In the Mix with Gray McElveen Walker
Interior designer Gray McElveen Walker mixes and matches design styles
Interior designer Gray McElveen Walker was a master of the mash-up before Glee made it a household word. Only she combines different styles of home décor, not different song lyrics. The Columbia, South Carolina, native draws plenty of inspiration from her Southern roots, but likes to cut the heaviness of antique sideboards and formal china with a dose of chinoiserie here, a splash of Old Hollywood glam there. “I grew up with a lot of antiques in a typical Southern home, and you can’t take that out of a girl,” she says. “But I appreciate a lot of different styles.”
She also knows how to make those styles work together, throwing Venetian mirrors, a French settee, and the family silver into one stunning vignette; incorporating sleek Lucite chairs, grasscloth walls, and Indian cattlebone boxes into others. But when the designer and her family first moved into their old Georgian-style home in Myers Park, the décor couldn’t have been more different. Renowned Southern designer Otto Zenke had finished the home for the previous homeowners in immaculate classic early-American style: dark wood paneling, elaborate millwork, antiques everywhere. “Not an accessory was out of place,” Walker recalls. It didn’t take her long to change that.
She began in grand fashion, choosing a bright, bold Osborne & Little paper for the master bedroom. “My last bedroom was soothing and sedate,” she says. “I wanted this one to be spunky—very colorful, vibrant, and uplifting.” To coordinate with the paper, she transformed a custom Italian-style headboard with cream-colored paint and tufted upholstery. And to round out the French boudoir look, she hung an antique gold overmantel mirror that had been in the family above a cream-colored dresser. “I love mirrors,” she says. “I think mirrors are such a great way to give a room glamour.”
A second, more muted, Osborne & Little paper inspired the guest bedroom, which had originally been intended as a testosterone-free escape for Walker, the mother of two boys. To give this room some feminine flair, she edged the neutral cotton window treatments with cream-colored feather boas.
In the living room, the window treatments are tricolor and candy-striped, but it took some experimentation to get them just right. At one point, Walker says, “I pulled a total Scarlett O’Hara and yanked them all off the walls.” The current colors coordinate not only with the room’s two paintings—a restored Dutch oil and an abstract sunset that a friend made to order—but also with the family room, creating a visual flow. Maintaining that flow is the reason Walker has reworked the foyer four times since moving in. “Decorating a house is done in layers: it’s adding and subtracting,” she says. “It’s like a puzzle.”
The single largest change was the kitchen. Kitchen designer Susan Dudley helped Walker swap the heavy, dark paneling for a cleaner, more contemporary look, with white cabinets and Calcutta marble surfaces, and an adjacent white leather breakfast banquette that coordinates with the piece de resistence, a leather-upholstered door that Walker designed. “I loved the idea of being able to see through my kitchen into the dining room through this old-fashioned waitstaff-style door,” she says. “And leather is a great material—it’s sturdy but it has a luscious look that turns a door into a piece of upholstery.”
Although the major work has been wrapped up, Walker will never truly be “done” decorating her home because she’s constantly falling in love with new pieces and styles. And, she says, “I have no problems saying goodbye. Out with the old, in with the new!”