Chad Graci has a palpable reaction when he finds something he likes. "When I'm buying things for myself, I wait for a little moment or a click that goes off in my head, and I try to do the same when shopping for clients," says Graci, who teaches interior design at LSU and whose design business is aptly named Graci Interiors.
Graci's love of design is partly innate. He vividly remembers the impression made by the glamorous rooms depicted in the architecture and interior design magazines he first encountered in the late 1970s and '80s, the way his mother's house was decorated when he was a child, his grandmother's furnishings, and the inimitable style of the Italian men he observed during a college semester abroad.
But Graci also credits the moments when elements of design click to the years he spent studying architecture at LSU and interior design at the New York School of Interior Design and working for New York designer David Easton and the late West Coast designer Greg Jordan. "I've definitely been influenced by the different people I've worked for," he says. "As an architect, you instinctively have a sense of scale and proportion, but it's not until you actually work under a designer that you shape and hone your personal look."
From Easton, Graci learned to make the most of his architectural training and to maintain a level of polished detail with things like curtains and upholstery. From Jordan, he learned to incorporate elegance and glamour into a room while still making it accessible and inviting. Three years ago, when he returned to his native New Orleans after living in New York and Los Angeles, he put all of the above to work in a 700-square foot condo. The result is a refined yet comfortable space that lives larger than its modest dimensions and puts an updated spin on timeless pieces. "It all fell into place with this condo," Graci says. "I was excited to use everything I'd been collecting but that had been in storage. In New York apartments, there was never enough room. Here, I was able to put it all together in one room and discover it all had a common language."
Graci credits the success of his look to "an openness to juxtaposing things you might not think to put together." He's equally adept at knowing what works time and again. He has a special fondness for the work of interior designers Billy Baldwin and Michael Taylor and clothing designers Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford, the impeccable style of actor Cary Grant and socialite Nan Kempner, English Regency antiques, Italian modern furnishings from the 1970s and '80s, animal prints, flame-stitch fabrics and touches of Chinoiserie. mac Maison, Karla Katz, Uptowner Antiques and Jon Vaccari are among the local shops he frequents for antique and vintage furnishings. He's a fan of local thrift stores for lamps, mid-century modern designs and other overlooked treasures, and he also cherishes family hand-me-downs.
"In New Orleans, you learn to appreciate the things that have been in our families for generations," he says. "I have things from my grandmother and mother that I've mixed together to create a layered and very personal interior. Some of my favorite things have been in my life forever. They've just moved around from place to place."
This affinity for classics is evident in his clothing. "The way I design is also the way I dress: an informed mix," says Graci, who prefers phasing things in and out of circulation rather than parting with them for good. "I have so many pieces that I've raided from my grandfather's and father's closets. Those things mean a lot to me." Recently, he's been updating vintage Ralph Lauren shirts by tailoring the silhouette and pairing them with new slim blazers and pants with a cuff. Ralph Lauren, Bergdorf Goodman sales, Rubensteins and Meyer The Hatter are among his sources for clothes. "I gravitate toward archetypal genres of men's clothing; military, cowboy, preppy, nautical," he says.
Looking ahead, Graci is moving toward a dustier, more serene palette. "For a while now, decorating has been about bright colors, bold patterns and lacquered rooms," he says. "But right now, I'd rather do muted tones, matte finishes and more texture with a hint of color." This fall, he's also hoping to open an office/showroom where he can grow his business and showcase the finished, urbane look that is his trademark. "It's my job to project an image," Graci says. "I just try to do and wear what I love and hopefully people will pick up on that."
Essentials Chad Graci can't live without
• My library of design books A good tailor
• White jeans
• Acqua di Parma cologne My vintage Persol sunglasses
• A good, well-fitted navy blazer
• A tailored short
• My family
Tips Graci used to make his small space large
Painted ceilings a different color than the walls to draw the eye upward.
• Painted walls, trim and crown molding the same color.
• Used low-scale furnishings that don't barricade any part of the room.
• Removed a section of built-in kitchen cabinets near the entrance.
• Paneled one wall beneath the kitchen cabinets with smoky mirrors to reflect light and visually expand the space much like a window would.
• Used a portiere between the living room and bedroom to create a sense of more rooms.