By Annie Deal
Jacksonville native Rachel Thomson Gray has become one of Memphis, Tennessee’s, top interior designers. While running her business, Rachel Gray Interior Design and Consulting, Gray combines her own personal eclectic taste with her client’s wishes. She is constantly looking to fashion designers, especially the work of Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, and her travels for inspiration. Van Noten’s “collections and runway shows fire my neurons and, more times than not, spark an idea that gets translated into a project,” says Gray. Most recently she has been transfixed with cerulean blue and gold. This combo was central to her recent design of a custom dining room table and its accompanying pieces. What Gray is most captivated by is the way in which Van Noten “infuses his creations with elements of eccentricity,” and she aims to exude this vibe in her own work.
While fashion provides concrete ideas to spark ideas for Gray, travel provides her with a fresh, new outlook. The places she sees and the people she meets kindle her ability to transform “the ordinary in an extraordinary way.” In particular, she has started making an annual trek to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where she spends two weeks dedicated to advancing her expertise. The core concept of these classes is to rethink and challenge conventionality in the realm of interior design. An example Gray gives is the question: Does a dining room table always need four legs? Most recently at Penland, Gray participated in a class focused on furniture that embraced the deconstruction of commonly accepted technique and style through the use of innovative design and unexpected materials.
Gray’s aunt, Ann Fay, has been one of her most beloved and dedicated mentors. As a book editor, Fay is not directly in the business of interior design but, “she has a fluency and curiosity in art that is meant to be useful as well as beautiful.” Gray translates these thought-provoking ideas of her aunt’s into her own work and embraces the fluidity of various forms of art. Gray is most appreciative of the fact that Fay introduced her to the “invaluable” British publication, Selvage, which has been a monumental source of inspiration in her own work.
Over the years, Gray has been featured in a multitude of magazines. She was most recently featured in Memphis Magazine and was StyleBlueprint’s “Designer Crush” for the month of June.
Though she currently resides in Memphis with her two daughters, Gray still has many fond memories of Jacksonville and is “very thankful for [her] Midwestern upbringing.” She reminisces on her walks to Washington Elementary School, playing on the wooden swing on Illinois College’s campus, having “cops and robbers” showdowns with the Dahman kids and leaving secret spy notes under loose bricks in the sidewalk. Those who knew Gray growing up had no doubt that she would translate her creativity and unique, vibrant style into a successful career.
To see more of Rachel’s portfolio, visit rgrayinteriordesign.com.