It’s my second installment of The Finer Points, and I’m all sorts of thrilled to introduce the dynamic sibling duo behind one of my very favorite design resources! The fourth generation to lead a very special family business, this brother-sister team honors the powerful legacy their ancestors left behind, delivering a time-honored sense of vision, creativity, and craftsmanship to the modern home. Antique enthusiasts, world travelers, and New Yorkers through and through…drum roll, please…Jennifer and Mike Gracie of Gracie Studio!
For over 80 years, Gracie Studio has brought walls to life in the homes of countless style icons, celebrities, and royal families, and I remember dreaming of the day when I would have the opportunity to work a piece into one of my designs! It has been such a joy experiencing that dream become a reality several times over and you’ll catch a glimpse of some of those spaces below.
As you can imagine, Mike and Jennifer manage installations all over the world and, although Mike was traveling when we sat down to catch up, Jennifer was more than happy to share her thoughts on where it all began and how she and Mike plan to carry their family’s distinctive craft into the future.
Marie Flanigan: At what point did you feel called to join the family business?
Jennifer Gracie: I really don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be part of our family business. My brother and I would go on trips with my parents along the New England coast, or to London or Japan, and they would give us a certain vase or screen motif to look out for. I viewed it as the ultimate treasure hunt.
Our firm was founded by our great grandfather in 1898, in New York. He was a gilder, who catered to the carriage trade. The Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Whitneys were among his clients. He loved Chinese porcelain and antiques of all kinds. According to family lore, he believed that he could sell just about anything, and in the 1920’s, we became the first company to bring beautiful hand-painted Chinese wallpapers to the States. Every generation since has had someone take an interest, and now my brother and I are the fourth generation to run the company. Time will tell whether a 5th generation becomes involved!
MF: The quality of your wallcoverings is exceptional – walk us through the production process. How are new patterns ushered from concept into reality?
JG: We joke that we never do anything the easy way. Sketches are drawn by hand, never computer generated. No two rooms we create will ever be the same. We don’t have templates for our designs and we really believe in the artistic process and the client’s input. After all, they will hopefully live for decades with our wallpaper, and we want them to love it, and personalize it in any way they wish. Once a sketch is produced, a line drawing is made on the panels, and the artists begin to paint. First, just the outline of the branches, then flowers, birds, and butterflies. They are painted on large tables, and a handful of artists may work on one panel at the same time; one artist may be particularly talented at butterflies and birds, while another excels at flowers.
MF: What inspires new patterns or designs? Travel, artist collaborations, etc.?
JG: We are inspired by so many different things! It could be a color combination on a dress, a certain flower type that I notice while walking my dogs, or a collage my mother is working on that might give me an idea for a pattern. We also have the photographs and wallpapers from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s that serve as endless sources of inspiration, and there are times when a design that’s decades old can suddenly look and feel so fresh again. We’re actually going to bring back a design from the 1970s on a brilliant cobalt background very soon and I can’t wait to share that with you!
MF: I love that you offer antique wallpapers! Can you explain what it means when a wallpaper is deemed “antique” – is that in reference to the paper’s actual age or to when the pattern was originally designed?
JG: When we call a paper antique, it really is at least 100 years old. Our great-grandfather purchased hundreds of antique wallpapers from estates, auctions, and finders in Europe, and we still have many of those pieces in our warehouse. We enjoy unrolling things from time to time to see what we find.
MF: Where is the most unique place that a Gracie Studio wallpaper has been applied? Any special rooms or celebrity projects you’re particularly proud of?
JG: Our wallpapers end up in so many wonderful places. We’ve been in many White House rooms over several decades, and fabulous celebrity homes, although they often decline photographs and wish to remain unnamed. Having been in business for 119 years, many of our wallpapers ended up in homes designed by Elsie de Wolfe, Dorothy Draper, William Haines, Frances Elkins, and I’m sure there are thousands of gorgeous rooms I’m not even aware of! I will sometimes be called over to inspect water damage on a wallpaper, and will walk into a beautiful old Fifth Avenue apartment to discover a design we painted in the 1930s or 40s. It’s really so much fun!
A recent favorite was the living room designed by Alex Papachristidis for 2016 Kips Bay Showhouse. The design was based on an antique Chinese wallpaper that Elsie de Wolfe had purchased for Condé Nast’s penthouse. Alex modernized it by blowing up the scale, and having us paint it with only white and gray on a beautiful silver ground. It is just spectacular.
MF: Gracie Studio wallcoverings are timeless, which you know we love, but have you encountered any trends in the world of wallcoverings that you’re particularly fond of? Thoughts on temporary wallpapers?
JG: I don’t think I love the term “trend,” but I do think that people are suddenly ready for color, florals, and a layered look again. I adore when a room looks as though it was put together with items loved and collected over a lifetime. Who wants a room that looks as though everything was purchased in a three-hour span? As far as temporary wallpaper goes, why wouldn’t you choose something wonderful that you can love and live with for a very long time? If it comes down to budget, I completely understand; but otherwise, just put it everywhere!
MF: Any new and exciting projects or collaborations on the horizon?
JG: We have dozens of new designs coming soon, including Lapis Garden, which is based upon a wallpaper we painted for Dorothy Draper in the 1930s. We are also very excited to be opening a Los Angeles showroom this fall, and there is a collaboration in the works, but nothing we may yet discuss. We will let you know as soon as we can. It will be wonderful!
We’ll most definitely be keeping our eyes on that horizon and can’t wait to see what they wow us with next! In the meantime, check out their Instagram account for daily inspiration and keep scrolling for a few more spaces decked out in their quintessential masterpieces. Happy swooning!
PS – Jump to my inaugural installment of The Finer Points here. I kicked things off with Whitney Port on the West Coast, hopped over to Gracie Studio on the East Coast, and now I’m left wondering – where to next?! Have a design or style icon you’d love to hear from? Leave your suggestions below!