After spending 10 years in the fields of education and business and earning three master’s degrees along the way, Elissa Grayer decided she wanted to spin her career path in a different direction and follow through on her passion for interior design.
The design bug bit her when she oversaw the combination of two individual apartments into her very own family-friendly space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. After divorcing a couple of years later, she was asked by her ex-husband to take on the renovation of his Manhattan apartment. “From working with the contractor and architect on that project, I started getting referrals to other clients, and it grew from there,” she says. Always an educator, Grayer attended classes at the New York School of Interior Design and Parsons School of Interior Design to hone her skills before launching her namesake firm in 2001.
Starting off as a solo practitioner, Grayer moved up to Westchester County in 2006 and opened her Rye office. She quickly became known as one of the top designers families turned to as they transitioned from New York City apartments to Westchester County dream homes. Her award-winning firm is recognized for its mastery in the planning, design, and project management of grand estates, luxury apartments, new construction, and vacation retreats across the country.
Grayer, who is president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) New York Metro Chapter, now runs a 12-person business that employs eight interior designers and additional project managers and support staff. “We have 17 to 20 projects going at any given time, ranging from finishing up a living room to completing a full-home renovation,” she says. While all clients have a design team that works closely with them, Grayer is quick to point out that she is involved with every project from the beginning.
“My own design philosophy is soothing, calm, and elegant, with a feeling that when you walk into your home, you are being taken care of in every way possible,” she says. She points out, however, that one of the tenets of her company is that they work with clients to give them exactly what they want. “They might desire a lot of bright colors and patterns, and that’s great,” she says. “We go from where the client is and put our spin on it to make it work.”
Price Available Upon Request; Hancock & Moore; hancockandmoore.com
“With a channeled black and elegant shape, this settee could go in a foyer, a beautiful bay window in a living room, or a bedroom.” Named after Grayer herself!
Price Available Upon Request; Chaddock Home; chaddockhome.com
“When we do a family room, we’re always torn between accommodating people who want to put their feet up and watch television and others who want to put down a plate or cup.” This designer solves the problem by producing a leather-topped cocktail table that also features an accompanying sliding piece of wood to put on top and a shelf underneath.
Verellen Furniture; Price Available Upon Request; Verellen Furniture; verellenfurniture.be
“This small-scale, super-comfortable chair could go anywhere. It’s fully upholstered, so it feels extremely soft and welcoming.”
$2,330; Hooker Furniture; hookerfurniture.com
“This graceful wrapped desk looks like a beautiful console. It has a tactile organic surface of white lacquered grasscloth, raffia, and wood, with a creamy, white finish. The trend to go with light and natural colors is very in right now.”
$3,690; Sossego; sossegodesign.com
“This chair has a midcentury feel with a Brazilian twist. It’s made with leather and sustainably harvested jequitibá wood.”
$2,798; Patdo Electrical Supply; patdolight.com
“I love the length and the way that the fixture can be moved about and adjusted. Made of glass, metal, and wood, it looks fabulous floating in a great room, hanging over a dining-room table, or even in a foyer.”
Grayer recommends that you schedule meetings with the interior designers you are considering before you make any decisions on whom to hire. “This is a chance to explore what your needs are and to discover if you are a good fit for the firm and if it’s a good fit for you,” says Grayer.
“Every designer and client should have a contract that spells out exactly how the designer is going to charge the client, how they are going to conduct business, and how the relationship can be ended if there is a problem,” says Grayer. She points out that this protects both the client and the designer.
Once the contract is signed, the team goes to the clients’ home and asks detailed questions about the scope of the project. “We have a whole questionnaire that’s very specific: If you’re redoing your closet, we need to know everything that will be going into it. We’d also like to know such specific things as how you entertain, whether you take your shoes off when you come into the house, and even if you have pets, because that might require a dog-washing station,” she says.
“There is a world of furniture out there, and we know so many pieces that would work in someone’s house, but we must know how much they are willing to invest in their home,” says Grayer.
It is essential for the designer to accurately measure the spaces you will be decorating to create a working floor plan. “We use AutoCAD design software, which is what architects use to build houses, because you can’t measure for furniture if you’re working off of something that’s incorrect,” says Grayer.
The next step should be an in-person presentation. Grayer holds this meeting at her firm’s offices so that the client can choose among the suggested choices. (She also takes clients to different showrooms and shops to look at options in person, if they prefer.) Before starting to make purchases, a reputable designer will provide you with a thorough budget, so there will be no surprises.
The designer should present the client with items they wouldn’t normally come across in their search. “It’s our job to bring new, exciting, and fresh ideas to them that will be special,” says Grayer. “I do a lot of vintage and antiques shopping because things just aren’t made like that anymore. I might find something and then refinish, re-stain, or reupholster it to make it look beautiful. Then the client has a stunning piece in their room that no one else has.”
Grayer says firm members are on the jobsite as needed to oversee the implementation of the design vision. “We will continually stay on top of all orders, deliveries, vendor statuses, and installation schedules. This helps eliminate the chance of potential problems or delays,” she says.
“Weekly project updates discuss what we have been working on and what is going to happen next,” she says. After the project is complete, Grayer says it’s best for the designer to have a final client evaluation meeting. “We discuss the end result and work with you to resolve any issues that may have arisen so that everything is perfect,” says Grayer.
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