I’m a Preservationist
Chad Graci is a designer with Graci Interiors. In the May issue of Preservation in Print, he explains how New Orleans’ historic architecture influences his design work.
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You’ve worked on many historic renovations in New Orleans, including your own circa 1916 shotgun house that was converted from a double to a single in Mid-City. What are some of the common design challenges you see in historic house renovations? And what are some clever ways to deal with them?
Here in New Orleans, we are rich in architectural detailing in our historic housing stock. Some common design challenges that I’ve encountered are how to address the non-functional chimneys and fireboxes after opening up a double shotgun to combine both sides, and how to balance natural wood cypress detailing with paint for a more current, modern look. Converting our shotgun doubles to singles requires thoughtful allocation of space. Otherwise you’ll end up with a row of chimneys down the middle. I like to break up the front to back flow of a traditional shotgun layout. An easy trick is to configure your plans so that you do not see the kitchen immediately when opening the front door. Your home will feel larger and and more designed. The leftover chimneys are great for defining furniture groupings by functional arrangement in your newly almost-open plan. They’re also great focal points for a seating group. As for varying wood tones of historic architecture, I love to tie them all together with paint, especially tonal or the same color paint. Leaving one element unpainted will elevate its look and give the eye a place to rest amongst an array of pretty features.
What was your house like when you purchased it?
When I purchased my house, it was what I like to call a Home Depot reno. Basic and uninspired. It needed a dash of glamour and uniqueness.
You earned a degree in architecture from LSU and then studied at the New York School of Interior Design. How does your architecture background influence your design work?
I use my architectural background on a daily basis. It comes into play when balancing scale, space planning and simply knowing how houses are built. What’s inside the walls counts just as much as what they look like on the outside.
What do you love most about working on historic architecture?
I love discovering hidden details that have been covered up by a previous renovation. It’s like opening an unexpected present.
Why is historic preservation so important for New Orleans?
In our ever-changing and evolving urban landscape, it’s important to maintain a connection with the past through the preservation, restoration and re-purposing of historic architecture. This appreciation grounds the streetscape and informs us, moving forward by providing a framework on which to build. Our historic structures tell many incredible stories. We are lucky to live in a city that now more than ever appreciates the need to preserve our architectural legacy.