Interview with Mike Gracie, President
I understand that Gracie was established in New York in 1898 by Charles R. Gracie, and is still a family run business. Could you tell us a little about the legacy of your family business and how you came to be the current President?
Charles R. Gracie was my great-grandfather. His atelier performed custom carving and gilding for New York’s carriage trade. To build his staff, he traveled to Italy, recruiting highly skilled workers. His clients included Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, and Diamond Jim Brady. My great-grandfather was a true salesman and energetic entrepreneur. His particular interest was Asian art, and he became a noteworthy collector of antique Chinese blue and white porcelain miniatures, an interest he shared and discussed with Herbert Hoover.
His sons, James and Douglas (my grandfather) joined the company after serving in World War II. They diversified and expanded the company, opening a full-fledged art studio in Manhattan. My father, Brian, succeeded them in the 1970’s and brought the company into yet another successful area by focusing on fine Asian antiques.
I have been with the company for about 12 years and my dad promoted me to President last year. He remains with the company full time as Chairman and we work together and travel together regularly.
You are known for your exquisite hand painted wallpapers. Are they still manufactured in Mainland China?
Yes, our wallpapers are still handpainted in mainland China. This goes all the way back to my great-grandfather’s era. He sourced a lot of antiques, fabrics and accessories through agents in Beijing, and around 1927 he was contacted by a Beijing handpainted wallpaper studio. He established a relationship with that studio, and continued working with them until the communist revolution in 1949. After that, the studio relocated to Taiwan, and then Hong Kong. Finally in the mid-80’s the studio returned to mainland China. At a time when the quality of Chinese goods is in question, I’m proud that Gracie’s China studio provides a great example of luxurious, handmade products created by artists who have handed down the craft for generations. You have quite an impressive list of Interior Designers that have used your products over the decades and some are what I would call “Interior Design Icons” - Rose Cummings, Dorothy Draper, Elsie de Wolfe, Billy Baldwin, William Haines, and Michael Taylor. Are there any stories about these Icons that you could share with us? Yes, we actually still work with Dorothy Draper’s firm which is still in existence. McMillen, which was established in 1923, is another long-standing firm which Gracie still works with.
Elsie de Wolfe invoice (left) from 1938, McMillen invoice (right) from 1939 Click on image to enlarge
William Haines had a Gracie paper which he ordered regularly for his Hollywood clients, and we have recently re-introduced it. It’s a stunning handpainted design with ivory-colored flowers and birds on a handmade silver leaf background [SY-234]
You shared with me that you restored an antique wallpaper for a design project for Michael S. Smith. What is involved in the restoration process of your antique wallpapers?
It depends on the level of work required. Some areas may require touch-up or adhering sections of design which have lifted off the backing. However, in the case of many antique papers, a complete remounting is required. This involves meticulously soaking the wallpaper and removing just the top layer of design before re-applying it to a modern acid-free backing paper.
We usually also produce additions to antique wallpapers so that they can fit into the client’s space. Our artists are very talented at reproducing the style, coloration and level of antiquing to match the originals.
What is your most popular wallpaper design?
Generally speaking, our wallpapers on antiqued silver backgrounds are currently the best sellers. These papers provide a real impact with the silver ground, but the design tones are subtle and antiqued so that they appeal to a modern sense of color.
Interior Design by Greg Jordan
Are there any new wallpaper designs in the planning process?
We are actually re-designing much of our line of handpainted papers. This is a work in progress so I can’t be too specific. However, over the years, the quality of the work done by our studio has steadily improved. At the same time, we have kept many designs in existence for decades without alteration. Our intention is to take many of those designs and enhance them by applying the current high level of artistic talent and detail.
Another exciting development is our new line of metallic and silk papers. The metallics are made of hand-applied metal leaf, and I don’t know of any product like it. We are also producing the silk papers in our studio. We were having trouble sourcing good quality silk papers, and we also wanted to be able to offer them in custom colors. We worked closely with our China studio for a year or so and came up with a product that I’m really happy with.
Do you see a renewed popularity in the use of your papers by Interior Designers?
Although the taste for wallpaper in general seems to ebb and flow a bit, I think there’s always been a good market for our exclusive, handpainted products. Although particular designs may fall out of favor, Gracie has done a good job of keeping up with trends in color and style.
I have recently done a post on the linking of your wallpaper with the Fashion Industry. What
are your views on this?
Yes, we were all excited to see that! We have been actively interested in working with the fashion industry for several years and the fashion industry has reciprocated. As you know, our papers have been used as backgrounds on several fashion shoots. We have also produced handpainted wallpaper and custom furniture for the homes of a number of fashion designers and models. Also, for a current project we are handpainting fabrics to be used as the material for women’s couture.