Housing a trove of heritage treasures without veering into stuffily formal territory is not effortlessly achieved. When a North Carolina homeowner in Charlotte’s Foxcroft neighborhood wanted to incorporate her collection of inherited antiques into her recently-built family abode, design whiz Gray Walker (who also happened to be an old friend) was up to the challenge.
“My friend grew up with parents who collected antiques and had chintzes and chinoiserie prints on everything,” shares Walker. “She wanted to use some of her heritage pieces, but in a cleaner style. This is a big part of my design philosophy: weaving your story into your home.”
Floor-to-ceiling windows, soaring ceilings, and an airy layout define a modernized take on Charlotte’s iconic French Regency architecture. “The client wanted vibrant color in the formal spaces, with main living areas that are more open and casual for her young family,” explains Walker, who sums up the design vision as “classic with guts.”
“I like to push boundaries and walk the line, but I also know when to ‘hold ’em,’” Walker shares. She knows how to take an antique that has been in the family for generations and “push the boundaries around it, making it a huge statement piece, not a sleeper. I like to be risky, in an elegant sort of way!”
A painting of a freshly-picked peachy-pink rose greets visitors above a curving staircase. “The owner has a large rose garden and they are always scattered around the house,” notes Walker. “The painting is the first thing you see that tells you a little about the rooms to come.” To the left, the formal sitting room is anchored with a gold-toned Oushak rug inherited from the owner’s childhood home, offset by the muted seafoam velvet of the sofas and a jewel-toned cut velvet ottoman. Antique objets d’art and paintings are grouped on the bookshelves, to create a gallery-like showcase.
The pièce de résistance is the unapologetically opulent dining room. “It’s my favorite space,” Walker comments; “I really captured the client’s spirit in this room!” Sheathed in a deep sapphire silk, the mural wall is painted with a custom Fromental motif in antique gold, coupled with a theatrical gold ceiling and custom papier-mâché light fixture.
“Most people live with having seriously under-scaled lighting before they start working with me,” remarks Walker, adding that she had to ‘literally beg’ the client to paint the ceiling gold. “That’s where the trust comes in; today (the owner) knows that ceiling could be nothing else!”
Touches of pink coral, the owner’s favorite shade that was mixed to match a lipstick worn by her mother, pop up throughout the wallpaper, in the bold velvet dining chairs and at the adjoining wet bar, where it gets to truly shine with a mouthwatering papaya tint.
“My client entertains a lot, so this room and the adjoining coral bar are meant to be a showpiece,” continues Walker. Toning things down, the family room is kept neutral and easy for a chill gathering space, with a comfy sectional and plenty of cozy texture. An antique highboy and a gold leaf mirror flank the fireplace, lending a contemporary vibe. “It’s about creating drama and serenity at the same time. That’s the way I like to live: glamorously peaceful.”
For Walker, no project begins without a trip to the showrooms of Atlanta’s Decorative Arts Center, where she had worked as a young designer out of college. “Touching and seeing the handmade goods is crucial,” she explains, reminiscing about the sourcing jaunts she took with the homeowner. “We had so much fun, working all day and drinking wine at night talking about our appreciable finds. The fact that we were old friends created an instant trust in our decision-making process. She always says, ‘Gray, you really listened to me, and I love my home!’”
Photography by Brie Williams.
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