. The bookends were a gift from a friend.
Like many top designers today, Graci believes that including a few striking 20th-century pieces has a duel effect, adding both a timeless pragmatism and a contemporary edge. “I think it’s necessary to add some of the pieces from the great designers of the 20th century,” he says. “Not only do they add practicality to a space, but they also add another dimension to rooms, making our antiques seem more current.” When Graci wanted an objective opinion for an aesthetic decision, he called on his sister and business partner, Christina Graci, for a fresh pair of eyes. He also brought several of Christina’s abstract paintings into the mix. The completed design scape is perfectly suited to the condo, but just as easily interpreted in another space. “[The owner] had always had nice things,” says Graci. “But we wanted to start fresh. We wanted things that could translate into another home if he moved; quality pieces he could have for the rest of his life.”