Chad James Creates an Art-Full Design

Wrapped with balloons, the occasional table found at Barneys New York contrasts with the shearling-upholstered bergere in every aspect possible. Above the fireplace is a Julian Opie video.

Encased in an acrylic box is a Jackson Pollock oil measuring three inches by two inches.

Julian Opie’s “Woman Dressing” strikes a bright note in the keeping room, a place to watch television, enjoy a brandy and chat. Contrasting with the Great Plains mohair seat covering and vellum coffee table from Mattaliano is the rug bearing a design reminiscent of a faceted jewel.

For the designer who had art before he had furniture in his first apartment, renovating a home where a contemporary art collection was to be the “belle of the ball” was a dream job.

Nashville-based Chad James had already worked with this couple on their Montana homestead. Having become good friends with them overtime, it was little surprise when they asked him to take on their 39-room, 23,000-square-foot mansion in Nashville, where they had lived with their four children for 17 years.

Bought at auction and rumored to have belonged to one of Marie Antoinette’s daughters, this is one of a pair of chairs. Covered with steel blue silk mohair and edged in silk cord, they are the oldest pieces in the house.

An untitled, rather quirky work of art reigns over a corner of the salon. The sofa by Dessin Fournir is upholstered in a Great Plains blue linen from Holly Hunt.

Built in 1988 in a midcentury French style by one Richard Osias, who had been bowled over by a visit to Versailles, the house James was entrusted with was replete with moldings, gilt and cherubim. However, having undergone only cosmetic changes in the past two decades, it stood in good condition. “The goal was to bring it into the 21st century while extending a nod to the past and, of course, to highlight the art,” says James.

Though the couple kept in constant communication with the designer over the 18-month period, they entrusted him to do what he believed best for their home. He says that he began by “pulling away layers throughout the house, quieting down the elaborate ceilings, and gutting the galley kitchen to reconfigure it into a larger, more open and horizontal space suitable for the frequent entertaining they do in conjunction with their philanthropic endeavors.”

James anchored a gilt-framed mirror onto a slab of fumed wood cut in the Rococo style for the master bath – a fine example of juxtaposing curved and straight lines, as well as layering textures.

The 28-foot-high ceiling of the informal dining room demanded mass but not weight when it came to lighting fixtures, and was achieved with the silo-style pair by Coup d’Etat, originally floor lamps. The Constantini table of grained walnut is surrounded by Artistic Frame chairs.

The designer then turned toward the study, painting it “telephone pole brown,” the exact shade that had caught his eye on a drive outside town. Explaining his choice, he shares, “I wanted a reprieve from the brightness that was to fill the rest of the house. Plus, being the first room seen upon entering, it needed a relaxed, welcoming feel to remove any pretense of a ‘grand’ home.”

Not one to do anything halfway, James went so far as to turn the shelved books in the room backwards, which assuaged the homeowner’s guilt about not reading them. To downplay their presence even further, he hung iconic Bert Stern photographs in front. At the opposite end of the room, Andy Warhol’s colorful cat sketches add a lighthearted touch to the conversation area.

Emblematic of the designer’s style is the juxtaposition found here as elsewhere: straight edges countering curves, antiques opposing contemporary pieces, and smooth versus textured. Among them are the rusty-framed mirror scavenged from a San Francisco grocery store; a white, shearling-upholstered Louis XVI chair next to a side table wrapped with colorful balloons; and an Indiana limestone tea table. “Mixing styles keeps things fresh and alleviates a flat, one-dimensional look,” he tells.

The study is paneled in bird’s-eye maple painted “telephone-pole brown” and draped with different colors for an ombre effect. Lee Industries lounges, a Holly Hunt sofa, interesting finishes like the water gilt on the Louis XVI bergere and wool carpeting create a subtle, yet key textural comment.

Lit by a James-designed brass cage fixture housing orbs of volcanic clay, blown glass and brass, the kitchen is centered with a Calacatta marble counter with surrounding counters of Lagos limestone. Floored in black walnut, appliances represent Wolf, Sub-Zero and Dornbracht, while the bronze hardware is from Rocky Mountain.

Another favored decorating device is to treat furniture as though it were art. Take the master bedroom’s four-poster bed designed by James as an example. Proportionate to the immense room, it functions as an enormous sculpture, sets an airy tone and anchors the room. The pair of French gilt chairs from the 1850s and the crystal-and-bronze chandelier, previously lighting the grand hall and dating from the 1920s, add a whit of opulence along with a pair of Irish landscapes and the shagreen tables by Ria and Yiouri Augousti.

Striking in a different way from the bedroom with its en suite dressing room and bath, is the grand hallway, which rises 28 feet to the barrel ceiling and runs approximately 22 feet wide through the length of the house. Used for receptions, it’s draped on either side for guests’ arrival. Following cocktails, the drapes are pulled aside, revealing the various rooms the throng will now enter. A Tom Sachs’ “Hello Kitty” sculpture keeps tabs on the goings-on at the top of the stairs.

The master bedroom’s four-poster oak bed designed by James, stands out in a sea of white created by silk and flokati rugs, a pair of 1850s gilt chairs, and cream-hued, Scalamandre linen-upholstered furniture.

Gleaned from the homeowners, the two dining rooms provide an element of surprise. The more formal one, pulsing with a Donald Judd heart, features a full-size table uncharacteristically positioned along with accompanying chairs at the side of the room. A smaller round table seating six or eight hugs a corner, increasing the room’s entertainment possibilities. The second dining room, more casual and traditional, is enveloped in a blissful sea of neutrals enhanced by the Coup d’Etat lighting fixtures floating in the window.

Off the kitchen is the “keeping room” using the old-fashioned term. “I knew right away that this was where Julian Opie’s “Woman Dressing” should be,” says James. A bold piece, it’s strong enough to hold its own against the various geometrics and textures at play, including a Turkish rug, vellum coffee table, and mohair-covered chairs and pillows, all which help to make it the most utilized room in the house.

Placed as it is for a glorious view of the garden, a massive soaking tub by Dornbracht guarantees total relaxation. In between stands a glass enclosed shower.

Asked his thoughts on renovating a home where art stars, James explains, “It made it more fun. All the work I do begins with art, so this project was a natural for me.” Even though his own taste leans toward photography and art that is “dark, macabre and obscure”? “Most definitely,” he states. “Art should always take center stage. This can be thoughtfully executed by allowing yourself to think outside the creative box. Expand your reach. Push yourself to do something a little bit uncomfortable.”

Photography Courtesy of Alyssa Rosenheck.

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